You’ve got to love the candor of Meeru Dhalwala, the owner and chef of Shanik.
When I interviewed her for my review of her Indian restaurant, which runs in this month’s fresh-off-the-presses issue, she spoke at length about many things—most interesting of which was the difference between the signature dish at Seattle’s Shanik and that of its sister restaurant, the internationally acclaimed Vij’s in Vancouver.
That restaurant is named after her husband and business partner, Vikram Vij. The dish? Vij’s and Shanik’s extraordinary innovation, lamb popsicles.
“The lamb popsicles at Vij’s, they were a Meeru-Vikram collaboration,” Dhalwala recalls. Back when that restaurant was new, he asked Dhalwala—untrained as a chef but a natural in the kitchen—to embellish a dish of lamb rack chops rubbed in white wine and Dijon.
Concluding it wasn’t nearly Indian enough, she finished it with a curry.
“He said, ‘I can’t serve that! It looks like shit! It’s not a good color!’” she laughs. “I said, ‘It’s curry. Maybe I’ll just take some whipping cream and garlic and turmeric to it instead.’” That she did, and, as she recalls, “He came running around the corner yelling, ‘This is it! This is fantastic!' And I was like, ‘Vikram, I was kidding!’”
In time she tweaked it with fenugreek and a classic was born. “Vikram was absolutely right,” she concedes. “The customers loved it.”
But when she came south to open her own place, she seized her chance to put a more Indian spin on the chops, with a garam masala of her own making. She also seized the opportunity to act on her lifelong devotion to healthful eating.
“What’s always bugged me about the Vij’s popsicles was there was no fiber—it was all cream and lamb and potatoes and constipation,” she laughs. “In my opinion, your dining experience starts when you walk in the door of my restaurant, and ends the next morning when you’re sitting on the toilet. In taking care of my customers, I’ve got to take care of their bowel movements as well!”
So Shanik’s popsicles have a lighter sauce and a spinach-split pea mash, for vegetable protein, iron, and fiber.
They’re the best thing on Shanik’s menu.