Feature photo by Cumin, a Nepalese/Indian Restaurant on 1414 Milwaukee. I provide the website for basic information, but it lacks its most important use, the menu, among other useful references such as photos (check out their menu here). But to cut some slack, the place opened in May so the owners may still be placing more importance on the real-life experience.
The place is easily accessible by public trans (CTA Blue Line) or car, just a couple blocks south of North Ave. People have gladly forgotten the mortgage and loan office that inhabited this small building–trust me, naan, Indian beer and curry dishes appeal more than sign-your-life-away contracts and uneasy moments of angst as you hope a loan gets approved.
Small, but fashionably decorated, the pitch here is modern, yet authentic and cultural. Its slogan is “Modern Nepalese/Indian” and its name is simple, short and catchy–Cumin, a common spice in Indian Cuisine and a flowering plant native in the eastern Mediterranean and East India. It is actually among the world’s most popular spices, after black pepper, so we can assume the chef here uses it in a lot of the curries and dishes.
As mentioned, the building is tiny, but the decoration is chic. Red and black stylishly set the tone (a solid bright red wall covers one wall, while the black, granite-counter bar sets the contrast on the other). Cumin resembles a trendy sushi place with minimalist-style chairs, small, white-covered tables and fashionable low-back stools at the bar. The first impression, with couples sipping wine on the window-side tables, is that you’ll spend a good penny, but it’s not back-breaking. Entrees generally vary from $9 to $15, appetizers mostly under $5, wine glasses $7 (bottles $30+), and other dishes such as platters and seafood reaching the high teens and low twenties. If you want more bang for the buck, try the lunch buffet any day of the week.
Because of its size, it is a good idea to make a reservation, but I was seated right away in my walk-in experience during a weekday. Apart from smiles, they greet you with ice water, tasty papadum chips and three chutney preparations: mint cilantro, tamarind and sweet mango. My favorite was the mint cilantro, a mix also containing onion, tomato, bell peppers, ginger garlic, jalapeño and chaat masala. However, this was never refilled, and I consumed it quickly.
In spite of that, the service at Cumin is great. Just like the first month of dating, Cumin is courting customers by dashing them with smiles, armies of waiters, constant water refills and how-are-you questions. I hope Cumin does not turn into a “pimp” restaurant in WP, taking for granted its once appreciated customers. Advice to Cumin: there are other Indian restaurants, some BYOB, so make the service a staple!
To start I ordered the vegetable samosa (2), described “as potatoes and peas in a mild fragrant spice blend”. The outer crunch was perfectly contrasted with the inner mush. Unfamiliar with Indian beer, I ordered a Kingfisher lager, the largest selling beer brand overall in the Indian market. The light, refreshing and crispy flavor quenched my thirst well.
For dinner I sampled the Chicken Tikka Masala and Lamb Sahi Korma, with an order of garlic naan (oven-baked flat bread). The entree came with basmati royale long grain rice, which is ideally paired with the curry. The chicken plate, an Indian classic, was boneless white meat marinated in spices and served in creamy tomato sauce. The boneless lamb tasted mildly spicy and was served in creamy almond-cashew curry sauce. The menu will not disappoint–its many pages, though mostly Indian (not Nepalese), hosts a variety of meats and preparations, such as pakora, soups, salads, chaat, vegetable concoctions, seafood (shrimp and fish), rice mixes, biryanis, traditional desserts and a decent wine list, along with a full bar.
The only problem I found with the dining experience was the small size of the tables (which is a result of the small physical area of the restaurant). After the introductory chips, chutneys, water and beer, it became increasingly difficult to also fit the samosa, rice, flat bread, main dishes and the eating plates. A fork eventually slipped off as I tried to make room for a new dish.
Cumin is a wonderful addition to a neighborhood lacking in Indian restaurants. Once satisfied and filled, I ordered the rest of my food (reasonably good portions of meat) to go, and dreamily gazed at the many paintings adorning the red-splashed wall–sights of goats, country life, snow-drenched mountain tops and hill-side homes, all displaying a mythical depiction of Indian country life, completely ignoring the increasingly urban reality of many of its citizens. In Chicago however, this is promising urban fixture in Wicker Park.