Chai & Chai moving from an "ethnic kitchen" to an "experimental" one
UPDATE: Chai & Chai made another big change in October 2014, switching its dinner service to a strictly Indian menu and expanding the number of vegetarian options. Besides adding Indian chef Prakash Maroju to its roster, the restaurant plans to complement its menu by offering visiting Arabian, Thai and other chefs the chance to cook alongside its own employees
Danielle Lirette Sauces in the kitchen at Chai & Chai.
Restaurants, like reality TV shows, tend to follow some common scripts: steakhouses, small plates places, pizza joints, sports bars, etc. That's why it's refreshing to see a spot like Chai & Chai, the restaurant I review this week, which refuses to follow an established path.
This low-key restaurant opened last fall as an "ethnic kitchen" (the words appear on signage), with Indian and Jordanian cooks working side by side. But the operations don't appear to be separate but equal. "The main cuisine is Indian," owner Venu Alla stressed recently by phone. "The sister cuisine is Jordanian."
See also: At Chai & Chai, man could live on bread alone
And in the upcoming weeks, Alla will bulk up the Indian side, bringing in a new Indian chef who is expected to take dinner in a new direction, tilting it to vegetarian-heavy, homestyle fare. A few of the current dishes will likely remain, including chicken tikka masala, lamb vindaloo and saag paneer, but everything else will be up to the chef's nightly discretion.
At that point - perhaps as early as July -- Alla plans to invest more in ambience and marketing, two areas where he admits he "hasn't spent a single dollar." But "when [the new chef] comes in," he told me, "we want to go big."
What does this mean for the ethnic kitchen? Alla said that he will be keeping the Jordanian cuisine, at least "for now." He also hopes to keep the current Indian chef and dosa wiz, Rajesh Kannan. And Mondays will continue to be "experimental," with Alla hoping to find a Spanish cook to work out of the kitchen at lunch, as the Thai crew from Sue of Siam did this spring.
All of this makes for an interesting variety show. But will it prove to be too unpredictable for diners, who are used to getting a fairly finished -- rather than constantly evolving -- product?