First things first: Veerasway will not replace your favorite Indian restaurant on Devon Avenue. But the thing is, the latest Randolph Row restaurant from Angela Harper-Lee (one-half of the duo that owns Sushi Wabi and De Cero) doesn’t seem to be trying to. There are twentysomething servers who look as if they just stumbled out of a TV on the Radio video. There’s a cocktail list that lends Indian flavors to classic drinks via tricks like adding ginger slivers and toasted cumin to a margarita and spiking a mango lassi with spiced rum. There’s an understated, tasteful design, with dark wood slats woven together to cover an entire wall and simple. In other words, it’s a well-thought-out midscale dining destination—it just so happens to serve Indian food.
And it’s about time. Chinese and Mexican have long coexisted in Chicago as both a cheap, quick fix and a complex cuisine capable of carrying restaurants where dinner for two with drinks runs $70. It’s only in the past couple of years—with Vermilion, Marigold and now Veerasway—that Indian has graduated from BYOBs with plastic tablecloths to a nice night out.
The cocktails—particularly that aforementioned “Maharita” and the cardamom-packed “Bengali Tiger”—are among the highlights, but they’re sweet and aggressively flavored, making for a better dessert or separate visit than a meal-starter. Instead, Riesling is the perfect foil for the heat of the long banana peppers stuffed with a lentils and paneer. The chickpea flour crust can be greasy, but with mint chutney, it’s a fantastic flavor combo. Ditto for the okra “chaat fry,” ribbons of okra fried then tossed with diced tomatoes, crunchy rice puffs and onion slivers in lime juice. With tamarind chutney and raita, it ahieves the salty-sweet-sour-spicy-cool combination that only Indian chaat (snacks) can.
As on Devon, you’ll find chicken tikka masala, lamb rogan josh and all the vegetarian faves (yellow lentils, peas and cheese, eggplant in tomato-based curry sauce). Meats are tender and vegetables are refreshingly fresh, but the gravies are all quite sweet from cream and not at all spicy. (To be fair, most Devon spots temper the spice for Anglo diners too, and the Veerasway staff seemed happy to take spice requests on my repeat visit.)
Chef Tyler Williams is most impressive on the grill, perfectly charring garlicky, lime-kissed shrimp; keeping hunks of dark chicken meat juicy while its tamarind-date glaze caramelizes; and giving salmon crispy skin and a tender, medium-rare center. That salmon dish—with its subtle cucumber broth and strips of grilled bell peppers—is about as Indian as I am (which is to say not at all), but I think it’s about time the authenticity police chill out and live a little.