One of the most memorable meals of my life came at Gymkhana, a contemporary Indian restaurant in London. Arriving hungry and jet-lagged, my partner and I were floored by the elevated takes on familiar South Asian staples. For Brits, this type of experience is a common occurrence but here in Chicago, it’s nowhere near as prevalent. While a number of openings have broken new ground in recent years, Indienne is arguably the most ambitious to date. Its chef and co-owner, Sujan Sarkar, is no stranger to the local scene. He helped launch Rooh in the West Loop, which itself was a revelation at the time.
At Indienne, Sarkar pushes the envelope even further. The restaurant debuted in September with two tasting menus—vegetarian and non-vegetarian—that reimagine classic Indian recipes through a progressive lens (an a la carte menu has since been added). In a surprise, both set options are priced at $90, a relative bargain considering the River North location. On a recent visit, my non-vegetarian experience began with canapes. A passion fruit pani puri packing a tart punch cleansed the palate for a mushroom éclair crowned with goat cheese and shaved truffle.
The evening’s first course, a beautiful chaat starring a potato nest with dollops of chutneys atop yogurt and a raspberry spread, delivered a medley of textures and flavors. Each bite was creamy and crispy, as well as tangy and spicy. It was followed by an immaculate poached egg in a curry studded with peas, sweet corn and crispy onions. A buckwheat dome covered the dish, and pao bread and cultured butter also joined the table. This proved to be the best offering of the night and the egg vanished off my plate almost instantly. Thankfully, the dinner roll assisted in sopping up the remaining curry.
Next came a pair of meat-centric courses. Chicken terrine, draped with slices of truffle, bathed in a salty Amul cheese emulsion alongside a piece of leek. Though I expected the combination to land on the rich side, it ended up not overwhelming the palate. The lamb chop was as pretty as it was succulent, plated with four colored sauces inspired by different Indian regions. And in what was the most traditional aspect of the meal, garlic naan and black dairy dal accompanied the savory finale.
Dessert brought forth a light and airy version of rasmalai—a quenelle of egg white meringue fancified with gold flakes sat in a pool of milk anglaise. It was an ideal finish that didn’t hit me over the head with sweet or rich notes. The two-plus hour journey included the option of wine pairings, but I instead decided to explore the cocktail list. As a negroni lover, the Dubai was a superb sip, garnished with a date to temper the bitterness of the Campari. My companion went in an opposite direction ordering the Goa, a smooth and refreshing vodka fizz featuring cashew orgeat and coconut soda.
With the check on the way, I looked around and admired what Sarkar and his crew had done to the space that used to be home to Graham Elliot and several other dining concepts. Indienne’s design reflects the industrial-chic style ubiquitous in River North, but the open loft is livened up through touches like pastel pink banquettes and framed artwork depicting Holi, an Indian festival of colors. Hanging pendant lights and book-lined shelves give the cavernous room an elegant yet understated feel. It’s the type of place suitable for a post-work drink—evidenced by the busy bar—or a fancy date. As for me, I’ll be back to try more of Sarkar’s captivating brand of Indian cooking on the a la carte menu.
The vibe: Elegant but unstuffy, which is reflected by the reasonable pricing of the vegetarian and non-vegetarian tasting menus—$90.
The food: Traditional Indian recipes are reinvented with fine dining flair. For the tasting menus, expect six-to-seven courses. There’s also a separate a la carte selection.
The drink: The wine list is broken up into sections inspired by different art styles, including impressionism, baroque and abstract expressionism. Intriguing cocktails run the gamut from the boozy Dubai to the refreshing Goa.