Saturday, April 2, 2011

East is East: Rockin' the Casbah with Silk Route Feasts

I planned a date night for the sous chef and I for a Sunday night at East is East. I've ordered take out from East is East on Main street for crew meals quite a few time and always really enjoyed the food and their Eastern Plate meal concept, but I've never dined in their cozy, long narrow-cavern like restaurant before. I chose EIE for our date destination because I knew there were lots of tasty vegan options for the sous chef, and I heard they had live music most evenings. We showed up around 7pm and the restaurant was full with a few people waiting.
The manager is a young woman who does a great job at managing a waiting crowd, checking in with people, confirming that names are on the waiting list and giving approx wait times, and doling out samples of their delicious chai tea (served piping-hot, spicy, full of ginger, with cardamom, and cinnamon notes) and bites of boulani (traditional afghan whole wheat roti stuffed with potato, green onion and herb). The 15-20 min wait went by pretty quickly and then we were seated. The tables are low, wooden, with benches and stools, walls are covered in eastern-style carpets, and the lights are low with candles on every table. This place definitely has atmosphere.

The menu has a variety of starters and roti rolls- but since I've eaten EIE before- I went straight to their Silk Route Feast ($19) and suggested BJ do the same. This meal has a little of everything and all of the items are re-fillable, so it's kind of all you can eat without broadcasting it- it's a great way to get a taste of almost everything. The Silk Route Feast comes with dhal soup, salad, boulani, roti, coconut and afghan rice and two of their middle-eastern curry/stews.
This is your feast. Pretty impressive looking....but how did everything taste?
Dahl is a soup with lentil, finely chopped cauliflower, spinach, and herbs. It's thick and pretty tasty, but kind of mild for my liking.
I love the salad: baby greens, celery, spinach, carrots, green pepper, cucumber, loaded with awesome chopped beets and a light vinagrette. All of the flavours pop in this super light salad which serves as a nice contrast to most of the other elements on the plate which are heavy.
The roti is just okay, it's basically a whole wheat tortilla.
The boulani is a step up in flavour and texture since its stuffed, but I thought both were good vehicles for the delicious sauces- chutney, hot sauce, mango pickle, and herbed yogurt.
The afghan rice was good- the raisins and shredded carrot added some nice texture. I couldn't taste any coconut in the coconut rice, it tasted like regular basmati to me. The sous chef and I were able to get through quite a few of their curry/stews.
Minced Beef Kebab: Minced organic beef with mushroom, tomato, green pepper and herbs. This was kind of Italian meatballs with tomatoe sauce. The beef was nice but the sauce could've had a bit more spice or curry flavour to it. I also love mushrooms and I didn't get any in this dish.
Afghan Eggplant: Baked eggplant sautéed with herbs, onions, garlic and sundried tomatoes.
This is the best of their mains! The eggplants were sautéed, tender, and stringy – didn’t seem baked and practically melted in your mouth with subtle spices. It comes topped with raita which is basically yogurt- giving it more body and thickening up the dish.
Mango Butternut Squash: Butternut squash and mango cooked with coconut, milk, ginger, nutmeg, cinammon, and curry leaves. For me, this was too sweet and the consistency was too pureed, a bit like baby food.
Thai Tofu: Tofu, red peppers, lime leaves, and ginger in a sweet and sour mango green curry. This is a very westernized Thai dish. Again, it was okay but not particularly flavourful and too sweet for my liking. 
Alu Gobi: Cauliflower and potato in a tangy tomato coconut sauce. This is another favourite- tender vegetable in a butter chicken-esque sauce. 
Saag Paneer: Whipped spinach and paneer (Indian cheese) with mushrooms. This dish was a miss and really bland. Also, I didn't get any mushrooms in this dish ( i think they may have been out that night).
Chickpeas: Chick peas, onions, tomato, herbs & spices. A take on the classic dish, Channa Masala. Creamy and a very mild spice level. I wish it had more flavour.
All in all, there were some hits and misses with the mains (most of the dishes are super westernized and the flavours are a bit safe to please a wide audience- I wish there was more SPICE!) but overall we were really happy with our feasts, attentive service, and overall experience (especially when the 6 piece gypsy folk jazz rock ensemble started playing world music and covers around 8pm.) This is an awesome place for a date or to take an out of town visitor.
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