A PICKLE WITH A TWIST
Sit a restaurateur down for a heart-to-heart and he or she will share the joys and hardships of being in a tough business.
Marisa Paolillo’s story would have the additional elements of being a female, non-Indian chef focused on Indian cuisine in a market that is full of traditionalists.
Paolillo lived in Mumbai for nine years where she started to cook professionally and was inspired by the diversity and dynamism of India’s rich culinary landscape – from the popular tandoori oven preparations of its northern frontiers to the distinctly exciting fare of its coasts and avant garde urban homes, streets and eateries.
Passionate about Indian cuisine and wanting to see it evolve to meet today’s audience, she opened Mango Pickle in Chicago in 2016 using non-traditional, local, seasonal ingredients, and adding her personal touches. Partnering on the creative direction is Gregory Bazire, a French native, and chef and restaurateur who has been residing and working in India since 2005. Their collaboration was first sparked by a month-long catering project in 2012 for a yoga retreat in Goa, India.
The Michelin-designated restaurant has expanded its menu with the addition of new prix fixe tasting options in addition to its a la carte selections, offering guests a wider variety with six courses.
The meat-included prix fixe menu ($56) begins with bhel puri prepared with raw mango, green chickpeas, sorrel, three chutneys and sev. The second dish is Unwrapped Samosa, with rutabaga, potato, date chutney and cilantro. The third course features a seasonal delicacy, Soft Shell Crab ‘65’ Style, made with a delicious spiced batter, served with lemon pickle dip. The final savory dish on the menu is Kosha Mangsho, a curry from Bengal in the northeastern region of India, prepared with yogurt, ginger, black cardamom, green asparagus and micro herbs.
Two sweet dishes form the finale: Sorbet & Soda combines the flavours of orange, Campari and meringue, and the Pots de Crème is rich with chocolate ganache, brûlee banana and sandesh, a sweet delicacy made using paneer. Guests complete their meal with a choice of a comforting hot beverage served with traditional laddoo (sweets) – tulsi infusion, chai tea or South Indian coffee.
The all-vegetarian tasting menu ($49) overlaps with the other tasting menu, but the Soft-Shell Crab dish is replaced with the vegetarian Mushroom Korma, a braised dish with cremini mushroom, fingerlings and coconut curry and served with mini naan. And Spring Green Paneer replaces the Kosha Mangsho; it is prepared with asparagus, ramps, kale and millet.
“We’ve expanded our prix fixe menu to reflect the small-kitchen, creativity and personalization we want to continue being known for,” said Paolillo. “The prix fixe enables us to curate a progression of dishes that showcase the two key elements of our modern Indian cuisine. First, we want to reflect the season by incorporating local seasonal ingredients into our dishes. Second, we want to highlight the elements of a dish that make it uniquely Indian.”
Mango Pickle’s Pork Belly ($12) appetizer is prepared with sesame paste and radish. Another starter, Cashew Rice Cake ($12) is embellished with micro greens and prepared in a coconut curry sauce. The ever-popular Butter Chicken ($18) is charcoal grilled, enveloped in a low and slow tomato gravy with a dash of cream and served with mini naan.
Entrées include Chicken 65 ($14), a fried boneless chicken breast served with pickled onions and date chutney; Spring Vegetable Clay Pot ($24), prepared with green garlic-sesame chutney, turnips, fava and fingerling potatoes. Lamb Khichda ($23) is a slowly cooked dish prepared with moong dal, millet, yogurt, sev, mango pickle and served with garlic chutney. Fish and seafood lovers will enjoy the Grilled Sable Fish ($30), tandoori spiced and served with asparagus, lemon pickle and turmeric rice; and the Maine Wild Caught Lobster ($35) served with coconut malai curry and red rice.
Dessert choices ($9) include Orange Cheese Cake with jaggery crumble and candied tulsi and mishti doi, prepared with yogurt, chocolate and nougatine.
Paolillo’s passion for using the highest quality, fresh seasonal ingredients is apparent throughout her menu. For example, she uses chicken from Gunthorp Farms, Slagel lamb and beef, and produce from three local farms, one of which is certified organic. One of her new seasonal specials, soft-shell crab, is preordered a week in advance, wild caught, and comes to the restaurant live directly from the fishermen in time for the weekend. Her live Maine lobster is processed in house, as are her beef short ribs. Vegetables on the new menu are the earliest crops of the season: asparagus, herbs, flowers, sprouts, micro greens and young leaves.
Paolillo is becoming a nationally recognized interpreter of modern Indian cuisine.
“Our experience living and working in India taught us that there is not much standardization in Indian cooking,” she said. “There are basic regionally-specific guidelines plus a multitude of adaptations that are driven by the region, the season, accessibility to ingredients and the personal preferences of the cook.”
• Mango Pickle is located at 5842 N. Broadway St., Chicago, and their telephone number is 773-944-5555. More info at mangopicklechicago.com.