Food & Drink: World of Flavors
Sheetal Thakur brings Indian fusion cuisine to College Park, and the results are magnificent.
Real estate agent Sheetal Thakur was showing a client an empty restaurant space on Edgewater Drive when she fell in love with it herself.
“I grew up in a family restaurant that my parents owned in Mumbai,” Thakur says, “and I went to hospitality/culinary school in India. I grew up watching how the industry works.… It has always been my dream to have a restaurant.” Her dream is now a reality with El Vic’s Kitchen, a new multi-cultural entry in the College Park dining scene.
Opened last November, El Vic’s takes a fusion attitude toward Indian food. Touches of Spanish, Mexican, Cantonese and Italian pepper the menu, from a lasagna Bolognese to Cantonese chili chicken.
“We’re doing fusion,” Thakur says. “We specialize in Indian cuisine, but we want to think about what can be done. There’s so much more we can play with. We want to do butter chicken or lamb tacos and make it more fun.”
A favorite is Grandma’s Home Style Chicken Curry ($16.95), a richly flavored, slow-cooked stew with Indian spices, served with kulcha flatbread and basmati rice. It is straight up comfort food, even if you’re not from Mumbai.
“It’s a family recipe,” she says. “Back in Grandma’s time, you couldn’t go to a store and get whatever ingredients you wanted; you had to use whatever was available and that became Grandma’s curry. It isn’t ingredient sensitive, but it always has a flavor you can’t compare with anything else.”
Two Mumbai-based chefs, Rakesh Talwar and Abhishek Botadkar, are partners with Thakur and help steer the menu. “They’re here when they’re not traveling,” Thakur says. “Each menu item is designed by one or all of us.” Talwar is a giant in the subcontinent, with 10 restaurants in India and Kuala Lumpur serving menus that span Indian, Malaysian, Thai and Cuban foods. Consultant Botadkar specializes in combining world cuisines, and champions the “nizza” naan-based pizza that features prominently on El Vic’s menu. Both owned a tandoor restaurant called The Rolling Pin in Kuala Lumpur that actually served savory small bites in carved-out rolling pins. Perhaps we’ll experience that in College Park.
El Vic’s Kitchen
2445 Edgewater Drive, Orlando
Menu items: $9.95-$23
“Everyone comes in and demands more Indian stuff,” Thakur says, and there’s no shortage of Indian dishes that compare favorably to any specialized restaurant in Orlando. The Kasundi Shrimp Couscous ($23), is shrimp marinated in mustard seeds, turmeric, cumin, ginger and green chili kasundi chutney and served with green apple and arugula. Those shifts of dark spices, tartness, bright apple and slowly developing heat create a dish that will remain in your memory. Chili-battered fish koliwada ($11.95) is fried like popcorn shrimp and served with a fresh mint chutney (I am a great fan of homemade chutney and I like this one very much).
The cross-cultural nizzas stand out. The Great Indian Nizza ($14.95) turns out to be house-made naan flatbread with unusual combinations, like chicken tikka, creamy tomato sauce and a sour cream drizzle; M & M Nizza ($13.95) combines mushrooms, mascarpone and truffle oil; the Meatball Nizza ($14.95) has meatballs, arugula and parmesan. Great for lunch, as is the El Vic’s House Wrap ($10.95), a tortilla enfolding grilled chicken, hummus, garlic sauce and mint mayo.
The space has been at one time Tartine Wine Bar, Croissant Gourmet, even an Ace Hardware and a yogurt shop. El Vic’s may prove to the exciting and skilled occupant that College Park has been waiting for.
One for the generations
Sheetal Thakur calls her restaurant “my baby,” but her real offspring lend their names to the restaurant: Her young daughters, Elizabeth and Victoria, are the origin of “El Vic.” She gets emotional talking about her children. “I want this to be something I can pass on to them, as a legacy.”