Trail Mix: A real taste of India

Feb. 25, 2011, 12:40 a.m.

Trail Mix: A real taste of India
Visit Junnoon on University Avenue for eclectic Indian dishes such as the Chef's Award Winning Halibut in coconut-ginger sauce, Old Delhi-Style Chicken, and warm Carrot Halwa with vanilla gelato. (CELESTE NOCHE/The Stanford Daily).

India controls more than 40 percent of the nearly three billion dollar world spice market. India’s concentration in spice agriculture is driven by the demands of its cuisine — India consumes 90 percent of what it grows. Junnoon continues the tradition of flavorful cooking and pairs it with real culinary talent to produce a fantastic dining experience. There are vast regional differences in Indian cuisine that make Junnoon hard to categorize, but it can be described as an eclectic, modern Indian restaurant incorporating elements from throughout the sub-continent. Fortunately, the geographic differences are expertly navigated and everyone, vegetarian or omnivore, should be able to find something he or she enjoys.

The restaurant manages to have an attractive décor without being intimidating. In general, Junnoon is best for a nice dinner with a good friend or perhaps a second date.

Cooking a thick piece of meat is among the more difficult tasks in the kitchen; high temperatures for short periods help the meat retain moisture but can end up searing it and leaving the inside raw, while lower temperatures ensure thorough cooking but can dry the meat out. Junnoon masterfully handles the challenge with both red and white meats as well as fish. The Chef’s Award-Winning Halibut, despite its less-than-humble name, is certainly one of the strongest dishes on the menu. The halibut is cooked perfectly and served with a coconut-ginger sauce that is divine. A small mound of fluffy semolina acts as a sponge to help collect the last drops of ambrosial sauce. The Basil Malai Chicken Tikka is unbelievably juicy and tender. The accompanying cold dip carries a bit of peppery kick that contrasts well with the chicken. And the Tandoori Lamb Chops, succulent in their own right, are plated with amazing mint chutney that compliments both the red meat and the accompanying mashed potatoes.

Junnoon is also able to produce several strong vegetarian options to balance its meat selection. The Baby Corn Saag is tasty and not too heavy; the baby corn provides an interesting variation in texture. The Goan Cauliflower and Ginger Soup is subtle but a secret gem. The top notes are almost entirely cauliflower, but you exhale a pleasing ginger perfume. Junnoon also does excellent variations on Indian vegetarian street food that make for some very pleasurable eats. For example, Junnoon’s Signature Tangy Semolina Shells, high-end Pani Puri, are beautifully plated and have an array of textures in each bite that give them an incredible mouth-feel. The Veggie Frankie Wrap, a refined version of a typical street sandwich, is scrumptious and savory; the complex flavor profile really separates it from its quotidian origins.

Junnoon offers a variety of naans, some of which are substantial enough in their own right and others meant to compliment its selection of raitas and chutneys (dips). The Onion-Pepper Kulcha is fairly hearty with a nice bit of crunch from the onions. The Classic Naan and Lachha Paratha each have their own fluffiness and subtly sweet tones that make them delicious but allow a raita and chutney topping to stand out. The Fresh Cranberry Chutney is delectable and perfectly balances the sweetness of the cranberries with sour tamarind and mustard seed spice. The Garlic Chili Chutney is fantastic, although it is not as spicy as advertised; it has a pronounced garlic flavor that harmoniously collaborates with dried mangoes to produce a wonderful spread. The Spinach Raita is not particularly exciting but may save your life should you order the Shrimp Vindaloo. The Shrimp Vindaloo, perhaps the hottest dish on the menu, provides the fire necessary for those looking for that experience in Indian food. The entree’s intensity comes on slowly, and the leftover sauce begs to be scooped up with any leftover naan or paratha.

Junnoon has managed to assemble a menu that is extremely versatile; fans of Indian food will certainly leave satisfied, while the less adventurous can find comfort in some of the more modern adaptations. After I recently broke the $20 barrier at the CoHo for lunch, I’ve decided to make the lunch special for Stanford students at Junnoon part of my usual rotation. Junnoon is “definitely worth trying” — and absolutely don’t forget to try the Warm Carrot Halwa for dessert.

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