restaurant review #1

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Big joints often break up space with mashed clusters of tables and false walls in order to be cozy. Small restaurants (in terms of square footage) usually feel like hampers. Shanik, however, with fifteen-foot raised ceilings, dangling bulbs, and an open dining room that peeks over a wide pass to the kitchen, maintains a lively atmosphere while feeling almost grand. The bar at the back is separated by a lattice and even it is luxurious.
            What this means is that the host and waiters have a relatively small and manageable space and a limited number of guests to navigate.
Service was excellent from the first: cold water and steaming chai (homemade and truly standout, see the recipe here) arrived at the table as soon as I did. Piping mouthfuls of vegetable tempura soon followed. Complimentary delicacies are always a treat, and when they arrive at the beginnings of meals are especially welcome. I was never in doubt that I would leave hungry or feel that I had overpaid. Shanik shines in this area, especially compared to less ambitious Indian restaurants: dishes that should come with rice or na’an do, no need to order separately or worry about extra costs. My server was good enough to let me know this fact up front so I had no need to bother as I scanned the menu.
            Meeru Dhalwala and Oguz Istif brought quite a reputation and a lot of buzz with them from Vancouver when they opened Shanik here. Unfortunately, I am not sure the hype has been deserved. The best I can say for the food itself is that it tasted good, sometimes very good, and that two appetizers, one vegetable entrée, and one meat dish quite handily stuffed three people. The worst thing I can say is that the flavors and textures were much the same throughout
            I had my first forebodings when the samosas arrived. They were lightly breaded and nicely crunchy (though they could have been flakier) and stuffed with potatoes and bell peppers. The problem was that the curried chickpeas that accompanied them were remarkably similar in terms of texture and taste to the stuffing—only the curry was spicier and tastier. I could have done without the samosas altogether. I would have been happy as a bumble bee on a marigold. Instead I was left wondering why the samosas were made to compete with the curry at all.
           The Brussels sprouts with bell peppers, cashews, and paneer? Spicy, yummy, and missing any quality that wows. The entrée of roasted eggplant and butternut squash with black chickpeas? Much the same, and because of the chickpeas, too similar to the samosa app. Only not quite as good.
            Finally, the spice-encrusted lamb popsicles: I had high expectations for this dish. I love lamb. I love mutton. I was excited about the split pea and spinach mash. I was intrigued by the sound of coconut curry. But I found all of it just so similar to the sauces, vegetables, and curries in the dishes I had just finished. The lamb itself was blackened and cooked between medium rare and medium on all three cuts of the rack. The spicing was excellent. The meat was yummy. But the coconut curry should have popped and it did not. And the spinach and peas should have tasted green and they did not. Too much butter and oil was at play, which was apparent from the first: the sauce was breaking in the dish, oil rising and gleaming at the top. This is an especially bad move with rack of lamb that is quite naturally oily and fatty already.
             I will add that the cocktails were topnotch, which is no surprise in Seattle. The Bollywood 411 was particularly fine. And the English-style Machine House Gold ale on tap was superb. I found myself in the confused state of being happily sated and slightly disappointed when I left. The food just could not live up to the promise of that first cup of chai and crunchy morsel of vegetable tempura—too much the same note. I have noticed the problem of food that declines over the course of a meal many times, and that was not exactly the case here. But the food did not get better and it should have. If a restaurant serves entrées, the entrées should be the stars if only by virtue of cost. Here they were not—for more on this topic, read My Entrée is Cursed—and so my recommendation for Shanik is this: expect tasty food, but go for the ambience and service.
– Thomas McCafferty
500 Terry Ave. North
Seattle, WA 98109
No reservations
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