Don’t you hate it when this happens? You hear great things about a new place, but you know it takes time for restaurants to get in the groove, working out the kinks in the kitchen and front of the house. So you wait awhile to give it time to come into its own. Then you go and it either meets, exceeds, or disappoints expectations, but one way or another you’re inspired enough to want to tell people about it.
Tikkawala, which is closing Friday, is a fast-casual West Loop Indian restaurant with fine-dining pretensions from a pair of industry vets.
“We started off with a real amazing menu,” chef Hiran Patel told me when I talked to him earlier this week before filing next week’s restaurant review. “We hit a grand slam and got a lot of attention. It just didn’t make sense in dollars and cents to continue, because everything was from scratch, and we only had four tables and no bar program.”
Patel, a veteran of Klay Oven Kitchen and Veerasway, along with chef Siran Singh (Roister, Veerasway), opened this tiny counter-service spot in June, by day feeding hot dogs and chicken seekh burgers to the kids from Whitney Young, and by night serving grown-ups (including enthusiastic early-bird food writers) more ambitious things like grilled shrimp with mango-apple salad and grilled lamb chops with Indian-spiced chimichurri and gingered potato puree.
Usually I wait about a month before I’ll visit a new place, but I clearly slept on Tikkawala too long. I could tell right away something was up. Those dishes were nowhere to be found, and even things like the lauded rogan josh and saag paneer with fresh spinach were missing the cheffy garnishes that reportedlly had gussied these standards up. No chicken seekh burgers either—just a bare-bones lineup up of eight textbook dishes and a handful of sides. I tried them all, and they were all pretty good and fresh, even if somewhat restrained in their spice profiles. That restraint’s intentional, according to the chefs, so that at least was on target.
But Patel tells me it isn’t goodbye, just see you later. Another partner owns the building, so they’re going to take some time to refocus and develop a concept that makes financial sense yet won’t stifle their creativity. An intriguing five-course “Namaste Italy” dinner set for tonight has also been put off, but anyone who can’t stave off a craving for the partners’ take on Indian fast-casual can still hit up their two Naansense locations for lamb vindaloo tacos or channa tikka quinoa bowls.
Tikkawala 1258 W. Jackson, 312-455-1258, tikkawala.com