For its natural wonders, historic landmarks, and rich culture, India remains a formidable destination as the world’s most culturally and linguistically diverse geographical entity after Africa. Perhaps for that reason alone, it is a country that few Americans will visit. That’s a shame, because Indian hospitality is lauded the world over.
According to an old Sanskrit saying, “The guest is truly your god.”
Step inside OM, and it is immediately apparent that the new restaurant heeds this advice, providing an atmosphere welcoming and comfortable from staff to decor.
At the table, guests are presented with a complimentary basket of rice crisps, sprinkled with cayenne, and served with yogurt-spinach dipping sauce. Our server informed us this traditional Indian snack is intended to open the palate. The term “rice crisp” may give the impression of something dry and flavorless, but they are nothing of the sort.
In fact, the rice crips enticed us not only to peruse the menu, but also to settle in, and enjoy the view of OM’s enormous chandelier, which appears to be a crystal rendering of a monsoon rain. It is interesting that in such a space, which is fairly open and acoustically resonant, OM manages to create a measure of intimacy.
I would predict, however, that OM’s largest draw will be those looking for a different dinner experience on their way to a show, a game, or a night of dancing.
Most Indian restaurants would have difficulty attracting such a clientele, but OM’s “Culinary Engineer,” Raghavan Iyer, has made it his mission to bring Indian food to a Western audience. At OM, he brings India to Minneapolis by way of modernizing traditional Indian flavors.
Don’t expect lamb vindaloo. Instead, anticipate something more along the lines of mild and flakey Konkan Wild Salmon ($24), poached in a coconut milk-malt vinegar sauce.
On your first visit to OM, consider starting with an off-menu preview: Taste of OM ($17) presents five different appetizers, suitable for two persons.
Our first bites were Fresh Mint & Potato Tartlets, spiced with ginger, and served in dainty phyllo cups. Astonishingly light, they instantly revised my expectations of the rest of the menu.
Next were Mumbai Crackers, topped with mango, potato, and red onion, and drizzled with two chutneys. They commonly are served as street food in India, but here, under the care of Iyer, they are transformed.
Patiala Cakes (potato with mint, chilis, and red onion) are served atop tamarind-date sauce and mint-cilantro chutney. Both sauces are lovely. In fact, Iyer shows his mastery most in his sauces, which are the heroes in both Coconut Shrimp and two-ounce Fenugreek Lamb.
With our appetizers, we also sampled a few of OM’s signature cocktails. Agni ($9) was our first, sporting just the barest hint of a Thai chili kick alongside Grey Goose Citron, muddled limes, and simple syrup. In general, at OM, if a menu item includes chili, fret not. The heat factor here is so mild that a special condiment is provided to kick up Iyer’s dishes for the more adventurous. Slumdog ($9), a gingery drink also featuring Grey Goose Citron, was especially good at bringing out the flavor in our appetizers.
Surprisingly, the Karma ($9) cocktail paired best with our next course: Cardamom Thai Chile Soup ($6). The smooth, frothy beverage managed to hide its Jameson kick behind a sly smile of half-and-half and simple syrup. Perhaps it is a topping of finely ground cardamom that makes it such an unexpected ally of the soup. The velvet red broth is the result of a red pepper puree with cashews, cardamom, and chilis, topped with yogurt and shredded paneer. It was by far the spiciest thing we tried, but I still would classify it as mild to medium heat.
Our Konkan Wild Salmon entrée was served with a bevy of sides that more closely resemble traditional Indian fare, but are given a cleaner, fresher make-under: a very hearty Naan ($4), Lentil Cakes ($7), Stuffed Baby Eggplant ($7), and Okra ($7). Our waiter suggested French Pinot Noir ($8), insisting that it goes with absolutely everything, and he was correct.
For dessert, we were brought the exceptionally lush House-Made Chai ($3.75), soon followed by slim Alphonso Mango Cheesecake ($8) and cayenne-kissed Chocolate Nirvana Cake ($8). The lovely chai unequivocally stole the sweet show, but if you absolutely must touch fork to chocolate after dinner, I understand. After all, “OM” refers to an ultimate state of peace, and I don’t believe it’s important how you get there. When arriving at nirvana, you should feel only welcome.
401 1st Ave. N., Mpls.