Cardamom (1739 Plymouth) owner Binod Dhakal attributes his food’s bold flavors to the fresh proteins, produce and house-ground spices roasted just before cooking each dish. These kitchen tenets represent one reason why Current readers voted Cardamom’s fresh Indian cuisine as the “Best of Washtenaw” this past year. Dhakal divulges his go-to local haunts, compares fresh ground spices to fine coffee, and suggests a three-course menu for Indian food newbies and veterans alike.
How would you characterize the appeal of Cardamom’s cuisine for diners in the Ann Arbor area?
Indian cuisine is amongst the world’s most layered and complex flavor profiles, so many people come to us to experience something that is vastly different than what they might prepare at home. Even for home cooks of Indian food, many of the dishes we make are more complex than they might endeavor at home or capture a flavor profile they cannot replicate due to lack of specialized equipment, such as cooking in the tandoor oven. Because we are using fresh ingredients and scratch cooking techniques, all those delightful Indian flavors really stand up and sing in the finished dish.
Which ingredient sets Cardamom’s cuisine apart?
The spices are the foundation of Indian cooking and at our place I’m personally blending each masala (mix) so that it’s both traditional but unique. We roast and grind our spices in house just before cooking for maximum potency. One way to understand how significant that is to the end flavor of the food is to compare it to the difference between a cup of coffee made with freshly roasted and ground coffee vs pre-ground that’s been sitting in a can on the shelf for a year.
Most every dish starts with fresh garlic, ginger and onion and builds from there. We use more fresh onion and fresh tomato than any other restaurant our wholesale vendor sells to.
Where do you eat in the Ann Arbor area aside from your restaurant?
Zingerman’s Roadhouse (2501 Jackson) is our family favorite where we go with the kids. We live on the west side so we also frequent Juicy Kitchen (1506 N Maple) for a quick bite. Other favorites include Tomukun (505 E Liberty) and Savas (216 S State). I also enjoy cooking at home, so I like to shop at Sparrow Market (407 N 5th) in Kerrytown for fresh, seasonal and unusual meat and produce.
Which dishes comprise the perfect three-course meal at Cardamom?
For folks new to Indian food, an accessible crowd pleaser is Momo appetizer, Chicken Tikka Masala and Rice Pudding dessert. For the adventurous foodie, I’d recommend Papri Chat appetizer, Karahi Goat and Carrot Halwa dessert. Keep in mind, too, that we offer an extensive selection of vegetarian entrees as vegetarianism in a key way of life for many Indians.