THE only traces left of O Tacho are a little Portuguese ceramic rooster on a shelf near the entrance, and, possibly, two generic country scenes on one wall. There’s little else about this now sleek room that tells you what to expect of the new tenants — not the dark wood, well spaced tables and chairs, and not the attractive coloured geometric squares on the windows.
But some kind of Bollywood activity is on the television (with the sound off, mercifully) and in any case, the spicy-sweet scents of cumin, coriander, cardamom and cloves that hit you as soon as you walk in the door are an immediate tip-off to Green Chilli’s Pakistani/Indian cooking.
Samosas don’t come much better, with thin and supremely flaky crusts and a plump, flavourful potato-veggie filling (two for $2.99). Ditto the superb aloo tikki — little round potato patties stuffed with spiced paneer cheese (two for $3.99). Vegetable pakodas were good too, if not quite crunchy enough, or in the same class as the above two ($4.99).
Entrees range from $6.99 to $13.99, and there are as well a lunch buffet ($9.99), a dinner buffet — on Friday, Saturday and Sunday only ($14.99), and a few thali platters which incorporate enough items to make a meal (most $9.99). On my first visit I ordered a la carte, following those delicious starters with two of the house specialties.
There’s no lamb on the menu but you won’t miss it if you have the fabulous karahi goat — succulent chunks of falling-off-the-bone meat in a dark, thick sauce of onions and tomatoes, mellowed with yogurt and spiked with green chillis and coriander. Or the achaari chicken — the menu says it’s boneless, but we got ours on the bone for maximum flavour (bless them), cooked with onions, tomatoes and pickled veggies, with a hint of cilantro and a surprising kick of fennel seeds — not as pungent as I’d expected, but good.
I’d planned to try more à la carte dishes on a return visit, but, as it turned out, almost everything I’d come for turned up on the copious dinner buffet, which is tucked into a bright little room just off the kitchen. The choices may vary from time to time, but one of the most notable characteristics of the buffet of my visit was the degree of spicing which, unlike so many others, hadn’t been toned down for timid palates. Almost everything I tried had vibrant, well-balanced flavours, and was spiced at what I’d call medium. Some dishes, inevitably, stood out above the others. One of the most notable was chicken dumm biryani — basmati rice that was redolent of coriander, garlic and ginger with big chunks of on-the-bone chicken. It’s a dish I often order but which so often turns out to have little character.
This one, though, was more intricately seasoned than most, and, without question, superior to most I’ve ever had. Other excellent dishes were channa masala chickpeas in a thick, oniony gravy; mellow butter chicken in a velvety cream sauce; and palak paneer of smoothly pureed spinach with cheese. Least impressive was a creamy mixture of frozen mixed vegetables — nice sauce, boring veggies.
I was so befuddled by the buffet’s largesse I missed out on some other intriguing à la carte dishes I’d intended to try: black lentils fried in butter with onions and ginger, for instance; or butter fried saag rapini, or haleem of beef with lentils, or the kata-kat of goat liver, kidney and heart — clearly not a dish for everybody, but I would have been game. A dish that is for everybody, a personal favourite that I did try to order — twice — was paani puri (a.k.a on the menu as gool gappa), but it was unavailable both times.
However, we did get some of the other à la carte dishes I’d had in mind, and two were particularly good — lightly spiced, cigar-shaped minced beef seekh kababs with a faint citrusy undertone, and bhindi — a smoky mash of okra with onions and tomatoes, cooked almost to the melting stage but not in the least gooey (a sometime failure of okra, but not here). The spicing, whether on the à la carte dishes or those on the buffet, was — without my specifying it — a satisfying, mouth-tingling medium, but those who’d prefer their food incendiary can ask for it that way.
There was one problem with the buffet arrangements, to wit, the misnaming of some dishes, and the inaccessibility of some others.
Upon investigation into a hidden-away pull-out drawer we found a few slices of beef swimming in a sauce that was more like soup, and tasting for all the world like an occidental beef stew — nice, but still just beef stew.
Papri chat was one of the appetizers on the buffet, and it was enjoyable, although I suspect it would have been better still if ordered à la carte, since the buffet version didn’t have enough of either chickpeas or pastry crisps which, in this case, had lost most of their crunch as well.
Desserts on the buffet included a lovely selection of fresh fruits, excellent gulab jaman in syrup (less cloying than most), but for a rarer and even lighter dessert, don’t miss the honeyed carrot halwa. Mango chutney was satisfyingly thick, but other chutneys were thin and bland. Naans varied from deliciously puffy and chewy on one visit, to a doughy white blah on another, when the kitchen was coping with a full house, but the cooling yogurt-based lassis were perfect.
One commendable practice is the Students’ Special, for which $174.99 a month buys a daily take-out lunch or dinner or, alternately, for $7 to $8, a thali platter, with delivery in some cases.
It’s a warm-hearted little place, with service that is irresistibly warm, generous and accommodating.
To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.