Cardamom Hill to open January 2, 2012


Cardamom Hill—the restaurant showcasing the cuisine of Kerala, the southwestern-most state of India—will give a spicy kickoff to the New Year when it opens January 2. Executive chef-partner Asha Gomez ran the popular Spice Route Supper Club and, encouraged by the accolades she received for her native cuisine, decided to leap into the restaurant business.

The restaurant is located at 1700 Northside Drive, in the same Berkeley Heights complex right off I-75 that houses a branch of Little Azio. I had a chance earlier this week to peek into the 46-seat restaurant. The Indian touches are subtle: A hand-carved wooden wall is the most evocative allusion to the sub-continent; green silk fabrics and soothing neutrals evoke Kerala more in color than imagery. This certainly doesn’t resemble any other Indian restaurant in town.

Ditto for the menu: Don’t come looking for samosas or chicken tikka masala. Lunch will feature a daily-changing menu of the meat- and vegetable-based dishes that Gomez learned from her family growing up in Kerala. Among the rotation will be complexly seasoned beef curry, reflecting Gomez’s Roman Catholic background in which, unlike Hinduism, beef isn’t eschewed. (Kerala’s prominent position on the ancient spice routes made it unusually tolerant of religious diversity).

Dinner will be plated more in the Western style. Expect gently spiced fried chicken, served traditionally over a bed of vegetable-ghee pilau (rather than the rice-flour waffles Gomez served at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival last May). And braised oxtails over mashed yucca and plantains. There’ll be shrimp curry with appam (soft, bowl-shaped breads made of rice flour) and kingfish fillet rubbed with spices and roasted in banana leaves. And real pork vindaloo, not the overly hot bastardization served in most Indian restaurants but with a sauce that incorporates vinegar, a reflection of Portugal’s culinary influences on Kerala.

Dishes like the vindaloo are part of why I’m so excited about Cardamom Hill: It’s one of the first restaurants I know in the country that will focus on a specific regional cuisine of India. And full disclosure here: Gomez and I have been friends since she ran Westside’s Neem Tree Spa and she’s cooked for several of my birthday parties, so it won’t be appropriate for me to formally review the restaurant. But as a longtime student and lover of Indian food (I explored the local scene in 2009), I’ve been waiting decades for Indian restaurants to begin moving toward true regionalism. If you’ve never tried them, you’d be amazed at how different the dairy-rich foods of Punjab in the North are from the gently sweet vegetarian dishes of the Gujarat in the West and the spice-route-influenced foods of Kerala and Goa in the South.

I’m stepping off my Indian cuisine soapbox now. Bottom line: Cardamom Hill is bringing an exhilaratingly fresh vantage to Atlanta’s food scene. Here’s hoping it sparks a revolution in Indian dining.

Photo: Kelsey Agnew