R

abbit samosa. Tandoori tilapia filet. Garam masala crusted filet mignon. Sound enticing? Meet the new face of fusion. Fusion cuisine is hot and getting hotter, with Asian and Western cuisines melding together to form something both familiar and new. But the latest rage is in Indian fusion—prized for its spiciness and its bold flavors, Indian food is being used to punch up cuisines from the Old World.

Fusion cuisine is hot and getting hotter, with Asian and Western cuisines melding together to form something both familiar and new.

Indebleu is no exception. As its name suggests, the trendy restaurant-cum-nightspot opened just five months ago featuring an Indian-French fusion menu that combines the best of Indian spices with the sophistication of traditional French cookery.

The brainchild of entrepreneur Arjun Rishi, Indebleu, located in Washington, DC’s Penn Quarter, has one mission: To serve delectable food but with an emphasis on service. As Indebleu general manager Jay Coldren puts it, “The very cool places are fraught with mean servers and wretched food. Arjun thought it would be great to create a contemporary, cool place that specialized in service, kindness and great food.” And so the brainchild for Indebleu was born: A hip concept restaurant that would emphasize fine service and fine cuisine.

Inside Indebleu
Inside Indebleu

Visit Indebleu

Indebleu
707 G Street NW
Washington, DC 20001

203 333 BLEU
Indebleu

But though Indebleu is a fusion of the best of French and Indian, Coldren and executive chef Vikram Garg are more concerned with the quality of the food and the dining experience. Coldren emphasizes the fact that the real concern is whether the food is good—not whether the patrons recognize the fusion aspects. “First, we’re presenting it as good food. We’re not making a fuss of the French and Indian [fusion],” he says. “If they know, cool. If they don’t, that’s fine too.”

Chef Garg is in total agreement: “Fusion can become a confusion. I want people to have a sensational experience. The food should please their palates,” he says. For both, the primary point of Indebleu is to offer an exciting gustatory experience in a welcoming environment—the fusion is secondary.

Despite the emphasis on good food, the fusion aspect is still important to Indebleu’s team. For Garg, the melding of French and Indian combines the best of both worlds. While “the presentation and simplicity of French food” attracts Garg, it is “mild and timid. Indian food has the fifth element of sensation. So I add the fifth element to French food, making it bolder.” Coldren points out that while many new trendy Indian restaurants like Tabla and Mantra present Indian food in French style, real Indian-French fusion has been seldom done before.

Fusion can become a confusion. I want people to have a sensational experience. The food should please their palates.

“What we wanted was a real hybrid, a real mix of the two flavors,” he says. And Coldren is enthusiastic about the menu that’s been put together: “I think the chef has 45 absolute winners. If you like salmon, it’s the best you’ve ever had. If you like veal, it’s amazing. If you like beef, it’s perfect.”

Inside Vermillion
Inside Vermillion

W

hen it comes to perfection, no place does it better than Vermilion, Chicago’s elegant fusion house that has garnered national attention. Chicago magazine named it “One of the Top 20 Restaurants in Chicago,” while Bon Appetit, Esquire and USA Today have all sung its praises.

Vermilion’s success is perhaps due to its unique concept—the blend of Indian and Latin cuisines. Founder and owner Rohini Dey came up with the idea because she “wanted to create something a little more exciting. Indian by itself is a little tricky to market. I love Latin American cuisine—Peruvian, Brazilian. I wanted to play with their ingredients and our spices,” she says. She adds that her primary goal was “to do something upscale Indian in Chicago … We were still stuck in the rut of the $8.99 all-you-can-eat buffet.”

Visit Vermilion

Vermillion
10 West Hubbard
Chicago, IL 60610

312 527 4060
Vermilion

Dey successfully pulled Chicago out of that rut, establishing a sensual restaurant with contemporary interiors, attention to detail and, of course, tantalizing dishes such as plaintain-crusted fish with aloo gobi and paneer semolina pilaf. But it’s not just a random combination of cultures. Dey notes that both cuisines feature similar ingredients (rice and chiles), use similar seasonings (cumin and coriander) and even share similar preparation methods. The result is a menu that combines familiar flavors in new ways, delighting palettes along the way.

Indian food was still stuck in the rut of the $8.99 all-you-can-eat buffet.

Working with executive chef Maneet Chauhan, Dey named the place Vermilion for its captivating ring and storied background. “I didn’t want to go with something like ‘Jaipur Palace,'” explains Dey. “Vermilion just has so many beautiful meanings that I love. It’s the brightest natural shade of red, and red is such an integral part of both Indian and Latin cultures. The more beautiful meaning, of course, is sindoor, the vermilion-colored powder worn by women in India. It symbolizes femininity, and we almost take Vermilion as a celebration of women.”

Vermillion head chef Maneet Chauhan and owner Rohini Dey.
Vermillion head chef Maneet Chauhan and owner Rohini Dey.

A fitting celebration, given that Dey and Chauhan are two women who have broken barriers in a male-dominated restaurant business. And they are committed to keeping it that way. “People are very intrigued by and all-women team. Being supportive of the female community is a big part of what we do,” says Dey. But above of all, Dey is devoted to offering a dining experience that her patrons soon won’t forget. “Vermilion is both a fresh and exciting, upscale restaurant, and also a destination showcasing our culture.”

H

arveen Kheera, owner and founder of Tallula, does not consider herself a chef, per se, but the restaurant biz has been her livelihood for more than 17 years. In that time, she’s accrued many credits to her name, including being a one-time owner of the Tunnel Top bar in San Francisco’s, part-investor in Chez Spencer, on the opening staff of many notable San Francisco eateries, including Delfina and Foreign Cinema.

But, it’s Tallula, Kheera’s very own project, that’s been a life-long passion. Tallula is not your run-of-the-mill Indian restaurant. It’s passionate and charmingly eccentric—all of which are echoed in the food as well as the restaurant’s decor. Situated only blocks from the main drag of the Castro, an area of San Francisco known for being a gay hub, the restaurant, as Kheera is quick to note, appeals to the adventuresome and open-minded.

The outer signage of Tallula is so subtle that it’s easy to miss it if you weren’t looking specifically for it. Inside, it’s feels like a warm and inviting home, with dark wood floors, soft yellow walls, and dim lighting. Kheera says she stayed in the house for a year, making sure it was the right space, before opening Tallula, and it certainly shows. Kheera’s intent was to make Tallula feel like a cozy blend of the old world and the new, a place where she’s just “cooking for some friends.”

Tallula’s curious Lobster and Pea Dhosa on the menu tastes both of the deliciously tart South Indian crepe and a buttery New England lobster.

The dishes, many of which are served small-plate style and change with the seasons, pay homage to the flavors of India but are often concocted with a California-French flair. A Tallula ceviche, for instance, is made with tilapia, yogurt and spices and served in a pappadum shell. Or, the curious Lobster and Pea Dhosa on the menu tastes both of the deliciously tart South Indian crepe and a buttery New England lobster. Desserts can also tow the line between different cultures, like the duo of mango and tea creme brullees.

Visit Tallula

Tallula
4230 18th St.
San Francisco, CA 94114

415 437 6722
Tallula

When asked how Kheera came up with such an innovative marriage of flavors, she says that she has always liked bringing a global focus to Indian food. “Europeans have influenced Indian food for more than a few generations. I think that South Asians have also gone into different cultures, Western and Eastern, and have developed changes in the food, too.” Tallula isn’t limited to drawing its inspiration from a sole geographical region of India, either. “I think it’s really fantastic to embrace India in its entirety, to honor and value each of the regions.” In the future, she expects to put together a rotating tasting menu which honors different regional Indian cooking styles.

But while going global sounds like a blending of cultures, Kheera is quick to say that the food, as she thinks of it, is not part of the trend of fusion. “This is something that I don’t think is necessarily fashionable and trendy,” Kheera says. “It has integrity and a shelf-life and it will mature and it will grow.” Perhaps because of the proliferation of restaurants touting fusion cusine, she feels compelled to set herself apart as not a passing fad but a staple. She much prefers to call Tallula’s cuisine “modern Indian.”

Whether it’s modern Indian, upscale elegance, or the latest trend, one thing is certain—fusion fury is here to stay.n

Nakasha Ahmad, Ismat Sarah Mangla and Summi Kaipa love food.
Published on May 2, 2005.
Photography: Indeblue photos courtesy of Indeblue. Vermilion photos by Vikram Tank for Nirali Magazine.
Comments are closed.
  1. September 7, 2007, 8:41 am Sunny Singh

    Hi,
    I am Sunny Ex. So.Chef, would like to know more about Indebleu restaurant as I cannot open the site.
    Vermilion is realy a very unique restaurant and especially if run two pioneers Maneet and rohini dey.I would surely luv to work such duo team who has passion for food and restaurants like me