I was meeting a customer for a dinner in the North and since we both agreed on Indian, he suggested Adrak in Richmond Hill. So, I hopped on Open Table and made a reservation for the following week.
I’m not overly familiar with Richmond Hill so I needed to type this one into my iPhone. With the help of Siri I was directed into an abandoned parking lot with a small sign stuck in the ground indicating that the restaurant was somewhere in the vicinity. After parking, I walked around to the front of one of the buildings and found the entrance rather easily. It’s quite spacious, complete with a glassed off area housing tandoori ovens pumping out meat and bread at a feverish rate. There is a unique cocktail menu which brings flavours of the Southeast into a potent potable. Although I was tempted, I was deterred by the need to drive back to airport area afterwards.
Although Adrak means ginger in Hindi, the minute I heard the name of this restaurant I thought of the Aflac duck. This mischievous water fowl made headlines when the absolutely obnoxious Gilbert Gottfried was fired as the voice for making a series of inappropriate jokes related to the tsunami in Japan years back.. Since then, the duck has continued to get in trouble in commercials by most recently attending a yoga class so he can shamelessly stare at women’s asses in tight pants.
Since the Alfac duck is really white and the name sounds like Adrak, I would like to propose that the term Adrak duck refer to any really white person that walks into a ethnic restaurant and either gets questioned about their food choice or their level of spice. I have been the victim of this practice numerous times and just think I’ll start belting out “Adrak!” in a duck voice whenever this happens. Consider the following examples. I recently walked into a Thai restaurant with my daughter and we ordered fresh spring rolls with pork rind in it. The waitress raised an eyebrow and asked if we were sure we wanted pork rind because it was skin. Although I was tempted to yell “Adrak!”, as much as I hated to do it, I had to resort to a foodie look while stating “Yes, I’m aware”. I also have a Sri Lankan friend I will meet for lunch on occasion. Whether we go for East Asian or Indian, the level of spice is a discussion between the waitstaff and I with frequent glances at my friend with a “is this guy for real?” quizzical look on their face. The assumption is the level of heat needs to be tailored to me since I’m the wimpy white guy.
I’ve read reviews questioning the service at Adrak. Maybe it was the fact that it was a Wednesday night but I found it prompt and courteous. The night began with a decent amuse bouche reminiscent of arancini with saffron accents and served atop a tangy tomato sauce.
We started the night with a trio of protein from the tandoori oven; salmon tikka, bhatti da murgh (chicken legs) and chaamp taajar (lamb chops). Each was seasoned with an array of spices, fired up and attractively served. Before putting in the order, however, it happened. Totally ignoring the Indian guy at the table, he looked at the two white guys at the table and asked about the spice level. We agreed on spicy and he proceeded to inform us that Indian spice is hotter than normal spice.
Even for a white guy, everything was nicely spiced and didn’t require copious amounts of water nor a call to Telehealth to digest. Despite the extreme heat of the tandoori oven, the meat kept its interior moisture and the traditional sauces were a nice complement.
Next, we decided on a few curries. At the recommendation of my guest, we ordered the Dal Makhani (lentil) and the less traditional Adraki mushroom dishes. He also recommended the Romali Roti as opposed to Naan. I added the Matter Paneer (pea and cheese) and the smokey Bangain Bharta (eggplant). Quite confident with our dominance of the tandoori, I figured spice wouldn’t be an issue this time but in sitcom fashion, the waiter reminded us the spices are more prominent in curries so we should might want to bring it down a notch.
The lentils were delicious but extremely rich driven by the background taste of lots of butter. One of my favorite characteristics of a curry is the consistency and I found the mushrooms a bit disjointed. The flavours were fine but just didn’t blend as nicely as I hoped. The peas were spot on; a nicely balanced mix of sweet and tangy with a perfect texture. I thought the eggplant was decent as well although not as good as the dal or matter. Once again, the spice level was quite acceptable, even for a tongue flexing Caucasian.
While waiting for the curry, I watched the chef toss the roti dough like a pizza and delicately place each piece on a heated globe of stone and wait a mere few seconds for it to heat up and then skillfully fold it into a basket for the table. Now I can barely eat with a fork, so using the roomali roti ($5) as a vessel is always a fun adventure which usually ends up with me spilling something on my shirt or lap. I’d probably be safer with some basmati and a fork but what’s the fun in that and plus, I’m not a huge fan of rice.
I’m not suggesting that Adrak did anything wrong by questioning the spice levels for a couple of white dudes but I find this is a common occurrence in a slew of ethnic restaurants. I’m sure it is quite common to have complaints from some clown who thinks he is scary spice come in only to be brought down to baby spice level with one bite of a samosa. At the same time I should point out that I’m not interested in spice that kills the flavour of the food for the purposes of bragging rights but I do like things which are authentic. That said, I’m tempted to stand up and yell “I did it in two minutes and thirty-seven seconds” hysterically as I rip off my shirt and reveal my “I survived the Blazing Wing Challenge Buffalo Wild Wings Shirt” tee to silence the critics.
Adrak was a decent experience in modern Indian food. The service was good and prices were not ridiculous but a little on the high side From the open kitchen in which one can witness dough tossing and hot tandoori ovens to the large variety of traditional and not so traditional curries, any fan of Indian food will find something to satisfy their palate whether your tastes could be better described as baby (Adrak!) or scary spice.