Aspiring to have a clear and refreshed understanding of food trends and cuisine in India vs. US restaurants; I purposely postponed my dining experience write-up at American Gymkhana till after my travels to India over Christmas holidays. And I for one couldn’t be more pleased with that decision. American Gymkhana not only compares head on with the authentic flavors of Indian Cuisine, it might be in the forefront with it’s innovative use of spices and artistic presentation in comparison to the restaurants in Delhi.
Enough of my rantings….on to the highlight of this article – Food and Wine. Yes! Indeed wine too…..Mille Grazie (thousand thanks) for the mouth-watering synopsis of the decadent evening showcased through the brilliant Bokeh Studio lenses.
Located on the coveted Orlando’s Restaurant Row – American Gymkhana (pronounced “jim-kah-nuh”) is conceptualized by Rajesh Bhardwaj, the restaurateur behind New York’s Michelin-starred Indian concept Junoon. The kitchen is helmed by Mumbai native and New York transplant, Chef Aarthi Sampath, who uses imported spices sourced from Indian markets juxtaposed by Florida’s locally-sourced ingredients to create a balance of traditional and modern cuisine.
American Gymkhana boasts and expansive wine menu that has been meticulously hand selected to compliment the bold and vibrant flavors of Indian Cuisine; the likes of which I have not had the pleasure of encountering in Orlando, let alone an Indian restaurant, even in the finest New Delhi restaurants. Eager to assimilate Mr. Bhardawaj’s vision of American Gymkhana, I willingly left my pairing decisions in Mr. David Pennisi (Advanced Sommelier) expert hands. Needless to say, I had the most delightful and complimenting wine and dine experience.
Lamb Seekh paired with 2012 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Bruno Giacosa – A staple and hallmark fixture in any Indian restaurant, the lamb kebab was amongst the most tender seekhs I have tasted outside of India. Succulent and delicately spiced, these tender morsels served on a bed of sweet onion chutney were complimented beautifully with the aromatic Nebbiolo grape found in the Barolo region and near Truffle town in Piedmont, Italy. Like Indian spices, Nebbiolo grape is intensely aromatic boasting rose, smoky, and violet aromas, and is high in acid and tannins. Both acid and tannins cuts the richness of the seekh rendering a refreshed palate with each sip and bite. Wonderfully executed, Bravo David!!
The Nebbiolo d’ Alba paired identically with the Nashile Lamb Chops (approximate translation of Nashile being intoxicating) marinated in whiskey/ginger/black cardamom/garlic whipped yogurt and served with pickled cauliflower lived up to it’s namesake. Char grilled with a crispy exterior and sinfully tender interior, the Nashile Lamb Chops were an unanimous winner at our table. Did I mention the pickled cauliflower? Sone pe Suhaga – Indian saying meaning icing on the cake.
For our main course we chose Begum Chicken. And since in my humble opinion, Indian Cuisine reveres all vegetables and treats them with the respect they so richly deserve, I ordered Paneer Pasanda, Eggplant Kut, and Dal Makhni accompanied with Naan and Sheermal.
Begum Chicken – 2013 Vermentino, Morris Farms: Mawa filled chicken roulade simmered in a cashew almond sauce. Morris Farms Vermentino displays the raciness of an Alsatian Pinot Gris and the depth of a ripe Napa Sauvignon Blanc. White wines typically made in stainless steel tanks rather than oak barrels have a bright, citrusy acidity that acts like a zap of lime or lemon to heighten flavors in everything. The Vermentino was a refreshing accompaniment to the silky and nutty sauce of the Begum Chicken.
Paneer Pasanda – 2012 Riesling Trocken, Knebel: Before I go any further, I must confess that Paneer is my all-time FAVORITE food creation out of India. I can devour it any form – be it raw sprinkled with salt and pepper, grilled in a tandoor, stuffed and simmered, or gently simmering in spinach or any form of gravy. I ADORE it….Whew!!
Chef Aarthi’s generous chunks of paneer pasanda stays close to it’s original Mughlai creation of homemade fresh cheese stuffed with dried fruit in a velvety onion gravy. To my utter amazement, Chef Aarthi informed me that the paneer was made in-house. Drum roll!! The Paneer Pasanda was exquisitely executed.
Sommelier David judiciously pairs it with a dry Riesling. Rieslings are terrific partners for Asian Cuisine. With their extraordinary range of sweetness levels and regional styles, it’s possible to find a Riesling for just about any dish.
This QbA Knebel trocken bottle is an fantastic value in dry Riesling. It’s stony/minerally characteristics adds density that gives them the body and power to pair well with full-flavored foods. And it certainly held itself well with the richness of the paneer dish.
Eggplant Kut – Eggplant is considered a delicacy in Indian cuisine with not enough loyal followers. Chef Aarthi’s version of roasted baby eggplant tempered with honey, curry leaves, and mustard in a sweet-spicy tomato gravy is finger-licking good.
Indian dishes regardless of the region are a tricky dance where melange of spices are gingerly blended to create a harmonious balance of flavors. Chef Aarthi achieves that unparalleled harmony of sweet-spicy-sour-savory flavors with her Eggplant Kut. Most tomato based dishes are considered tough pairings largely due to their high acid component. I was quite satiated with the glass of Italian Vermentino Sommelier David had recommended for the Begum Chicken. A New World Shiraz would work well as a red wine pairing here. For dessert we tasted the Gajarela Bread Pudding and Royal Kulfi. I have high regard for Chef Aarthi’s tantalizing compositions, that said the desserts did lack in flavor and luster.
At a Cocktail Mixer we had the pleasure of tasting few of the award-winning beverage concoctions curated by celebrated Mixologist Hemant Pathak, who has been featured in GQ Magazine and ELLE Magazine. While infused Indian liquors, spices and homemade syrups will honor the season by continuously changing, the bar boasts robust fall-flavored libations of 12 signature and classic cocktails, including AG 7559, Jalisco Sour, and Adraki Punch, and my personal favorite Masala Rye.
Man, that’s a long article which left me drooling for more…..
Indian Cuisine is a fusion of vibrant and daring flavors that are meant to be savory not sweet. Most Indian restaurants in America down play the role of spices and dowse the dishes in butter or cream to mask the shortcomings. Indian spices are exotic, intoxicating, complex, imparting fresh flavors in each morsel. And I couldn’t be more pleased to state that American Gymkhana and Chef Aarthi are serving luscious and glamorous creations in a setting where fine linen, knowledgeable and professional staff, and delightful World-class wines are as much an element as Indian Spices are.
To my utter dismay, not surprising though, American Gymkhana is CLOSED!