Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Review: OMango Restaurant in Aurora

I adore Indian food.  I used to work in an industry where the majority of my colleagues were Indian males, and we ate plenty of it with them.  Even more fun was one of the wives who offered cooking classes once a month.  I loved attending them and learning to make chicken briyani and palek paneer and other tasty treats her mother taught her.

There isn't much good Indian by me, as this hasn't become - yet - a trendy ethnic food yet.  OMango in Aurora is working to change that.  It's a fast casual Indian restaurant that offers both north and south Indian dishes, along with a some creative inspirations.  Chef Anne came from Alinea, as well as other great restaurants, and the quality she learned there isn't one you usually see at a fast casual restaurant.

The restaurant is decorated in bright bold colors, something visually stunning, and it includes the Indian symbols of welcome painted on the back wall.  The kitchen is open, something that I love because I enjoy watching food being made, but it also is a sign that the restaurant has nothing to hide and is proud of what they make.  And yes, that includes the naan they make in their tandoor ovens, a skill I watched and am certain that I could never learn.

OMango restaurant in Aurora

We started out with a mango lassi, a flavored yogurt drink that I adore.  I could drink this daily.  It is thick and just a teeny bit tart, with the taste of real mangoes.  I was tempted to order another one to take for my drive home, but I was too stuffed.

OMango in Aurora

We sampled a number of tasty treats from the naan sticks to chicken tikka to wraps.  The naan sticks are not strictly traditional, as they are shaped like breadsticks with a hole through the center where paneer (and Indian cheese) is stuffed and come with makhani dipping sauce, a wonderfully rich tomato based sauce.  Our other appetizer was the samosas, a potato and pea stuffed triangle.  I've always seen them fried in the past, but these are baked instead, making them far more healthy. And they were delicious with the tamarind sauce, adding a sweet flavor to the savory spice bursting from these pockets.

We tasted several of the curries, as well.  The saag paneer is a spinach and greens puree with chunks of Indian cheese.  It was not at all spicy and a great tradeoff for my tastebuds.  It wasn't my favorite dish, but I prefer my foods to be spicy and full of flavor.  My personal favorite was the chicken makhani, a yogurt marinated chicken served in that same rich sauce that came with the naan.

The chicken from the tandoor oven was just as awesome.  The chicken tikka is the chicken that is served in the makhani sauce, and it was just as good without the curry.  The sauces to dip were great.  There was a house made sriracha to heat up any dish, a cool cilantro mint, and a yogurt raita, amongst others.  The chicken is delightfully tender and moist, something you don't often find in quick serve restaurants.  The chicken hariyali is marinated in spinach, mint, lemon and yogurt and has such a delightful sweet and flavorful medley.  It is one even those who aren't spinach fans can enjoy, as it isn't overpowering and doesn't have the spinach texture that the wee ones wont eat.

We also sampled two of the wraps, something that again isn't a strictly traditional Indian dish but helps to make the food a little more approachable by putting it in a more familiar form.  The paratha flatbread is made of whole wheat and contains the filling of your choice.  The mango coconut shrimp was delightful.  The shrimp was cooked perfectly after having been marinated in lemon tumeric and garlic.  It was flavorful without being spicy, and the mango coconut sauce with crunchy veggies provided the perfect complement.  We also enjoyed the chicken keema, a marinated chicken with onions, tomatoes, peas, and more.  Again, this wasn't overly spicy but had a robust burst of flavors that was less sweet than the shrimp.  I appreciated that the wraps had flavor and texture but didn't overwhelm the fillings.
Shrimp wraps at an Indian restaurant

As I was talking to owner Karen, I mentioned that I love Indian food and was pretty sure I was going to head home and make some briyani - one of my favorite dishes to cook.  OMango also offers briyani in both a veggie and a chicken option.  She brought out some chicken briyani, and my tummy was happy again.  It was spicier than the one I make, but it was delicious and rich and full bodied.  Unlike mine, it contains no cashews, but that is by design.  More on their dietary focus shortly.

Our dessert was a soft serve mango ice cream.  This was the only dish that I didn't finish.  Yes, I honestly ate that much because it was so good.  The ice cream doesn't use the fresh or pureed mangoes that the rest of the menu does.  It comes from a base that a distributor provides, and my overly sensitive palate could taste a chemical undertone to it, but I was the only one in the group who did.  Everyone else thoroughly enjoyed it.  I'd rather have a second mango lassi as my dessert!

OMango is working to do more than just make Indian approachable to those who may not be as familiar or comfortable eating it - though there is a very strong Indian clientele at the restaurant, attesting to its authenticity.  They are aware of the many dietary concerns and restrictions that many people have.  Many items are vegan, and they offer gluten free items, as well.  That means that my dairy allergy child can eat there, and I feel comfortable with her doing so.  They don't put the cashews in the briyani so that they can make things easier for those with nut allergies, as well.  Currently, the cashier has to find a manager to help share what on the menu those with dietary restrictions can eat (although vegan items are noted on the menu), but they are working to put together an allergen menu that clearly labels what those with common allergens can safely order.  Hats off to them for this effort.

Currently, OMango is only located in Aurora, although I'm working to convince them that they need to open a location near me.  I have my fingers crossed that the concept will be successful and require expansion.  The food was delicious and fresh, and the quality was surprisingly high for a restaurant where I could go for lunch or dinner and not spend even $10.  That's impressive, especially when you consider that they use Amish chicken that is vegetarian fed and free range.  So when are you heading there?

In the interest of full disclosure, I attended an event at OMango in Aurora, but I was not asked to write about it.  I was not compensated, and all opinions remain my own.

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