Marigold

Hidden in a nondescript commercial block in Uptown, Marigold is an oasis of exotic deliciousness. It’s set up much like a narrow railroad apartment– the only natural light comes in through the front window– but they make the most of the space they have.

The ceilings are high, the walls are splashed with vivid colors evoking the turmeric and cayenne pepper of Indian curry, and a shimmering wall of tiny metallic mosaic tile greets you at the host stand. It’s easy to see why Time Out Chicago voted them a Best New Restaurant of 2007.

This is not your typical Devon Avenue establishment; no warmed-over buffet line awaits you. Instead, the special cocktail list beckons – fascinating mixtures of spice, fruit, and citrus with house-infused liquors. Hard to resist!

Enjoy one while you peruse the menu, because it will take you a while to decide. Although the wine list is not large, but very reasonably priced and really well chosen. Many wines are available by the glass.

We dove in with the Shrimp Malabar ($9.95), oven-roasted shrimp with cashew and yellow lentil upma (a roasted semolina cake), served in a pool of curried tomato sauce. Though billed as spicy, it was fairly mild, though certainly delish.

Loved the Calamari Bhaji ($7.95), their take on fried calamari. Tender rings and tentacles of calamari and onion tossed in chickpea and rice flour, they were crispy and greaseless, complemented by a very spicy masala chili sauce. Samosas ($5.25) can be somewhat perfunctory, but not these hot little pockets of spiced potato and peas, served with mint and onion-date chuntneys for dipping.

The special fish (Taaza Machli) that evening was Halibut ($23.95), encrusted with crushed cumin and coriander seeds, served over chickpeas tossed with mango powder. The crust kept the halibut beautifully moist, the crust and the counterpoint of the chickpeas made it a truly “special” dish. Murg Makhni ($15.75), chunks of tandoori chicken simmered in a delicious tomato cream sauce, was fantastic sopped up with the house-made Whole Wheat Naan ($2.95).

Topped with a little of the Saag Paneer ($6.95) (simmered greens redolent with curry, ghee (clarified butter), and chunks of sautéed Paneer cheese) and a spoonful of Cucumber Raita ($1.95), it was a sandwich (of sorts) fit for a rani! Don’t skip the Pakora Green Beans ($5.25), salty, crunchy and addictive, you’ll want to dip them in the cool, tangy Raita. Follow that instinct – it’s a good one.

Couldn’t resist dessert, especially when Kheer ($3.95), the classic Indian rice pudding, is on the menu. Scented with rosewater and studded with pistachios, it was the stuff of dreams, but definitely not Grandma’s rice pudding (unless her name is Gita). And who could resist the Kama Sutra Cake? Deep dark chocolate cake drizzled with pomegranate sauce. Obviously, we fought over the last bite.

Service was timed perfectly at our meal; it’s clear that Chef Sandeep Malhotra has the kitchen well in hand. The whole experience was wonderful and definitely worth the trip from the North Shore.