Mike and I just returned from a long hike (more on that later) and I have been incredibly ravenous since we returned. I was particularly craving Indian food, as two reporters were walking around the newsroom with leftovers from Karma Bistro at work today. YUM.
Acting on a tip, we checked out Zaika Indian Bistro. I’ll admit I didn’t have high hopes. The restaurant had several things going against it in my eyes.
Exterior of Zaika Indian Bistro & Bar
Firstly, it’s in the deep DEEP south of Edmonton, in a new suburb. It’s in the fabled SW zone of addresses, folks. Secondly, it’s not even on Google Maps yet, and I was concerned it would be hard to find. Thirdly: “Indian Bistro Bar”? Uh oh. Sounds pretty trendy. Finally, it has been open just two weeks. Nothing ventured, nothing gained…
We pulled up after finding the restaurant fairly easily (first surprise.) The best way to get there is to head south on 91 Street from 23 Avenue. It’s located in a new strip mall to the west of 91st, just past Henday. You can also find it by going south on Parsons Road from South Edmonton Common, past Wal*Mart. The restaurant is to the east. If you hit Ellerslie, you’ve gone too far. Here’s a map showing the approximate location. Trust me, it is not in a field.
The outside and restaurant itself was fairly sleek. It reminds me of an Indian themed OPM or Kai; even a junior Earl’s or Cactus Club Cafe. There is ethnic electronic music, dark interiors, shiny light fixtures and a stylish bar and large booths.
However, I am happy to admit the restaurant is not all style with no substance. Although they have a huge, well stocked and fresh looking buffet in a beautiful set up ($17, available every night of the week), we ordered from the menu.
I indulged in a cocktail (ginger mojito at the suggestion of our server, it was alright, $8) and our food started to come out quickly. The menu is not that extensive, but covers a range of dishes, most of them favourites with the Canadian crowd. (Butter chicken and paneer make appearances.)
To start, chatt pa pri (papadum with tamarind, yogurt and chick peas) and, surprisingly, wings. The chatt pa pri ($7) was a dissapointing start. The tamarind sauce was cold, and may have come from a bottle. The papadums were not freshly fried. This dish was just okay, and I was seriously concerned about the rest of our meal.
The wings ($9) were a huge improvement, however. They were were spicy, but fruity. The chicken drumsticks were meaty, hot, not too fatty and came with a much needed (for my mouth, anyways) cooling raita dipping sauce and pickled carrots. A nice change from regular hot sauce wings.
For mains, lamb korma and bhindi masala. The serving size of one main entree was sufficient for two. If you are very hungry, I would say get two mains, or order heavily off the appetizers to supplement, especially if you like leftovers.
The lamb korma ($15) was good – tender meat coated in a lake of rich creamy sauce. The best was the bhindi masala ($13) though. It is okra, stir fried with tomatoes and onions and spices. Mike has become a real whiz at making this dish, and it is one I frequently request he make as it is a personal favourite, so naturally I had to try Zaika’s. Their bhindi masala was excellent, and I couldn’t stop popping the almost carmelized spicy okra morsels in my mouth.
All main dishes ($11-17) at Zaika come with a well sized portion of basmati rice and a piece of fluffy fresh naan, which was a pleasant surprise. Service was good, if a little inexperienced at times. But hey, it’s a new restaurant.
This buffet ($17) has got to be one of the most stylish in town, and the easiest to access. Circles! Why has no one done this before?!
So while Zaika does not offer anything too new or surprising, it does turn out a good meal at above average value, in a pretty setting. There are some funky additions to the menu (like the “naan bar” appetizer) and of course, vegetarian options, but nothing too wild. I also did not see the word “fusion” anywhere. Whew!
The server told us the restaurant has roots in another Indian establishment in town, Indian Garden. I think this really shows in their menu, and cooking. We were also told that all their produce comes from the new Asian market next door. Unfortunately, it had just closed when we left Zaika at 9pm, but I will return. I love a restaurant that supports neighbours!
It will not surprise me if they become a very popular southside restaurant, even given their close proximity to the chain restaurant hellhole that is South Edmonton Common. A pox on thee, S.E.C!
Zaika Indian Bistro & Bar
2303 Ellwood Drive SW, Ellerslie Crossroads
780 462 8722
(dinner for two, with drinks, appetizers and ample leftovers, about $60.)
bonus: nearby, a cafe called Dumplings Plus is in the works, as well as “Real Deal Meats”. I’m ashamed to admit I had no idea this area was bubbling over with possibilities!
update, October 16 2009: The buffet is excellent value. The items change daily, and are all fresh. Naan is freshly made and brought to your table, and there are light, crispy freshly made pappadums. Highly recommended. You can read a bit more about a recent visit here.