While Indochinese cuisine may, at first, sound like a slightly unusual, if curious combination, it is more historically and easily explained than most food "fusion."
Geographically, the borders of India and China touch, invariably informing each other's cuisine and history. Indochinese cuisine at its core takes Chinese food and appropriates it via Indian spices -- and has sprung forth from its roots, spreading around to Singapore, Malaysia and even North America.
Bombay Chopsticks721 W. Golf Road, Hoffman Estates, (847) 380-5775, bombaychopstickschicago.com
Setting: Modern, upscale casual with rich dark colors and mostly Indian audience
Hours: 1:30 to 3 p.m. lunch Monday through Friday, 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday
But while Chinese cuisine, in incarnations good and bad, can be found at nearly every corner, Indian is far behind in presence on the Chicago culinary radar, centering mostly around Devon Street, with a few notable exceptions.
India House, for example, is a popular name in Indian cuisine in the Chicago area with locations in Oak Brook, Buffalo Grove, Schaumburg and Chicago. Now, owners are lending their expertise to Bombay Chopsticks in Hoffman Estates in what is undoubtedly and quite obviously an ambitious investment.
Just a few weeks into being open, a sizable dinner crowd was waiting to get in on a Friday night, and a common accessory beside the glimpse of a sari here and there was the baby carrier. The restaurant features a dramatic deep bronze and burgundy palette, with some chandeliers sweeping down from exposed ceilings to about a foot above the tables, and others glistening quietly atop the bar, while a 10-foot slanted-eye window to the busy kitchen revealed smoke and fire, and an impossibly high chef's hat.
The menu swayed between influences, with dim sum, noodles curry and fried rice; it also read like a Chinese menu -- with icons denoting varying degrees of hotness ("hot chili peppers"), suggestions ("chef recommends" and "Jagmohan's favorite"), as well as meat preference ("vegetarian" and "seafood"). A whole page dedicated to a "health conscious experience" offered steamed veggies and noodles. Unlike at a Chinese restaurant, however, beef and pork were omitted for religious dietary reasons.
Chutneys could be added without exceptions to just about any dish. Among them, a golden sweet and sour and a dense, forest green parsley with hot green chilies and honey divided the table.
Chicken lettuce wraps were straightforward: Chopped veggies and chicken are served in a taro nest with lettuce leaves. The kitchen was out of the requested lamb wontons, but we were taken with the honey chili potatoes -- shiny, honey-caramelized potato fingers with red specks of chili. It proved a scrumptiously addictive overture.
A clay pot lamb contained meat more akin to marbled mutton in a deep brown sauce with tinges of red from the paprika, golden ripples of oil atop and the slight crispness of green onion.
Faring better was the Mongolian chicken, which did its best to hold its own in a reddish gravy of garlic, ginger and the warmth of fresh red chilies.
The Chef special lobster was the most successful entree. Oversized, plump pieces of lightly breaded, juicy lobster were doused in a sweet, opaque and glowing gravy, which featured the not understated kick of whole dried red chilies, garlic and green onions, all in a sesame oil.
Desserts showed more restraint than the usual Indian selection of saccharine goodies, with choices like honey flat noodle, date and banana pancakes, and even a fresh fruit platter.
Offering a unique dining experience in the suburbs, Bombay Chopsticks has serious aspirations. Whether the public will sustain them remains to be seen.