I can't tell you how many people who have found out that Indian food is my "go-to" comfort food have told me about TAVA, an Indian restaurant on Dempster St. in the Chicago suburb of Morton Grove. I have a dealer down the road who told me that the place is just outstanding. An audio sales rep friend of mine swears that TAVA has the best Indian food he's ever had. Another friend of mine said that he eats there at least twice a month. "It's that good," he told me. With all these glowing reports on TAVA, I had to give it a try.
Now, I had been by TAVA many times since it opened in September of 2011. It's located in a strip mall on the NE corner of Dempster St. and Harlem Ave. in Morton Grove. (see map) The owner of TAVA, Mahesh Sharma, started out as an electrical engineer. But his love for cooking made him abandon that career for a new career working in kitchens at hotels in downtown Chicago.
Living in Morton Grove, Sharma realized that there wasn't a good Indian restaurant in the immediate area. He wanted to give back to the community by putting in his own Indian eatery, complete with upscale drinks, housemade curry dishes, and a menu that used the freshest ingredients. No foods are ever frozen before they're made at TAVA and real charcoal is used in the tandoor oven. Sharma named his restaurant after a tavah (or tawah) - a large disc-shaped cast iron griddle used to cook traditional South Asian foods. Continued use of the tavah puts a seasoned zest into the metal.
I had just finished up a long day of calls around the Chicago area and realized that I was about a 10 minute drive from TAVA. I scurried around some back roads to get to the restaurant just before 8 p.m. As soon as I opened the door that wonderful Indian spice smell from the food filled the air. The classy looking restaurant isn't large and is very dimly lit. There's a small bar area as you come into the restaurant that featured a large number of liquor bottles. The dining area was off to the left side from the bar and it's center piece was an elegant gas fire place along the wall.
I was taken to a small table along a wall that featured banquette seating and given a menu. The pictures I took of the inside of the restaurant didn't turn out because it was so dark in the room. (Above photos courtesy of Yelp.) I had to use the flashlight app on my phone just to be able to read the menu at TAVA. A server came over with some crisp papadum bread and some chutney. They had a mint chutney that was surprisingly spicy. I normally don't find mint chutney to be that spicy at many Indian restaurants, but this one definitely had a kick.
They have an extensive menu at TAVA with a number of chicken, lamb, seafood, and vegetarian dishes - they even have goat meat on the menu - and many of the entrees are gluten free. And if you want spicy food at TAVA, they've got a number of entrees to choose from. They have an potato cube and grilled onion appetizer that features something they call a "tangy volcano habanero chili pepper sauce" with apple cider. Yow!
Now, I had no idea that they were known for their great curry dishes at TAVA, so it was a complete shot in the dark when I ordered up some of their lamb curry. I also got some garlic naan to go along with it. And I got a large Kingfisher beer to go along with everything.
The lamb curry came out with a generous portion of steamed rice. The curry had a slight spicy taste and the lamb was tender and very flavorful. They signified on the menu that the curry was spicy, but it was far from what I would call as spicy. The garlic naan was fantastic - really full of garlic and very forward in taste. Dipping it into the curry sauce, it just heightened the taste of the garlic in the naan bread. It was a lot of food and I put a significant dent into all of it. It was that good.
Given the amount of glowing reports on TAVA before I went there, my expectations were very high. And I certainly wasn't disappointed. The lamb curry was exceptional, the garlic naan was some of the best I've ever had, and the amount of food I got for the price was an excellent value. The only quibble I would have about TAVA would be the choppy service. But I've learned that happens at most of the good Indian restaurants. You just have to go with the flow and hope to get their attention if you need anything. While I'm far from an Indian food connoisseur, I know what I like and the food I had at TAVA was some of the best Indian food I've ever had. (Picture courtesy Chicago Reader.)