Editor’s Note, 10.27.13: ŌM is now closed.
“Absolute, ultimate state of peace.” – ŌM Contemporary Indian Cuisine
“Represents three important triads: earth, atmosphere, and heaven; the major Hindu gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; and the sacred Vedic scriptures, Rig, Yajur, and Sama. Thus om mystically embodies the essence of the universe.” – Encyclopaedia Britannica
Last night, ŌM Contemporary Indian Cuisine opened to a packed, albeit invite-only house — an enthusiastic crowd as ready for cocktails as it was for the sample menu. Located in downtown Minneapolis’ warehouse district, the restaurant is a partnership between entrepreneur Vik Uppal and restaurateur Randy Norman of Capital Grille, r. Norman, 7 Sushi Lounge, and the ill-fated Bellanotte. However, the menu was, as the website will tell you, “culineered” by Raghavan Iyer, the well-known cookbook author (660 Curries), chef, and co-founder of the Asian Culinary Arts Institutes in Minneapolis.
In its two-story format, ŌM reminds us a bit of Uptown’s Chino Latino. Guests enter into a lofted lounge setting with long leather couches, chandeliers, and floor-to-ceiling drapes in fluid pastel fabrics that add warmth to the contemporary space and a certain Indian ambiance. In the center of the room, a stunning spiral of tiny, spot-lit crystals cascades down a floor, leading the eyes to a tiled pool, scattered with floating candles and fresh flowers. A staircase leads down to a dining area principally comprised of cozy circular booths. It is lovely.
And so are the cocktails. In particular, the Amber layered mango, Bombay Sapphire, and creme de cassis very prettily; with just enough lemon to temper the heavy fruitiness, it tasted good, too. We also tried the Bollywood, a sparkly combination of Domaine de Canton liquor and Prosecco that was quite refreshing with some of the evening’s more salty dishes. Yet the Agni, with its muddled limes, Grey Goose Citron, simple sugar, and chiles was the favorite of the set; piquant enough to be interesting, sweet enough to go down easy.
A dining companion commented that she loved the drama the restaurant’s stairs provide at the lower level. Indeed, they allow one to make a grand entrance into the dining room, which is good, as we predict ŌM will become a place to be seen as much as a place to eat.
The tasting provided a glimpse of the full menu, which ranges from a $6 for a small plate to $27 for a dinner. In a very brief conversation, Vik Uppal said that the restaurant designed the menu to be “contemporary but accessible, where the uniqueness of the dish comes from the spices.”
On that note, the cardamom filet mignon was a tender and well-cooked piece of meat, but it was so subtly spiced that the accompanying mushroom sauce — tasty, but not distinctly Indian — dominated the flavors. That plate also featured miniature papadum crackers, the salt and spice of which played nicely against a cool yogurt and spinach sauce (which was a bit like a very mild saag paneer, without the paneer).
A salad of papaya with peanuts tossed in a raisin dressing also provided a fresh, slightly sweet reprieve from the salt, and it was textural treat. Similarly, we also enjoyed the delicacy of the saffron-kissed rice; fragrant and light, it featured fruit and cashews.
On the aggressive side, a mango chutney served on wedges of warm naan well-nigh divided the table. Some of us found it pleasantly hot and caught an undertone of sweet; others thought it was all heat and no flavor. We could all agree, however, that a very salty, very mushy eggplant pate was a no-go.
We were also united in thinking that the star of the sampling was the fenugreek lamb chop — a beautifully prepared piece of meat, subtly spiced, with a simple fenugreek cream sauce. It was delicious but, again, not — at least to this Western palate — distinctively Indian.
Here we began to note a pattern: meat with a small amount of mild sauce. Aside from the aforementioned, there was also a Goan Pork Tenderloin with vindalho sauce that was billed as assertive — it’s a curry dish, after all — but tasted only of sweet onions and garlic. Maybe it’s the assumption of too many years of eating Indian food or the fact of Iyer’s involvement in the menu, but we had expected to sample at least one or two big, sauce-based dishes (curry!?) featuring — but not focusing on — chunks of meat.
The fact that we didn’t get it was disappointing but not fatal; nearly everything we tasted was delicious, it simply lacked the depth of flavor we’ve come to expect from Indian food. Perhaps that’s the point — it is very approachable.
It will be interesting to see where ŌM takes its contemporary menu — will it deepen its flavors? Will it move toward fusion or tradition? — and to see how representative this initial tasting is of the food on the menu. We look forward to going back for a second look.
401 1st Ave N
Minneapolis, MN 55401
Mon-Thu and Sun 4:30pm-10:30pm
OWNER / “CULINEER”: Vik Uppal / Raghavan Iyer