Restaurant review: Dabble with modern Indian food at Copper Bowl
By Stuart Melling
Special to The TribuneFirst published Sep 24 2013 11:40AM
Diners familiar with Salt Lake City’s Tandoor Indian Grill on 3300 South and 700 East will probably know a little about Copper Bowl — the second restaurant from the same family.
While the sophomore creation remains an Indian restaurant at heart, the owners have clearly spent time and money considering what an Indian restaurant can be.
Copper Bowl is located at 214 W. 600 South, in the unit left by the departed The Last Samurai.
Stepping into the bright space, visitors are welcomed by a trendy interior design but not a host or stand — leaving patrons to loiter until a member of the staff passes by. It’s a minor flaw, but one that confused me and other diners when the staff was busy.
The decor is unlike most other Indian restaurants. The remarkably large restaurant is centered around a swish bar — offering signature cocktails ($8-$9) in addition to wine and familiar beers such as Taj Mahal ($8). Seating is provided by a plush mix of banquettes, booths and unfussy, contemporary tables and chairs, all creams and dark browns. Large windows flood the neat space with plenty of natural light. You won’t find oodles of bric-a-brac, drapery or bold, popping colors here. In fact, if it wasn’t for the smells wafting from the kitchen, some might not guess they were in an Indian restaurant at all.
Likewise, the menu takes a swing at re-imagining what an Indian restaurant should offer. This is something I applaud; its often disheartening to see an entire culture’s diverse cuisine distilled into the same old carbon copy dishes time and again.
All of this isn’t to say aficionados won’t find staples to enjoy. The menu begins with customary appetizers such as the perfectly acceptable vegetable Samosa ($4.95) or the mixed platter of vegetable pakora, vegetable samosa and onion bhajji ($7.95).
Proceedings veer from the familiar with Kurkure Shrimp ($7.95) — a generous handful of small shrimp stir fried with onions and bell peppers in a slightly sweet and tangy coating. Konkan Calamari ($5.95) is an opportunity missed. The innocuous plate of forgettable, fried squid, could be stunning with Indian spices used judiciously. Avocado Bengali jhalmuri ($7.95) beguiled even me – a self confessed Indian cuisine addict for the better part of 20 years. Puffed rice is ornately plated and mixed with avocado chunks. Potato, tomatoes, onion and chutney complete the dish, but the result was dry and craved more acidic pep.
The tandoor section of the menu gleefully pushes the menu forward. I wanted to love rum chops ($14.95), a trio of lamb chops marinated in yogurt, rum and spices. Whether it was the initial butchering or over marination, the meat was limp and scruffy; a plate of three lamb chops and a side of rice, doesn’t exactly set my heart aflutter either.
A Chicken Trio ($13.95) didn’t disappoint though. A sampling of several preparations of chicken from the clay oven: classic tikka, malai and bright green (from cilantro/mint) haryali. Each bite moist and tender, my only complaint was the platter hit our table lukewarm, and devotees might miss the sight and sound of the sizzling riot a tandoori platter can often afford.
Most enjoyable were the restaurant’s curries and entrees, with nary a failure. Indeed, across more than 10 I sampled — everything from a gobi manchuria through aloo saag and onto keema mutter — I was impressed by the diversity of colors, flavor and style.
While Tikka Masala (chicken $12.95 or shrimp or lamb $14.95) might be a relatively contemporary creation aimed at Western palates, it seemed apt amongst the modern musings of Copper Bowl’s approach. In truth, it’s a dish I skip most of the time, usually an exercise in the use of cream to subvert the fun and flavor of spice. At Copper Bowl it was anything but — a knockout of tangy heady flavor — with cream more of a foot soldier than commander in chief.
Laal Maas ($15.95) was another spectacular curry, a chile backed terra cotta red gravy, beautifully luscious, not a hint of the excessive oil that can afflict this preparation. The sauce was loaded with hearty chunks of lamb, each one perfectly prepped with minimal fattiness.
Much like other Indian restaurants, vegetarians are well served here, Paneer Karai Masala ($10.95) was right at home with its meaty counterparts, stir fried fresh Indian cheese in a sweet and peppery sauce with onions and tomato.
Copper Bowl’s lunch buffet also pushes the envelope. A common feature at many Indian restaurants, Copper Bowl’s version ($10 per person except on Friday and Saturday, when the price increases to $11.95) of the all you can eat extravaganza is served weekdays — direct from namesake copper bowls, heaving with close to a dozen selections. Of note is the naan bread, cooked to order. It’s a nice touch, but one that can unravel if you stop by during a busy lunch service and the kitchen backs up.
Prices tend to add up faster at Copper Bowl than in the more traditional restaurants. During dinner, naan bread is priced additionally to the meal (plain, garlic, butter is $2.95 extra), and drinks aren’t especially cheap either.
Copper Bowl feels like a restaurant capable of unleashing a lot more, hesitant to really follow through on the notion of modern Indian cuisine. There are no doubts the kitchen is capable of some great dishes, and I would love to see what it could craft given the opportunity.