Imlee Indian Bistro's commitment to traditional, authentic North Indian cuisine is proven daily on the palates of all who eat there. Brothers Manoj and Paresh Bhatti have owned the place since 2003. Manoj went to school in Switzerland for hospitality management; Paresh was an investment banker in Brickell, they grew up enjoying the feasts at their father's parties in Kenya. Opening a restaurant combined their skills with food and business with a love of eating. They also cook, run plates, interact with customers, and engage in quality control. "Did you taste that? Too spicy, too spicy," we heard Paresh tell a cook before he had him remake a dish.
We spent a couple hours in the kitchen at Imlee on Friday night. Click here for our slideshow or keep going for some images and backstory you won't see there.
Many of Imlee's specialties are grilled in the tandoor oven. Skewered meats are placed inside the cylindrical coal fired pit.
These jumbo shrimp were imported from India. Sometimes the chef gets them from Bangladesh. Paresh calls them one of the most popular dishes on the menu.
Besides co-owning Imlee, which means "tamarind" in Hindi, Manoj Bhatti helps with cooking when necessary. He trained in classical French technique at hospitality management school in Switzerland, but says "My dad used to have a lot of parties back home. We're from Kenya, East Africa, but are Indian. We had cooks and I used to hang out with them and watch them. That's how I learned. But I know gourmet French too."
The famous and varied breads of India, called naan, are literally slapped against the walls of the oven to cook. They may be plain or filled with meat, cheese, potatoes, spices, or vegetables. They are removed by a long set of antenna-like implements.
The head tandoor chef at Imlee is Mario Cortes, a Mexican from the state of Oaxaca. He says of Indian cooking, "I like the food because it's spicy."
According to Paresh, North Indian cuisine is characterized by its many curries, whereas South Indian cuisine is typically more rice based. He describes curry as having basis in the use of spice with a foundation in garam masala, an aromatic blend affecting not only heat on the tongue, but internal body temperature as well.
Chef Jagtap has been cooking professionally for the past 12 years. He says of Miami, "It's great!"
Falooda. In Miami it's a mostly unheard of combination of milk, vermicelli, basil seed, and rose water, frozen and served with a spoon at Imlee. But in India it is popular all over the country and sold anywhere, often in the form of a drink, unfrozen, with a straw for slurping and a spoon for the chunks. It is especially popular in hot areas. We got a free blind sample of Imlee's version, "Try this, but I'm not gonna tell you what it is first." I dug in, chewed, swallowed, pause, and then a cool tide of "rose ice cream?!?" It doesn't fall into what seems like could be an easy trap of overly sweet, and though rose is the dominant flavor, it's subdued and plays second fiddle to texture. The vermicelli's are al dente and imbue the whole dessert with a fine tooth. The restaurant makes it in house along with other desserts like mango kulfi, and gulab jamun.
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Imlee offers a selection of 60 wines from Barolo's to Malbec's, South African, French, and Italian. They also do catering for weddings and parties, work with a local delivery service, and even have an Iphone app for reservations (search Imlee). Most importantly, the food is the real deal. Puja, a Hindi speaking waitress and expediter from Nepal, near the Indian border, says, "The food here is very traditional and authentic." Log on to Imlee's website for more info or to book a table.