Niven and Shivani Patel's Ghee Indian Kitchen began welcoming its first guests earlier this month, and already the married couple's much-anticipated restaurant in Dadeland has become one of Miami's hardest reservations. No two-tops were available this past Saturday. A table was free Tuesday night, where by 8 p.m. the place was packed like the towering shelves filled with spices and preserves that line one of the concrete walls.
Chefs and food enthusiasts have been scrambling to get in. Yet it's most heartening to see that the Patels' food, which for the past few months has been dished out to guests invited to his Homestead home, is now available to the broader public.
Much ado has been made about the dishes Ghee will offer as both a nod to the Patels' roots in Gujarat — India's lush, fertile westernmost state — and as a way to broaden diners' horizons.
At present, a handful of dishes are strewn in with more familiar options as Ghee sets out on a mission to make Americans love dhokla and idli as much as they do butter chicken and butter naan.
For that dhokla ($6), the kitchen makes a semolina dough that's steamed to yield a delicate, savory bright-yellow cake with a texture similar to that of angel food. A smattering of pickled peppers, herbs, and black mustard seeds rounds out the dish.
Niven Patel's backyard pakora ($8) were the stuff of legend at his dinners. The huge taro leaves Indians call elephant ears are chopped down and combined with squash, calabaza, and just enough chickpea-and-rice-flour batter to bind it all together before frying.
Other snacks include idli ($9), a steamed rice-flour cake served with coconut and lentils; as well as pani puri ($9), a classic Indian street snack in which a puffed semolina shell is filled with beets and sprouted moong daal tossed with tamarind-and-date chutney, green juice, kale, spinach, green apple, chilies, mint, and cilantro.
There is also a sizable offering of curries, as well as grilled items. The first section plies some familiar options, such as chicken tikka masala ($14) and house-made paneer cheese ($13) with green peas and fenugreek. Lamb kofta ($15) arrives with a quartet of delicate, perfectly cooked meatballs in a pool of rich sauce fortified with cashews, raisins, and spinach.
The most alluring section, however, is the vegetables. Many of the recipes come from the Patels' parents, vegetarians who can be spotted overseeing and working in the kitchen. Sure, there's duck confit biryani ($14) and pork belly vindaloo ($18), but if Mom is eating lentils and eggplant, you want lentils and eggplant.
By now, most people known the Patels' home is surrounded by a growing farm that provides a decent amount of the produce they use. It yields the turmeric used in the restaurant's pickle plate ($5), along with mango pickle and preserved Meyer lemon chutney. It also offers the meaty grassy okra pods ($9) that are charred and plated with a combination of slightly sweet, stewed, skinless tomato and black mustard seeds for a little bite.
Green millet ($10) is a food of subsistence across India and likely has been for thousands of years. Niven Patel calls it "the most special dish on the menu." The grain has a light smoky flavor and is cooked down with black mustard seed, leaving it with a deeply complex, nutty spice that isn't overpowering thanks to the millet's starchiness.
"The best way to describe it is Indian-style polenta," Patel says.
Finally, dessert brings classic offerings such as the sweet, starchy balls called gulab jamun ($10), with grilled peaches and pistachios, as well as a black cardamom kulfi, similar to ice cream, that's savory thanks to a heavy infusion of the herb paired with strawberries, chocolate, almonds, and pistachios.
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So give Ghee a call, but don't be surprised if you have to wait until later this week to get a taste of what the whole city has been waiting for.
Ghee Indian Kitchen
8965 SW 72nd Pl., Miami; 305-968-1850.