Captivating Cuisine

Bay Leaf’s intriguing Indian fare and cocktails spice up our lives.

By Jan Walsh

Today Kev and I lunch at Bay Leaf Modern Indian Cuisine and Bar. In the heart of 5 Points South, Bay Leaf is located at 1024 20th Street South, Suite 101. Its colorful big neon sign proudly welcomes us inside where we are warmly greeted and seated in a large and lovely window banquet, by General Manager, Pintu Sarmah.

Ingredient driven by The Spice Library, the menu is inspired by each corner of the Indian subcontinent, from the northern plains to the southern coast, and is procured with freshness. The vast menu is divided into sections from appetizers to desserts, including soups and salads, Indian street food, main course vegetarian delicacies, main course biryani, chef’s specials, Indian Curries, plus sides and breads. Dishes are also identified as peanut free, gluten free, dairy free, and spicy. And the team here always asks about spice preference to assist in selection of dishes and have them prepared accordingly, as Sarmah does today. As always, I am very spicy, and Kev is not at all.

For today’s review I plan to focus on dishes we have not previously enjoyed, except for the breads, Butter Naan and Garlic Naan. They are among the best breads in the world but also help cool spicy heat. Looking over the menu, Kev spots Butter Chicken, Crab Lollypops, and Drums of Heaven, which he enjoyed previously. Not happening… Stick to the plan. I point out the new Indo Chinese section, many other new dishes we have not yet tried, and some classics that we have yet to taste.

But first, cocktails. You won’t find a bar list like this anywhere else. The Spice Library’s pinch of this and hints of that add layers of flavors and added health benefits to not only Bay Leaf’s fare but also to their signature cocktails. Select Indian spices are blended with top shelf liquors along with fruits and herbs from local farms. We choose Mangojito for Kev and Turmeric Chakra for me. The Mangojito is a high ball summer favorite at Bay Leaf. Fresh Indian mangoes shine in this mojito, along with club soda, white rum, and garnished with fresh mint. The Turmeric Chakra is a low ball of top shelf single-malt whiskey mixed with a teaspoon of turmeric in blood-orange juice, lightly sweetened with cinnamon syrup, and cleverly garnished with straws through the middle of an orange wheel chakra. Both drinks are vibrant, balanced beauties in exotic flavors with just enough ice.

To start we select The Chutney Flight and Paneer Tikka from their Modern Indian Appetizers list. Rolled, crisp, papad flatbreads are accompanied by Chef’s special house chutney condiments. We break the warm, crisp paper-thin bread onto our appetizer plates and mix with green chutney and tamarind condiment. The green sauce boasts cool, tangy, veggie flavors highlighted with hints of cilantro and mint. It is also served with many other dishes here. And the brown sauce exhibits deep, rich notes of caramel and apricots. Like many of the spices used in the food and drinks at Bay Leaf, Tamarind is good for you, rich in fiber with zero fat and boosts health with flavonoids and polyphenols. I fall in love with the Paneer Tikka at first bite. Presented in a lovely line up, these blocks of hardened cottage cheese have been marinated overnight in raspberry puree and Indian spices. Highly recommended! And from the Indian Street Food section we have Samosa Duo as apps. This golden savory snack is plump with potatoes, onions, and peas. We eat these fried veggies with our hands. Biting off a corner first, steamy aromas are released. We drizzle with the condiments and bite into the comforting vegetable fillings.

To pair with our mains, Kev opts for an Indian Beer, Bira 91. But I am not done with this cocktail list… No fear here, Tamarind Jalapeno Margarita for me. The beer boasts tropical notes and touches of spice. And the margarita is my favorite cocktail of the day, unwinding my mind and tastebuds memory of margaritas. This dark, deep drink is a balance of tang and spice, made with fresh tamarind juice and hot jalapenos. Highly recommended!

For our main course, chef’s specials, Kev has the Bay Leaf Kebab Sizzler with basmati rice. From the Indo Chinese section, I opt for Szechuan Chili Special of Chicken and a side dish of Manchurian Cauliflower. Given I did not specify a different rice, it comes with basmati. But I later see that the burnt chili garlic fried rice is recommended on the menu. I also overlook Hakka Noodles from this section, although I intended to order it. So, both the fried rice and noodles are a must next time.

Kev’s sizzler is a showstopper! Guests throughout the dining room watch as it steams and sizzes its tantalizing aromas all the way from the clay oven to our table. A mighty mix of tender proteins: lamb, beef, chicken, and shrimp are cooked to perfection and presented on a cast iron griddle, atop chopped veggies. Savory, captivating spices embolden this dramatic dish, which is a feast for all the senses and big appetites. If you seek high protein in your diet, this fulfilling sizzler has your name on it.

My generous portion of Szechuan Chicken is deeply flavored throughout, yet inside the meat remains white, moist, and tender. A touch of sweet is balanced with spicy, garlicky, and umami flavors that tingle the lips and tongue. It is fiery, feisty, and forces my fork back for more addictive bites, a mind blowing, “so hot I can’t stop” dish. Even Kev keeps reaching over for more. So, it is doubtful that we will be able to resist sharing it next time. Highly recommended!

But he only had one half of a cauliflower floret. When Bay Leaf’s menu says, “spicy” take note, as it does with Manchurian. And I did, which is why I ordered it. Arriving in a in a copper pot, and the first bite of the cauliflower finds it rightly red hot throughout. Although each floret is coated in their spicy, glossy sauce, I decide to up the ante, adding more of the sauce onto my rice and cauliflower. Oh, my! The extra shot of sauce makes this the hottest dish I have ever tasted. Racy, intense heat hits my palate, and my whole mouth is blissfully ablaze. As Kev watches wide eyed, I jokingly encourage him to do the same, while quickly ordering a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Sarmah. He smiles and tells me that I am cool because I like trying the different spices and jokingly asks Kev if he wants another beer. If you like it hot, like me, order the Manchurian! It is also available as chicken or paneer.

For desserts we order cold and warm treats. Rasmalai delightfully cools and cleanses the palate with its sweet creaminess. Peaks of soft, spongy, cottage cheese balls are immersed in a chilled milky syrup with cardamom powder and garnished with nuts. And served warm is Caramelized Jamun and Rabdi. The melt in our mouths, rose gold colored gulab jamun balls enchant us with a raisin like spiciness and floral aromas. Gulab Jamun are at the heart of Indian celebrations. None, from birthdays to marriage festivities, would be complete without these rich, syrupy balls, nor would our lunch.


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