Cumin (Review)

The new menu is chic, fun and flavorful

Sep 16, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Cumin Eclectic Cuisine is an East Side hideaway I’d heard good things about but hadn’t visited until their recent menu change was announced. A stop confirmed all the positive predictions: Cumin is indeed chic, eclectic, fun and flavorful.

The “flavorful” springs from multiple ethnic heritages and a vivid passion for fresh food. Cumin’s co-owners are Yajan Upadhyaya, originally from Mumbai, India, and Alex Mchaikhi, who was born in Tunisia in North Africa. The venture began with Upadhyaya’s fresh take on Indian cuisine and Mchaikhi’s front-of-house flair and broadened to a pan-Asian world fusion menu.

They were recently joined by Owen Maass, a chef with an impressive pedigree that includes stints in New York, Chicago and recently L’Auberge in Dayton. Maass helped edit the menu down to a selection of real gems.

Cumin’s drinks menu is festive and features several champagne cocktails. My friend and I shared a shaker of the “Jewel of India” martini ($10), a rosy prelude to dinner, garnished with fresh pomegranate seeds that cling tenaciously to the bottom of your glass when the vodka and cranberry juice are gone.

We started with a seared scallop appetizer ($12.95), featuring three good-sized scallops bronzed on both sides and atop an asparagus reduction. The scallops were tender and sweet, and the sauce packed a little surprise heat.

If you have to choose between an appetizer or a salad, the salad is the way to go. We shared the Cumin salad ($12.95) and loved it.

Flash-fried spring roll wrapper strips supply the crunch to earthy slices of Yukon Gold potato and chickpeas. The yogurt dressing gets a warm, nutty flavor from cumin and tamarind, and pomegranate seeds and chopped cilantro add grace notes of flavor and color. It’s a next-generation potato/ pasta salad that’s closer to an appetizer than a traditional lettuce-based salad, and the big portion is plenty for two. Eat it while it’s fresh, though — as it cools, the chips get limp.

The Mediterranean Salad ($7.95), with manchego cheese and truffle oil, also came highly recommended.

For our main dishes, I wanted to select something from the Indian-influenced section of the menu, so I chose Spinach and Cheese ($15.95), Cumin’s take on traditional Saag Paneer. The cardamom-flecked rice was familiar, but the sauce was ramped up with fresh garlic and lots of heat, tangled full of healthy fresh water spinach instead of a few leaves of overcooked greens. The handmade cheese cubes were a little scarce but not problematically so since they were just a supporting player. The onion Naan Bread ($3.75) was the least impressive element of the meal — flatbread without much pizzazz.

My guest had been to Cumin recently and raved about their short ribs — definitely the first time I’ve ever seen beef on an Indian restaurant menu — but then Cumin isn’t under those traditional restraints. This time, she chose the Braised Lamb Shank ($27.95) with a ragout of wild mushrooms and minted rice, and it was absolutely wonderful. The bone-in shank was beautifully presented — its arrival was the “oooh” and “ahhh” moment of the night. And it was every bit as delicious as it looked, tender enough to eat with a spoon.

We really didn’t have room for dessert, but we couldn’t leave without trying something. Our server steered us toward the Cr