Monday, March 16, 2015

American Gymkhana: Modern Indian cuisine wends its way to Orlando

Raj Parr recently visited Orlando for a tasting of his domestic and Burgundy wines. At the completion of the tasting, he tarried a bit to taste some of the wines that Ron and I had brought to the event. In discussing his schedule for the remainder of the day, he mentioned that he was having dinner at American Gymkhana. I knew that it was a new restaurant on the Orlando scene and that the cuisine was Indian but we had not eaten there (and not because of lack of effort on my wife's part). When I ran into Raj at La Paulée I asked him about his experience at American Gymkhana and he said the food had been surprisingly good.  In the intervening period, my wife had gotten excellent reviews from friends who had visited. With this growing mountain of evidence that this restaurant was cooking good food, my wife would be restrained no longer. We were going to American Gymkhana. And so we did. Last Thursday.

American Gymkhana is owned by Restaurateur Rajesh Bhardwaj, the Founder and CEO of Junoon New York (the only Michelin-starred Indian-cuisine restaurant in NYC) and Junoon Dubai. I struggled a bit with the choice of the name, both before and after its meaning was explained. Gymkhana's were the meeting places of the elite during the period of the British Raj in India. Go figure.

The restaurant is located on the top floor of the westernmost building in the "Vines Plaza" in the heart of Sand Lake Road's Restaurant Row. You climb two sets of stairs to get to the reception area and arrive there winded. Our guests had not yet arrived so we repaired to the bar. The bar, and associated lounge, were both pleasing to the eye; places where you would want to sit and have a drink or two. My wife is currently into a Jalapeno Grey Goose cocktail that the mixologist was unfamiliar with but which he constructed magnificently once told the components.

Once our guests arrived, we were shown to our seats. The restaurant is spacious; and the distribution of the seating adds to the sense of expansiveness. A large, clean-looking, open kitchen is sited at the eastern end of the restaurant. The barrel ceilings provide a sense of coziness and are accented by purple-hued lighting.

The menu was clean and simple with between six and eight items in each category and each dish having a subtext describing its components.

The first item brought to our table was a basket of Naan Bread. This leavened, oven-baked flatbread was the canary; except that there was no coalmine. It was heralding the gustatory pleasures to come. It was freshly made and accompanied by a mint dipping sauce. It had great flavor and texture and really did not need any hand-holding.

The Amouse Bouche was a Pineapple Salsa on a Masala Cracker. Cilantro, spiciness, and light tanginess. The mix of textures was intriguing with the crackling crunch of the cracker contrasting with the give of the pineapple chunks.

We had each ordered a dish from the starters and they began to arrive. The Gymkhana Chicken looked  a little much but was a treat on the palate. A dash of Yogurt Sauce and a portion of seasonal Lettuce were in attendance in the event that cooling influences were necessary but the intense flavors, the spiciness, and the temperature were right up my alley.

I also ordered a dish called Adraki Gobhi which was a cauliflower fritter made with ginger and galangal (also a part of the ginger family). At first glance it looked like a meatball but tasted anything but. The spicy red sauce was the cocoon for cauliflowers that had been firmed-up by slight roasting.

The Aloo Chaat was a "potato slider" with Yukon Potatos on the top, Purple Potatos on the bottom (in the styling of a potato chip), and Fingerlings in the middle. These were accompanied by a seasonal Fruit Chutney.

We accompanied the starters with a bottle of Paul Déthune Champagne.

My wife ordered a Lobster dish for her main course while I ordered Lamb Chops. Our table companions ordered Lamb Curry, Goat Curry, and Fish so that we could sample a broad array of the fare on offer. The Lobster dish was comprised of two whole Maine lobsters that were Saffron-Marinated and accompanied by a spiced lobster butter. The Nahile Lamb Chops were cooked with whiskey, ginger, black cardamom, and a garlic-whipped yogurt. The lobster was excellent but I could not wrap my head (or palate) around the Lamb. It had a cloying texture and the meat was not firm enough for my liking. I had gone from some very spicy foods to a milky, taste-free dish. I did not like it (In conversations the following day, the Chef told my wife that this meal was designed for people who did not like spicy meals. I wish the waiter had told me that.).

One of my tablemates had gotten the Goat Roganjosh, which is goat on the bone braised in Kashmiri chili and clarified butter, while the other had gotten the Lamb Vindaloo which was constructed with apple cider vinegar, Goan chilies, black pepper, and twice-fried potatos. Both of these were outstanding dishes, especially when some Roti was added to the mix. I lived in my neighbors plates.

At the conclusion of the dinner my wife asked the waiter about the owner and the waiter said that he happened to be in the building that evening. We asked to speak to him and once he had concluded the meeting with which he was engaged, he came over. Nice conversation. We thanked him for bringing this venture to Orlando. He talked a bit about the concept and about the fact that he was flying out from Orlando to Dubai to visit the Junoon there. We also met the Chef (Aarthi Sampath), and congratulated her on the food, and the Wine Director (David Pennisi) with whom we tasted a few wines.

Aarthi Sampath, Chef de Cuisine

David Pennisi, Wine Director

What we drank

All in all a wonderful evening. This modern twist on Indian cooking is pleasing on the palate and wallet.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. That look so much traditional indian restaurant with nice collection of recipes.

    1. The items that we had were traditional (because we are ) but the broader menu has non-traditional material. The Chef is French-trained and has a penchant for blending other Asian influences in with the Indian core.