Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala, 2006

Vij's, located at 11th and Granville in Vancouver, British Columbia, has been called the best Indian restaurant in North America. It's easy to see why. You walk in and instead of a hole in the wall covered in faded posters of the Taj Mahal or a dark cave with draperies and raga music, you're in a hip, upscale space where roving servers frequently swing by your table with truly phenomenal hors d'oeuvres (I'm particularly fond of the potato pooris). Then you get a look at the menu and instead of dal makhani and navratan korma and all the other standards, you find a variety of meats and vegetables in a vast array of curries: porcini, pomegranate, fenugreek, you name it. These are then served up in eye-pleasing fashion by a professional waitstaff. For those used to having a chipped bowl of mattar paneer plunked down on their plastic placemat by a scowling proprietor, it's hard not to swoon.

But how does this translate into a cookbook, bereft of the service, presentation, atmosphere and munchies that are Vij's strengths? Answer: extremely well! Not every dish is a gem — and in my experience, the restaurant itself has as many misses as hits — but I've made a dozen recipes so far and have already had a number of "Wow!" moments. And it turns out that the food at Vij's is absolutely ideal to be turned into a cookbook. There are three main reasons why:

  • It's reproduceable. I've made a dozen recipes out of this book so far and they've all tasted exactly like the food at Vij's: bright, bold, and very tangy. You really are getting the genuine article.

  • It's easy. Most of the recipes — at least the vegetarian ones, which are all I care about — are quite simple: make a masala, then add vegetables. Some go a step further and just say to mix all the ingredients in a bowl and then throw them into a pan of hot oil! This cookbook offers great results with a minimum of juggling.

  • Each dish is a complete meal. At the same time I got this book I got the Cafe Flora cookbook (review forthcoming). Most of the recipes in the Cafe Flora cookbook make you prepare six different things and then assemble them at the end. It's enough to make you want to just go to the restaurant because clearly these dishes were not designed to be fed to just one person. But the Vij's cookbook is very different. You make one thing, and that's dinner.

Thus, I highly recommend this cookbook. It's like a wonderful sequel to Pasta e Verdura, only you're supposed to serve the dishes with rice or bread instead of noodles. (And I usually have them with fettuccini anyway. Try getting that at the restaurant!)

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