Holidays will get special attention when Vajra, a new South Asian restaurant serving Indian and Nepalese food, opens in West Town. Imagine special tasting menus for Christmas, Mother’s Day, and holidays observed in South Asia like Diwali. That’s one way the restaurant will differ from other South Asian restaurants in Chicago, said co-owner Dipesh Kakshapaty.
Momos are an iconic Nepalese offering, and Kakshapaty couldn’t imagine opening a restaurant without the dumplings. He’s thinking lobster momos on holidays. Not every day is a holiday, but Vajra — which could open by the end of the month — will likely debut with goat-stuffed dumplings. Vajra has taken over the former Charlatan space, the restaurant that closed in 2017 at 1329 W. Chicago Avenue.
There’s a tendency to underestimate minority restaurant owners in Chicago, and that’s something Kakshapaty talked about. The idea for Vajra has been floating around in his head for the last few years. He was on the opening team at Cumin, the Wicker Park Nepalese restaurant. He departed in 2016 and worked in eCommerce, but he missed working at restaurants.
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The VAJRA : The Thunderbolt | Wielded by Lord Indra in Hindu Mythology to produce thunderbolts to vanquish the Evil | The Kumari : The Living Goddess | The Century old tradition in Nepal that celebrates life by worshipping a living goddess | Vajra relief rendered by ever talented @snuffy4o8 | Kumari portrait by @coueyart | We love our artists and their passion for details | #chicago #restaurant #nepalesecuisine #indiancuisine #westtownchicago #goodfood #chicagorestaurants #noblesquarechicago #vforvajra #vajragram #eaterchicago #likefoodchicago #eeeeeats
Kakshapaty’s leveraging the contacts he gained while working at Cumin. For those special holidays, customers could book a table using Tock, the reservation portal from Alinea Group co-founder Nick Kokonas. Rare Tea Cellar is providing the teas. Vajra will be a welcoming place, but it will be different compared to the those Indian buffet restaurant that serve Punjabi cuisine. For example, they’re going to do goat steak. It’s marinated meat that will either be charbroiled or baked in a tandoor. They’ll serve the goat steak like a filet. Diners won’t need a steak knife to cut it; the meat should be fork tender.
They’re still finalizing the everyday a la carte menu — Kakshapaty wants to know they’re not always fancy. He wants to create a menu that customers of all backgrounds can enjoy. If the goat steak shows a willingness to try something new, the decision to omit beef and pork from the menu shows staff is mindful of tradition. Cows are still considered holy by traditional Hindus. Muslims have their own restrictions by avoiding pig products. Kakshapaty is also trying to source water buffalo and venison. Most of the meats will come from Slagel Family Farms. That type of high-end sourcing may make items cost more compared to other Indian restaurants in Chicago, but Kakshapaty said tandoori chicken made with a Cornish hen is worth it.
Other dishes include butter chicken and dal makhani. There’s also the Indo-Chinese favorite, gobi Manchurian. Kakshapaty envisions poaching the cauliflower, then frying it to give it a modern spin. The spins will be measured: “We don’t want to create something hideous in the name of fusion,” he said.
They’ll have a full bar with mocktails like a non-alcoholic old fashioned with South Asian ingredients. For the boozy side, Vajra will feature local spirits like Few and Koval. The bottled beer list will feature two to three Indian brews, two locals, and two Japanese. Japanese beer is just for a change, and it goes well with foods with heat. Expect six to eight specialty cocktails.
Kakshapaty is a Nepal native and has spent about two decades in America. Nepal doesn’t have the same regional differences in cuisine compared to India which is much larger, but the two countries, divided by the British empire in the 1947 partition, share many flavors. Kakshapaty hopes to make Nepalese food a little bit more mainstream. Kakshapaty is joined by partners Dr. Shalin Shakya and Rabin Gora.
As far the name? A vajra is mace-like weapon most popularized by the Hindu god Indra who uses it to control lightning and thunder. Kakshapaty drew a parallel to Thor, the Norse god of thunder popularized by Marvel Comics. Thor has his own weapon, his hammer Mjölnir.
Stay tuned for updates as the opening approaches.