Diners shouldn’t expect a Bollywood number to break out when visiting Superkhana International, the upcoming Logan Square Indian restaurant from an ownership group that includes Beard-nominated chef Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe). Hammel is sharing his expertise in running a restaurant to help chefs Zeeshan Shah and Yoshi Yamada who are finalizing their menus. The restaurant, 3059 W. Diversey Avenue, is now slated to open sometime in June. Yamada and Shah are bringing their long-running Bombay Breakdown pop-up to a permanent location with a fun and modern take on Indian food.
The restaurant will focus on dinner, though there’s potential for a late-afternoon happy hour (or a “samosa hour” as Yamada described, referring to the fried savory pastry stuffed with potatoes and peas). The decor is meant to transport diners, especially those seated in the enclosed courtyard. The back area feels more like an outdoor area customers would find in New York, where space is at even more of premium compared to Chicago. It’s vacant right now as crews will install ceiling fans around the perimeter and add a living wall with ivy. The courtyard will also have a door that leads into the private dining room.
Upon entering, there will be a curtain to the left creating a vestibule-like area and divide the entrance from the main dining room. The fabrics, purchased on Devon Avenue —the cultural center of Chicago’s South Asian population — will play a big part in the restaurant’s design.
“There are so many textiles associated with India, it’s such a vibrant part of the country,” Yamada said.
Charlie Vinz of Adaptive Operations is designing the restaurant. One of his ideas is another curtain that will separate the private dining room from the restaurant. This curtain will also keep sound out. These softer fabrics will provide a contrast with the industrial elements like the cement floor and bar. The bar will get a polish and be finished with a few amethyst stones to give it an extra shine. The result is a more muted decor, not the bombastic flourish of color some would associate with Bollywood. Yamada and Shah didn’t want to become cliched. Like their menu, which they want to push expectations beyond the heavy cilantro flavors found at the typical Punjabi spreads at Indian restaurants in America.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” Yamada said. “I love Bollywood.”
Yamada and Shah are proverbial Chicago culinary veterans. Their resumes include stints at Blackbird, Old Town Social, and the Bristol. Yamada also studied Indian cooking in the subcontinent aided by a Fulbright grant. Shah served southern-style biscuits — and Indian-inspired rice bowls — with his mini-restaurant (Biscuit Man), providing food at the Long Room, the craft beer bar in Lakeview. Their pop-up appeared at a few bars, like the Long Room and Spilt Milk, so the food also lends itself well with beer, wine, and cocktails .
Yamada has also worked at Lula, which is known for its dedication to fresh ingredients. Hammel has strong ties to local farms and other suppliers. Working with Hammel gives Superkhana access to produce and meats that many Indian restaurants don’t. Dishes like crab curry will have the advantage of high-caliber seafood.
“You can taste the difference,” Shah said.
That’s not supposed to read as a knock against existing South Asian restaurants. Running a farm-to-table restaurant can be expensive and not every restaurant owner, especially minority ones in immigrant communities, can afford those ingredients or have relationships with local farmers. But Superkhana is different. They’re not competing with those immigrant restaurants. They’re not trying to satisfy those same cravings as diners who eat on Devon are looking to do, Shah said.
“Other places do it differently,” Yamada added. “And we eat at those places and we love it.”
The result is playful food with Indian flavors and some techniques. But there are differences. There’s no tandoor inside their kitchen. Instead, they’re using a Blodgett natural gas pizza oven that gets to about 650 degrees. That’s not as hot as a clay oven’s 900 degrees. But the chefs feels the pizza oven is more versatile. They’ll be able to roast vegetables, make pizzas, and braise meats. They can also make Indian flatbreads like kulcha and pao. Americans may be more familiar with naan, the flatbread that’s traditionally made in a tandoor. Despite a lower oven temperature, Yamada and Shah are confident they’ll be able to deliver quality naan without a tandoor. Look for more details on their techniques in future coverage. There is some precedence for pizza in the space, as Superkhana replaces Los Tanbos Pizza.
Hammel will find out if he wins a Beard Award tonight at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Shah and Yamada will share more about their new restaurant in the next few weeks. Superkhana International is among the most anticipated Chicago restaurant openings of 2019.