Zubair Mohajir is a big fan of duck and on Tuesday night unveiled a confit duck fried rice that crosses Indian and Chinese culinary traditions. The dish, which comes topped with a sunny side egg and mixed with mushrooms, is one of the offerings at Mohajir’s new bar, Lilac Tiger.
Lilac Tiger opens Wednesday night in Wicker Park in the former Wazwan space at 1742 W. Division Street.
Mohajir, a chef with Michelin-star and James Beard Award aspirations, has converted Wazwan, his fast-casual Indian restaurant along Division Street in Wicker Park, into a bar. It’s a collaboration between Arami owner Ty Fujimura and Kimski chef Won Kim. The tiger represents a kind of common ground between Kim’s Korean, Fujimura’s Japanese, and Mohajir’s Indian roots. The graffiti-style “Wazwan” sign that Kim has made has been replaced by a yellow LED sign, based on Kim’s art, reading “Lilac Tiger.”
The interiors look radically different. The bar that ran along the west wall is gone and replaced by a smaller bar counter (already nicknamed “Clarice”) where bartenders can pump out a variety of drinks. Head bartender David Mor has mixed up a series of new cocktails. Some of them have Indian touches, like a spirit-free drink that uses chai derived from a Mohajir family recipe and mixed with Seedlip in a martini glass. Indian whisky is also available, as is sake.
There’s new shelving and a DIY spirit in cutting the old wooden tables at Wazwan in half and repurposing them into smaller tables.
Most of Wazwan’s menu — the momos, fried chicken sandwich, and burger — remain. Mohajir says that’s just to start, he’ll apply tweaks later. The menu is designed to be served late, eventually until 1 a.m.
Another new item is chicken nuggets with a thick and crunchy coating. Mohajir says these are his son’s favorites. Fritters are popular in India, from vada (which appears in slider form at Lilac Tiger) to pakoras — deep-fried morsels of mostly vegetables sold by street vendors. While appeasing his son, Mohajir inadvertently created a chicken pakora. The “Ferrani Special” is named after his son.
There’s also a pickle plate that mixes Korean and Indian pickles. Kim used a family recipe from gamja bokkeum, the sweet and savory potatoes that are served as banchan at Korean restaurants. Along with kimchi, they sit in harmony with achaar that Mohajir makes with serranos. Mohajir refers to the story surrounding Meera, an Indian princess kidnapped by Portuguese colonists and taken to Mexico. That story highlights the link between South Asian and Mexican cultures, and the use of serranos, for Mohajir, is a nod to that history. He eventually wants to build a menu around that connection.
But back to that duck fried rice which was served at a friends and family preview on Tuesday night. The process of building flavor for a biryani is quite intentional involving whole and ground spices, plus pastes. It’s different from fried rice, Mohajir. Still, the duck fried rice served at Lilac Tiger may remind some of biryani. Mohajir uses jasmine rice, which is what most chefs use in fried rice instead of biryani’s customary basmati. If anyone gets biryani vibes, Mohajir says it’s perhaps from the duck confit which offers plenty of duck fat.
Mohajir has great affection for duck as it’s a star part of his tasting menu served behind the former Wazwan space. The Coach House by Wazwan presents Indian food like no other restaurant in Chicago or the country. It shows another level of South Indian food, the Muslim side that uses duck and other ingredients. While Thattu in Logan Square shows one side, focusing on Kerala comfort food, and restaurants on Devon Avenue, like Udupi Palace, show a vegetarian side where dosa is front and center, Mohajir demonstrates yet another dimension.
Fujimura says Mohajir reminds him a little bit of chef Brian Fisher: “He’s young, he’s got a voice,” Fujimura says of Mohajir.
Fujimura and Fisher teamed on Entente, a Michelin-starred restaurant that closed during the pandemic. For the last two years, Coach House has operated without a liquor license. Mohajir believes that presented a challenge in attracting attention in the fine dining space, where customers expect drink pairings, especially when paying hundreds of dollars for a tasting menu. Converting Wazwan into a bar also gives the operation a better chance to compete with other restaurants and bars along Division Street. The patio will get a refresh next year, and brunch and lunch on the weekends are planned. Wazwan’s takeout window remains intact, so takeout is on its way, too.
And Fujimura is familiar with the area. He owned SmallBar, just west of Damen on Division Street where Desert Hawk currently resides. The area, once barren, has seen dozens of bars and restaurants pop up in recent years. Chains have also arrived, but the team of Mohajir, Fujimura, and Kim want to give the area a dose of real spice as opposed to the processed “spicy” chicken nuggets served across the street at Wendy’s and the oversweetened chai mixed across the street at Starbucks.
Read the menu below. Lilac Tiger opens on Wednesday.
Lilac Tiger, 1742 W. Division Street, open 4:30 p.m. to midnight on Sunday and Wednesday through Thursday; 4:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Kitchen closed one hour before the bar closes.