Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

By Dave Faries
Editor 

Restaurant Review: The Oven

Nothing To Wine About

 

Believe it or not, The Oven boasts of an impressive collection of vintage wines.

Nothing odd about a restaurant serving fine labels, you say? Well, this prominent Lincoln destination is known for its paratha, rogan josh, hyderabadi biryani and a range of regional dishes—and, let’s face it, few people associate fine wine and Indian cuisine.

Yet The Oven has earned Wine Spectator’s coveted Award of Excellence seven times and they are justly proud of their collection. The owners even dedicate a space downstairs as “The Cellar.”

If you are dying to try a 2005 Georg Breuer Berg Schlossberg, say, or a Chateau Mouton Rothschild Pauillac from 1997, this is the place. Ask for something more traditionally ethnic—salt lassi, for example—and the waiter just shakes his head.

The Oven places greater emphasis on its wine list than the authenticity of the menu.

Mulligatawny at this Haymarket restaurant, for example, shakes free of its roots as a chicken consommé stocked with stewed vegetables, meat and plenty of curry, emerging from the kitchen looking more like the Tamil soup called Sambar. But it would be difficult to fault The Oven, as a crest of spicy heat rises evenly from the thick, soothing, earthy base of pureed lentil.

Their version of the Malai kebab substitutes beautiful Colorado lamb for the more common chicken. Oh, the meat in our sample was on the parched side, but it drew such a great benefit from the marinade—in the form of a dense, earthy crust punched up by ginger—that one could appreciate it without the accompanying sauce.

The sauce, however, is worth spooning on its own: ruddy in color, offering soft, roasted spices as a base for hovering swirls of piquant heat.

I regretted shunning the hyderabadi biryani in favor of our waiter’s suggestion of a “Madras” version. In this, tikka chicken (skewered meat, essentially), rubbed with tandoori paste to lend the red-orange hue associated with tandoori cooking, rests in a bed of rice flavored with cardamom and turmeric—a combination in this case so listless the added raisins and cashews (in place of the traditional almonds) seemed to explode on the palate.

Not disappointing, mind you, only placid—as if shortcuts had been taken.

Rolls of Malai Seekh kebab absorbed the rusty-edged sharpness of ginger and coriander into delicate sheets of minced meat that I found irresistible. However, the restaurant’s pakoras and samosas were entirely forgetable.

So The Oven is a confusing place in some respects. The wine list bears no relevance to the restaurant’s menu. You can order a powerful Opus One to go along with demur Navratan Biryani, for example.

On the other hand, apart from the pakoras and samosas very little disappoints. Their brittle, wafer-thin papadum yields earthy lentil and other savor flavors in an abundance greater than its weight.

In terms of food and (especially) wine, however, The Oven is a good place to explore in safety.

 

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