I’m going to keep a promise for a change. I said last week that this week’s pandemic report would be of either a return to Peninsula or a first outing at a new(er) Indian restaurant in Bloomington and I keep my word. This is a review of Aroma, a new(er) Indian restaurant in Bloomington. They opened in April 2020—talk about perfect timing—in the exact same location as the erstwhile Surabhi—a place whose lunch buffet I’d liked more than I’d expected to in 2019 even as I worried about their prospects given the desolate feel of the restaurant when I ate there. Of course, in 2021, many restaurants have no one in them. And even though Aroma is open for dining-in, when I arrived at 11.45 on a Saturday to pick up a large order there was nobody eating there. There were, however, clearly doing a brisk takeout business, which I was glad to see. Here’s what we thought of what we ate.
The first thing I should tell you is that the restaurant has been completely redone on the inside. Surabhi was not an unattractive restaurant but it was more on the functional end of things. The ownership of Aroma, on the other hand, has put in nicer floors and lights and redone the seating completely. I do hope this investment will be repaid once the worst of the pandemic is over (given that they’ve survived the last year I’m assuming they will make it through the next 2-3 months).
The restaurant, however, is not exactly what it was when it first opened. They had flashed on my consciousness then but not made much of an impression on it as the menu indicated that they were doing the kind of by-the-numbers North Indian menu that is found all over town (and all over the US). More recently, however, they’ve added a lot of South Indian dishes to the menu. You will not see this reflected in the printed menu—which is why I’ve placed the pictures of that menu at the end of the slideshow below. The place to find these dishes is on their website. My brief conversation with the managerial gent I interacted with indicated that—as with so many of the new(er) places in the Twin Cities metro—they realized the importance of catering to the growing South Indian population in the area. They accordingly acquired a chef who can make those dishes and now are serving up more dishes from the south than from the north—with a particular, unsurprising tilt towards Hyderabad and Andhra Pradesh.
(I look forward to the day when the professional food media in town will finally catch on to the huge changes in the local Indian food scene. I’m sure it’ll happen by 2027. I recently looked at MSP Magazine’s nominations for Best Indian Restaurant in their readers’ poll and laughed to myself.)
Okay, what did we get?
We started with an order of dahi vada—basically vadas soaked in seasoned yogurt. I had low expectations and they were handily surpassed. On the meat front from the website menu’s starters section we got the Kerala chicken roast (very good) and the Andhra-style meka mamsam vepudu with goat (also very good). From their large selection of biryanis (again visible only on the website menu) we got the Chettinadu mutton biryani. I prefer the versions at both Kabob’s and Kumar’s but this was pretty good too—I’d happily eat it again. For mains, an Andhra chicken curry (thick, sour and hot and quite tasty) and the Malabar fish curry, rich with coconut milk. The latter comes in either boneless or bone-in versions. Boneless gets you tilapia; bone-in gets you pompano. We got the bone-in and I recommend it highly (though the missus loyally said that my pompano curry in a similar genre is superior). For veg, a bhindi/okra masala that was quite tasty as well. And some sambar to fulfill the dal requirement.
The boys got their usual tandoori chicken which they pronounced acceptable but a little drier than they like (I don’t know where they get this kind of judgmental attitude). They ate it with butter naan. The adults ate their food with the rice that came alongside the mains and some Malabar parottas that were quite nicely done. These were served two an order along with a container of salna or meat gravy. They threw in a bonus “Aroma Special Naan” for us to try—this was a regular naan stuffed with what seemed liked minced tandoori chicken and nuts and we found it to mostly be a bit of a non-sequitur—though not as much as the mayo that accompanied it (or at least we assumed the container of mayo was intended to go with it). And, oh, the chutneys included a tart one with pomegranate seeds in it that we all rather liked. And their green chutney seemed to have mustard in it—new to me and quite interesting.
Dessert: we ordered gulab jamuns (subpar, as is the case at almost every Indian restaurant in the US) and rasmalai (much better). They threw in a bonus dessert as well—an order of rasgullas—and it pains me to say that these impressed no more than the special naan had.
For a look at the restaurant and what we ate, launch the excessive slideshow below. Scroll down to read a few other thoughts, to see how much it cost, and to see what might be coming next.
I’d made it clear while ordering that we wanted the dishes meant to be hot to be at the hottest settings they have—“extra hot”, the gent had said on the phone. Now these dishes—the two meat starters, the Andhra chicken curry—were not mild by any means but they didn’t slap us across the face the way much of the food from Godavari had. Maybe we’d have a better chance of getting proper Andhra heat if dining in person.
Cost? With a 20% tip this came to just under $170. We were four adults and two hungry kids and we also generated a lot of leftovers. Between that meal and this report the kids have made a whole other meal out of the leftover tandoori chicken and naans and the missus and I have had three adult servings between us with probably two left to come tomorrow. I assume it’s been a similar story for our friends who took the other half of the leftovers home. At the very least, 10 very hungry adults could have eaten this food. Which means that at the most the true per head cost of this meal was $17; and there would still have been leftovers. A very good deal for the quality and I suggest you get in on it.
Oh, one more thing that’s not mentioned on the menu even on the website: there appears to be a dearth of South Indian veg mains but when I raised this at pickup I was told that if requested a number of the veg dishes could be made in a Chettinad style. We’ll try that next time.
That next time won’t be next weekend though. Where will we go for takeout next weekend? I’m not sure. It all depends on whether the weather will allow for dining on the deck with friends. Chances are good, however, that it will be some place in either Minneapolis or St. Paul.