Bangkok-style prawn stir-fry. photography by Kevin Hunter Marple

Review: Bengal Coast

The promising Bengal Coast makes spicy South Asian cuisine palatable for the masses. But please pass the salt.

Don’t call it a concept. Mark Brezinski bristles at the mere mention of the word, preferring to think of his latest culinary venture as a “vision.” And this one—Bengal Coast—is his most ambitious yet.
 
The co-founder of Tin Star and Pei Wei Asian Diner, Brezinski is passionate about his new Oak Lawn eatery, an exotic blend of Indian, Thai, and Malaysian flavors. The passion shows in the prep work. Along with his wife and chef Mark Miller, Brezinski and crew ate their way across Bangkok, Mumbai, and London, comparing both traditional and non-traditional interpretations of favorites from South Asia in an attempt to adjust the flavors for American palates.

Cynics will say the concept restaurant vet is dumbing down the exotic cuisine, and, honestly, that was my first thought, too, especially after I tasted Bengal Coast’s version of samosas. The popular Indian appetizer is traditionally stuffed with potatoes, peas, onion, and coriander and then lightly fried. They’re simple and savory, Indian food at its best. Bengal Coast can’t simplify the samosas so it complicates them, and the results taste like a kitchen trying too hard. Especially the Thai lobster version, a goopy combination of lobster, cream cheese, cilantro, black mustard seeds, red bell pepper, kaffir lime, galangal, curry leaf, and—deep breath, almost finished—Thai chili. It’s simply too much for a two-bite appetizer, with the cream cheese—the most benign of the ingredients—overwhelming the mad scientist-like mishmash.

Seared pork roll rolled with soft naan and roasted sesame seeds. photography by Kevin Hunter Marple
It was a bad first impression, reinforcing the stereotype that mass-market restaurants are all concept and little quality. Happily, though, the rest of chef Miller’s Asian-fusion menu quieted my cynical murmurs by being inventive and flavorful without overdoing it. The chilled yellowfin tuna lettuce boat appetizer was a spot-on mélange of texture and flavors: tuna tartare, ginger, toasted cumin, julienned snap peas, and creamy avocado wrapped in sweet, tender lettuce leaves. Sporting traditional Asian touches yet tasting contemporary, here Bengal Coast at last seemed to accomplish its mission.

Besides appetizers, the menu is neatly divided into five sections: salads, wraps, stir-fries, curries, and kebabs. Bengal Coast makes all its sauces, marinades, and breads in-house as well as roasting its own spices, an aggressive move for a concept—sorry—restaurant. It pays off in dishes like the Mumbai chaat salad. Based on popular Indian street food, the salad is a beautiful mix of beans, roasted diced potatoes, daikon, spiced peanuts, sweet tamarind chutney, mint raita, ginger, apple, and crispy chickpea noodles. Brisk and flavorful, it’s a healthy vegetarian dish with plenty of meaty appeal. Wrap sandwiches are rolled with whole-wheat roti or soft naan with roasted sesame seeds. The sandwiches were fine—the spiced steak with Thai chili aioli a favorite—but the fries dusted with garam masala could have used a bit more seasoning.

Mango lassi punch spiked with Crown Royal. photography by Kevin Hunter Marple
That’s a recurring theme with Bengal Coast’s food. Brezinski wants to bring exotic flavors to the people without scaring them off. But some of the entrees tried could have used more punch. Fragrant butter chicken was just that. The heady aroma of peppers, onion, and cardamom was a delight, but the buttery tomato sauce—reminiscent of tikka masala—and the tender boneless chicken thigh needed just a dash of salt. Luckily, a sea salt/garam masala blend sits on each table. Malay crispy beef stir-fry was more of the same. The marinated wok-seared chili beef was a tad tame, but digging to the bottom of the bowl unearthed a decadent coconut-infused beef broth/pad Thai noodle combo. Curries could have used more heat, but, once again, Bengal Coast offers a reinterpretation of Indian and Thai fare. Here, vindaloo is warm and cuddly, not hot and fiery. But, nevertheless, it’s delicious.

Bengal Coast is still finding its way with its food. Daily seafood specials are now offered, one Thai, one Indian. (The crispy Thai swordfish sticks with lemon grass coconut curry are a favorite, but ask for extra sauce.) Desserts are in a state of flux. And Asian-inspired mixed drinks have been added. (Mango lassi with Crown Royal? It’s better than it sounds.) But the service is spot on. The décor is dramatic and upscale with its flowing Thai silk drapes and warm mahogany accents. And owner Brezinski is there at every meal watching over his new vision. I don’t blame him. This ambitious one shows much promise, concept or not.

Get contact information for Bengal Coast.

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