Where to Find Tasty, Healthy Food at Restaurant Chains – Part I

Logo for a great new restaurant conceptAs a pescovegetarian, it’s always challenging to find restaurants that feature fresh, tasty, relatively healthy foods that cater to my needs. Most restaurant chains feature quantity over quality.  I was happy to discover two small, innovative, relatively affordable restaurant chains that deserve to succeed: Chinese Mirch and Seasons 52.

Chinese Mirch marries Chinese cooking techniques with Indian herbs and spices. According to their website, the name “Chinese Mirch” loosely translates to “spicy Chinese food” in Hindi.  Chinese Mirch  launched in Manhattan in 2003 and recently, franchises have opened in Stamford, Conn.; Framingham, Mass.; and New Brunswick, New Jersey, with restaurants in the works for California, Texas and Virginia.

Michelle and I visited the Lexington Avenue location while vacationing in New York last summer, at the suggestion of my sister, Louise.  We got there by pedicab—an experience in itself on Manhattan’s bumpy roads—a little after 10 pm and barely managed to get seated at the crowded restaurant. The small space was lively and bright, filled with young hipsters, Asian families, and tourists like us.

Although both of us were frightened by okra as small children and never recovered, reviewers had raved about this appetizer, so we ordered the crispy okra and gobbled up every bite.  The okra was quickly deep-friend with a smoky chili spice—no trace of the sliminess that has scared me off this vegetable in the past.

While the other dishes we ordered, including fried salt & pepper calamari and Chinese Mirch potatoes (spicy, dry home-fries), were unexceptional, we enjoyed our meal.  So when a branch opened in Framingham, not too far down the road from Boston, we went to check it out.

Spicy cauliflower

Gobi Manchurian, spicy cauliflower, is our favorite dish at Chinese Mirch.

The Boston-area location is not nearly as hip or crowded. While it doesn’t have a liquor license like New York, the rest of the menu was the same.  The standout dish that we tried on our second (and third) visits was the “gobi Manchurian”—tender little cauliflower florets that are seasoned with fresh garlic, ginger, and scallions and quick fried. I’d never eat another French fry if I could have these instead—they were that good!

Michelle enjoyed her basil chicken, which came with a generous portion of broccoli, but I found my spicy tofu stir fry a little dull. Rice is not included with your entrée—a pet peeve of mine—but I was glad that they offered a choice of brown or white rice. All in all, a fun meal—I just wish they were closer to home and had a liquor license.

Part II of this series will feature a review of Seasons52.  In the meantime, have you tried Chinese Mirch yet? What did you think?

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