University of Michigan's North Campus area is rarely thought of as a destination for gustatory enlightenment. In fact, if you're not part of the university's Engineering, Music or Art departments, most Ann Arborites consider the enclave to be something of a wasteland.
There have been developments along Plymouth Road in recent years but outside of an influx of traffic (motorized and otherwise), North Campus is still far from a hotbed of activity.
Ann Arbor is not necessarily known for its Indian cuisine either and the city's most well-known establishments—Raja Rani, Shalimar and Mahek—have all seen quality levels waver of late.
One such reason Shalimar might have seen its standing drop is the defection of the head chef. Binod Dhakal, Shalimar's manager for 13 years (as per Concentrate Media), opened Cardamom in The Courtyard Shops on Plymouth Road in late April of 2013.
The decor is sparse, the arrangement a bit haphazard and the seating somewhat cramped, but if you can get past the packaging you're in for a singular dining experience.
At the time of this report, it appears they're still working out the kinks on the service end. Patio seating was all that was available (still open in mid-October) as all of the approximately 15-18 tables inside were taken.
Yeah, it was a little on the nippy side.
No less than five different servers, waiters and/or sword-swallowers came to our table during our meal. All were friendly, but a couple were a bit forgetful.
All of this can be overlooked due to how incredible the food was. For starters, the Momos are a Nepalese take on steamed dumplings. While they taste similar to virtually any other pot sticker or gyoza, the Roasted Tomato Schezuan Pepper dipping chutney gives the dish a unique flavor.
Other popular Indian appetizers are available including Samosas, Onion Bhaji and Vegetable Pakora.
In this reviewer's humble opinion, an Indian restaurant can best be graded on the quality of two items: the bread and the chutneys. Cardamom hits the bullseye with both of these. There are seven varieties of bread from basic naan to Aloo Prantha (a whole wheat bread stuffed with spiced potatoes).
Entrees highlight India's diverse regional accents as well as fusion elements from European, American, Persian and Pan-Asian influences.
Of course you can get favorites like Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Tikka Masala and Lamb Vindaloo, but Cardamom puts a locally sourced spin on these as well as offering more adventurous dishes like Chicken Hyderabadi (Chicken Tikka in a creamy cashew and poppy-seed sauce) and Goat Dhansak (braised goat with red lentils and butternut squash).
One very satisfying item on the menu is the Chicken Tikka Salad with your choice of three distinct dressings: Lime Vinaigrette, Yogurt Cumin or Tamrind Chili Vinaigrette.
The color-coding for vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options should resonate with today's GMO-conscious patron.
A nice selection of beverages (loose teas, lassis, etc.) features a house favorite, the nimbu pani—fresh squeezed lemon-gingerade with a pinch of clove and cardamom.
The desserts need some tweaking according to the waitstaff, though, if you're fiending for standbys like Gulab Jamun and Mango Ice Cream, you can indulge (caveat emptor).
Once they figure out how to accommodate popular demand (perhaps by expanding or adding more experienced waitstaff), Cardamom is sure to secure its place in the Ann Arbor dining pantheon.