Sometimes, the best way to rediscover a good restaurant is while searching for a new one.
Urbanspoon's "Talk of the Town" section usually stays alit with hipster-bait that never seems to leave the top 10 list. But once in a while there emerges a couple restaurants urging a click for further investigation. Sichuan Chili, a new authentic Chinese restaurant in Evandale cut from the same cloth as the popular Sichuan Bistro in Mason, is such an establishment.
Alas, our first attempt to try Sichuan Chili was met with failure. The place was packed and, thanks to good word of mouth, Enquirer articles and other general (Tso) blogging, will continue to be so well into the foreseeable future.
So what's a hungry couple without a back-up plan to do? Meander the streets of neighboring Sharonville, of course. At the town's center is a strange snaking dance of Reading Rd. and Main St., leading to the northernmost intersection that virtually marks the spot of a strip mall, home to Brij Mohan, a vegetarian Indian restaurant and sweets shop. It had been years since we'd last eaten there, so we decided to stop.
Brij Mohan is likely the most non-frills Indian restaurant we've ever visited in Cincinnati. There is no table service per se. Orders are taken at the counter, then arrive served on paper plates and eaten with plastic utensils. Water is provided in a plastic pitcher so patrons can refill Styrofoam cups at their leisure.
As we stepped through the door, we noted only a handful of families at the surrounding tables, though the place got busier later in the evening. The dining room seems to have expanded since our last visit several years ago. It's more open, brighter, with a central counter space that better showcases Brij's many varieties of sweets, lovingly aligned in neat rows behind the glass.
We retrieved a couple menus from the counter and sat down to peruse the cash-only, meat-free fare. There are 30 different entrees, all served with a heaping mound of basmati rice. There's the spicy, potatoey Aloo Vindaloo; Malai Kofta, vegetarian meatballs swimming in a creamy tomato and chili-based gravy; spinachy Saag; and a variety of masala dishes, each with its own unique spice profile. Heat levels at Brij Mohan are offered on the typical 1-6 scale.
I chose the Baingan Bhartha, a thick, chunky mash of roasted eggplant, tomatoes, onions and spices. My girlfriend opted for the Shahi Paneer, a cubed cheese dish in a creamy gravy made of tomatoes, ground nuts and raisins. We also ordered a couple rounds of naan: one plain, the other called Kashmiri naan, stuffed with raisins, nuts and bits of cherry.
In a few short minutes, we were each presented with our own personal plate of rice, accompanied by our respective entrees and sides of naan.
As a carnivore, I had harbored some mild reservations over whether I'd feel satisfied with a completely vegetarian dinner. My concerns were soon quashed: these were ample portions, with vibrant flavors and a heartiness that satiates even the biggest appetites, with plenty of leftovers to spare.
The Baingan Bhartha was deeply complex in spiciness, yet through it all, the roasted eggplant defiantly shone through. My preferred heat level of five left an appropriate, pleasing tingle on the lips. My girlfriend's Shahi Paneer was milder but equally rich and intricate. The Kashmiri naan was served hot, with a sweet-and-salty appeal that has long made it my hands-down favorite variety of Indian flatbread.
With to-go boxes fully secured, we returned to the counter for an order of Jalebi, the bright orange, swirled, semi-translucent, super-sugary confection that can only be found at a few area Indian restaurants. There were at least a half dozen other desserts I didn't recognize, many of which are sold by the pound here.
If you're looking for great Indian entrees under $10 with a wide selection of hard-to-find Indian desserts, make the trip to Sharonville for a rare, affordable treat.