Review: Vindalho

This restaurant is now closed.

[updated 6/13 – prices, comments]

Vindalho- vin-dah-loo’ – Indian (from Portuguese vinha d’alhos: vin(wine) alho (garlic): fish, vegetables, or meat (most commonly chicken or lamb) prepared in the Goan style, with vinegar, garlic, sometimes potatoes, and tomatoes in a spicy curry.

Vindalho was opened in 2005 by David Machado, owner of Café Lauro a few miles east on Division. David Anderson, formerly from Lauro, moved to this location as the chef de cuisine. The interior space was designed by Portland’s Sienna Architecture, and is quite striking, especially compared to the rest of the neighborhood. Modern with lofty ceilings, big bright windows, a mezzanine level that looks over the space below, and hanging art to break up the space, it has a contemporary yet comfortable feel. The kitchen is open, the amazing range hood a work of art. It is easy to see the cooks, Chef Anderson busily expediting things, giving you plenty to watch if your date is going down in flames. The room is L-shaped, wrapped around the kitchen with a bar that holds about 20 in the far corner. A large roll up door opens during nice weather. There are lots of comfortable bench seats and bamboo topped tables. The upstairs seating area provides a nice vantage point to watch the action below, though you can’t see the kitchen. On very busy nights, noise levels can be a problem here, and at times it can be difficult to hear other people at your table. Still, I like the ambience very much.

A full bar is available with four beers on tap, now Hopworks Organic Lager, Double Mountain Hop Lava IPA, Ninkasi Double Red Ale and Gilgamesh Mamaba Rye, all $5. Seven are available by the bottle; prices range from $4.50. A list of specialty cocktails is also available, drawing from both old school like the mint julep, to the newer ginger lemongrass martini. Some are pretty good, some need an early retirement. The nepaltini – a mixture of tea-infused vodka and sweet and sour served in a martini glass with a sugared rim would be better served to grown up sorority girls in the Pearl. Ditto for the mint julep. Mint juleps are one of the simplest concoctions – whiskey, mint, and a hint of sugar, muddled and served with crushed ice. The idea is that there is a balance between the three ingredients with none of them dominating. Unfortunately the mint julep at Vindhalo just tasted like heavy sugar-water with mint thrown in. All specialty drinks are $9.

A small choice of wines is available, many by the glass, half-liter, or liter – a nice touch. Markup is very reasonable, and the choices are well-selected to match the food. The menu bills itself as “spice route cuisine”. Though it certainly has Indian roots, it is more of a modern take on the classic dishes. When Vindalho first opened, I wasn’t too impressed. Food wasn’t spicy enough, sauces tended to be out of balance, and some dishes didn’t work. However, in the last year, they have made tremendous strides. I would guess this is largely because of Chef David Anderson’s trip to India. There is nothing like experiencing the food and culture for yourself to really get an idea of what a cuisine is all about. Since his return, all the dishes have been tweaked, the result bringing excellent balance and a great harmony of spices to David’s already excellent kitchen skills. In short, quality has soared.

Portions tend to be large; most likely you’ll have some leftover for the next day. The menu and prices have remained pretty much the same. Don’t miss the specials board when you walk in the door. They are usually quite good.

Meals start with complimentary papadum, for the uninitiated, a very thin, brittle, spiced lentil cracker, about the size of a plate. They are light as paper and crisp, with just the right flavor – very addictive. As is true with all the chutneys here, the tamarind-date variety that comes with this dish is excellent. When you finish, save any that is leftover to use with other dishes.

The roasted beet salad is interesting, loaded with beets, a light fennel flavor, slight spice from mizuna (a green often used in salad mixes), frisee, fennel, and spicy little toasted chickpeas with a cardamom-yogurt dressing. There are a lot of interesting textures and flavors in this salad, and I enjoyed it ($9.00).

Mulligatawny soup is South Indian: mullaga (pepper) and tanni (water or broth). Like many Asian dishes, the original recipes have morphed into innumerable versions, with every family having their own recipe. Vindalho’s version uses chicken, tamarind, tomatoes and rice. The vegetables are perfect – not soggy as you find in many restaurants, and the entire dish has a nice stew-like flavor. It’s perfect for a cool fall night ($7.00).

On some nights chicken pakora are on the specials board. They are just terrific, creamy coriander-spiced chicken wrapped in a coconut shell and deep-fried. A side of tamarind-yoghurt chutney provides a perfect counterpoint. Between the textures and flavors this is a great starter; highly recommended ($8).

Samosas are made with an eye to the best seasonal ingredients to complement the potato base. I’ve had them with shrimp, English peas, and the current corn and potato version. They are perfectly fried and not a bit greasy, with the light dough gently encasing wonderfully tender potato and sweet corn interiors. Taken either solo or with a dollop of the bright green chutney, these are perfection. Once again the chutney comes through as a great accompaniment, the current version mint and yogurt ($8).

The lamb kebobs in fenugreek cream also deliver. Two large, formed kebabs of spiced ground lamb that have been shaped into 2” diameter cigars and fired in the tandoori oven, came out tender and moist. The bright yellow fenugreek sauce was rich, but not too rich ($8).

Goan is Portuguese-influenced cooking style of Goa, a state on the west coast of India. The Goan style mussels changed a bit from meal to meal. Most nights they are really nice with a marvelous sweetness from the coconut milk, and spices which combine well with the perfectly cooked fresh mussels. On a few visits they were a bit toothy, but the sauce was still terrific ($10.00). Another of my favorite dishes, the tandoor suvir Saran’s prawns are not on the current menu, but so good I’ll mention them: plump and cooked as you’d expect, fresh, flavored with ginger, cumin, and lemon giving the prawns a smoky Indian spice. These are accompanied by rice, which makes the portion big enough for an entrée ($15.00).

Goan chicken curry also uses coconut milk. This one was at first subtle, but after 2 bites grew in complexity. The spices themselves are not “spicy” but instead heady and deep; although a little something was missing to really make this dish pop. The chicken however, was so flavorful and moist that I can’t complain too much. Served with simple rice and a beans foogath, a wonderful shredded green bean, curry leaf and coconut side dish, this was outstanding ($15).

The pork vindalho over balsamic rice is one of the best things on the menu. The pork is fork tender and moist, the sauce sweet, tangy and fragrant, with a long spicy finish. A dash of vinegar gives it a piquant, yet balanced undertone. It’s served with a pyramid of light and fluffy saffron basmati rice, and topped with somewhat incongruous plump onion rings. Another terrific choice ($17).

Boti Kabobs made from Oregon lamb are marinated in yogurt and mustard seed, giving them a nice spice level that contrasts with the smoky taste from the grill. There is just the right amount of char, the meat is moist and rare, and the accompanying pyramid of saffron rice balances the dish. As usual for these days, the lamb was very mild in flavor – not gamey at all. A side of mango chutney provides the perfect sweet foil ($17.00).

Tikka means small pieces of boneless meat, fish or vegetables, marinated and grilled kabab style. The chicken tikka is good tandoori, though a bit under-spiced for my taste, and on one visit, slightly dry. The excellent accompanying chutney and onion/lemon salad was really good, consisting of onions, radishes, and a few thin slices of lemon in a light marinade ($16).

For those who think the tandoori beef sounds like a less spicy, more American dish, think again. You’ll get plenty of medium rare meat topped with huge onion rings, but the tamarind marinade raises it above the ordinary. The spice level (not heat), contrasts rather strongly with the mild meat. At first I didn’t particularly like it, but when paired with the accompanying chutney, everything works just perfectly; the flavor of the grill, sweetness of tamarind, spiciness of the marinade, and yet a different, slightly hot flavor of the marinade. It wouldn’t be my number one choice, but I would order it again ($19).

These days I like the naan, a flatbread that is cooked quickly in the tandoor oven. It is fairly thin, not overwhelmed with ghee (clarified butter) like it used to be. Cumin and fennel spices give it a nice fragrance ($3).

Finally, don’t miss the chutneys. They are an important part of Indian food and a way to change the tastes of a dish from bite to bite. For the uninitiated, they are a condiment combining fruits or vegetables, vinegar, sugar, and spices. The flavors are designed to complement or enhance dishes. The chutneys at Vindalho have expanded greatly, with eight on the current menu. You can get a three chutney sampler for $5 that allows you to choose which ones you want. At this point I’ve tried them all: peach-kalonji (nigella), cucumber mint raita, and red onion date, mint-yoghurt, spicy red chile, fresh coriander, and sweet tomato chutney. All were surprising, and quite good. The peach chutney with black nigella seeds added an end of summer sweet note balanced by the slight anise flavor of the nigella seeds, while the raita was textbook and exactly how raita is supposed to be made – cooling and creamy with bits of cucumber and spices.

Desserts are a weak point. The best of the lot is the bittersweet chocolate samosa. When they opened, it consisted of a flakey puff pastry turnover with a layer of bittersweet chocolate sauce inside, quickly fried, drizzled with honey and caramel sauce along with sautéed bananas ($7.00). Now they are using a more traditional samosa for the wrapping, and the bananas are no longer served on the side. It’s still good, but not as incredible as before. For those wanting something lighter, the ginger crème brûlée is light and creamy ($7.00). There is also a lime tart. It’s just fine, with a decent citrus flavor, but the crust is uneven, and so thick on the outside it’s hard to cut. Ok, but nothing to write home about ($7.00).

In all my visits, I found the service to be a step up from the Portland restaurant average. Staff knows the dishes, and when queried can discuss the more unusual ingredients. On very busy nights you might find things slow a bit, but never to the point where it becomes annoying.

I like Vindalho very much, and think things are balanced, meats tender, and sauces complex with lots of depth. The restaurant has come a long way since opening, and is an excellent addition to the Portland restaurant scene. If you haven’t been since they first opened, you owe it to yourself to give them another try.

Phone: 503-467-4550
Address: 2038 SE Clinton Street, Portland OR. 97202 Map
Hours: Tue-Thurs 5pm to 9pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-10pm

Vindalho on Urbanspoon

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Dave J. says

    Good review. My most recent visit was much better than my trip soon after they opened. And, in that part of SE, if it’s a choice between Vindalho and Bombay Cricket Club, it goes to Vindalho, hands down. While I like BCC for some things, they haven’t changed their menu in the 6 years I’ve been in town. My only request re. this review: any chance you’d divulge which cocktails “are pretty good,” and which “need an early retirement”?

  2. Food Dude says

    Dave, as I recall, one was a version of a sidecar. It was terribly out of balance. Don’t remember the second one. I tend to breeze past the cocktails since I don’t normally drink when I review, just taste a friends. I’ll try to point out names in the future when something is particularly good or bad.

  3. Dave J. says

    Sadly, Vindalho made the puzzling decision to completely revise their bittersweet chocolate samosa recipe. Now, instead of being inside a flaky puff-pastry shell with bananas and syrup on the side, the bananas are baked along with the chocolate inside a traditional (i.e., less flaky) samosa covering. Our waiter seemed somewhat embarassed about it, and though he didn’t say it, I could tell that the move had not been well received by customers. The first time I tried the (original) dish, I loved the flaky pastry and the bittersweet chocolate. Now, however, the chocolate’s complexity is lost with the bananas right in every bite, and the pastry isn’t half as good as the original. Weird decision on their part.

  4. Me me me!!! says

    I am going there for dinner with a few friends on Saturday night. I’ll post a note and let ya’ll know if they are keeping up with their reputation.

  5. Mark says

    This place really surprised me. Perhaps the value of mixed early reviews is that patrons don’t have overly high expectations. The reviews more recently have been stellar, and so, I must say, is the entire dining experience at this establishment. Very well run; attentive wait staff; imaginative, diverse fare; great drinks; and stellar deserts. The mango and coconut ice cream are two of the tastiest treats that have ever passed across my tongue.

    Great architecture, including a sleek looking downspout and outdoor water raingarden top off a serene patio dining experience.

    I really liked this place, and will return. Regularly.

  6. Kim Nyland says

    I’m a big fan….one of the 1 a week places we like to go to. Nuestra ,is no more now with the new schedule…..damn shame

    kim @ apizza

  7. lexuh says

    My best friend and I had dinner Vindalho on 9/1, egged on by the 20% off coupon Food Dude posted a link to a while back. It’s a bit of a drive for those of us in NoPo, but it was definitely worth it. I used to work in that area, and it was great to see how the neighborhood has flourished in the last few years.

    The prawns were excellent, my friend’s sturgeon special was really enjoyable, and the mango daquiris were a treat. The creme brulee (was in ginger or cardamom? I can’t remember) was “meh”. Service was great. Not sure how often I’ll go back, considering how many excellent restos I have much closer, but I’m glad I went. Thanks for posting the coupon!

  8. Cuisine Bonne Femme says

    The Bad Diner

    Dear Vindalho, I just wanted to apologize for the bad diner at our table the other night. She was a nightmare customer – fussy, overly demanding, rude, and an overall embarrassment. The rest of our table was horrified at her behavior.

    I want to thank you for your excellent service regarding this diner and the rest of the dinner in general– everyone from the server to the manager handled our situation with grace and professionalism. Our table (outside of the bad diner) also agreed with the manager that we should pay for her disputed entrée, as the rest of the diners at our table consumed it. The manager was so good at explaining this to our bad diner and even compromised by paying for her side dishes. Kudos to you and your team for being firm with her on this.

    In addition, we now understand why you are so loathe to accept reservations. The large table that hogged the dining room for hours even after they had finished and paid (I think they lingered for more than two hours after they were finished!) really threw things off for you and for us by causing us to be seated at least 40 minutes after our reservation time. Once again, we appreciate how your staff handled this by explaining to us what was going on, and even though we never expected it, by bringing by the free appetizers.

    I’ve always said that it is not the problems that happen in a restaurant that matter, it’s how the restaurant handles them that counts.

    Vindalho did a fantastic job with the service on what was a difficult situation. Thank You.

  9. sidemeat says

    Interesting public apology for what would otherwise be a private affair. If the purpose was to credit Vindalho for handling a bad situation well I would think it could have been done without so many identifying details. If the purpose was to embarrass the bad diner it didn’t go quite far enough. It sounds like a good story, won’t you tell it all?

  10. Cuisine Bonne Femme says

    Well, my intention was to let Vindahlo and anyone else that might be reading this site know how great and professional the staff were. People often bitch about bad service at restaurants in public forums (i.e. here, citysearch, etc), and I just feel that a restaurant should also get credit when they give good service during really difficult situations as brought on by the diners. And this was a perfect example. I included details to let both the restaurant and the public know what had happened.

    I also know for a fact that the bad diner does not read or even know about this site. In addition, at the request of the rest of our group, I had a long talk with her about her behavior. It was a difficult conversation with a difficult person, but somebody had to do it. Needless to say she is not welcome dining with this group of people again. The rest of this group (many of us have worked in food service and/or the service industry) were just horrified and we didn’t want one bad diner to reflect badly on us should we ever dine there again.

    Finally, myself and others I know that dine out frequently as well as restaurant staff (duh) are really sick of witnessing bad manners and bad behavior from diners. I’m so sick of it actually that I am in the process of writing an article on it and will be gathering horror stories from restaurant staff and others to use as examples. So if you have any good stories from the service side, let me know if you are interested.

    My idea is that this article can spin off into a little chapbook or brochure on how to have dining manners – everything from not eating like a pig to how to handle problems with the food, reservations, etc. What a great “gift” for those diners that may needed a help…

  11. says

    Taking liberties here: this is a graph about Lauro that ran in Bon Appetit two years ago. I’ve eaten there once since and enjoyed it as much:

    My friend, visiting from New York, said she wanted “neighborhood Italian food,” so I took her to Lauro Mediterranean Kitchen. “This is gorgeous,” she said, of the high-ceilinged, mid-century modern restaurant, in a residential section of Southeast Portland. “But it doesn’t look Italian.” True, there were no red-checked tablecloths, but there was a greeter so effusive I thought he was going to kiss me. A pitcher of Portuguese wine (Douro, Quinta Sà De Baixo) complemented chef-owner David Machado’s generous, panoramic take on Mediterranean cooking: chicken tagine with green olives and almond couscous from North Africa; a Marseillese seafood soup with red pepper rouille; pizza with gorgonzola. I let my friend have the last roasted pancetta-wrapped fig stuffed with goat cheese; she gave me half of her pudim, Portuguese port custard that tastes like Irish cream liqueur, meaning, yummy. Though the place was packed—they don’t take reservations—no one hustled us along, and customers appeared more than happy to hang out at the busy back bar.

  12. gabino says

    Ate at Vindalho on 12/28. Service excellent but restaurant was our of nearly all the entres at 8pm. Our party of three was limited to the remaining appies and salads. Needless to say: disappointed. The food we did have was mostly a pooreffort; the potato fritter tasted like dishwater; the “dahl” was bland; the nan…well I can’t say because they were even out of nan by the time we got our order in. Still the waitress was gracious under the circumstances.

    I won’t go back.

    • Food Dude says

      I’m not sure I would hold the experience on the 28th against them. From what I have heard, because of the weather, restaurants have been having a terrible time getting ingredients. I had a similar experience at a restaurant the day before, and just now at Zupans, they were out of a ton of stuff – including everything I went there to get.

  13. AJ says

    Had dinner here with friends last night based on this review. We had cocktails, tasted four entrees, and had dessert. Everything was underwhelming. Maybe I just don’t get it. Nothing was especially tasty except maybe the chutney with the prawns. In hindsight, I should have sent the prawns back. They were mushy and decidedly un-fresh tasting. Desserts were just okay, same with the drinks. Service was pretty good and not rushed and the environment is nice, but that is not enough if the food is bad. I don’t think we’ll be back.

  14. ech says

    Just ate there tonight for the first time in over a year. Somewhat disappointed. Nothing was terrible, it really wasn’t even bad. It just wasn’t that great either.
    My favorite was the drink I ordered (forgot the name): Aviation gin, cointreau, citrus and bitters. It was excellent. And the house made ice creams for dessert were wonderful. The naan was great too, although the chutneys, while very flavorful were annoyingly blended smooth whereas I like them chunky with bits of stuff in them.
    Our table had the Saag Paneer, the Spring Vegetable curry, and the cod special. The Saag Paneer was a bit like a tomato sauce with some spinach floating in it instead of that thick rich spinachy goop that can be so good if you start with good quality spinach. The cod was deep-fried in batter, but not crispy or charred at all, not sizzling hot, and the sauce was a thin sweet coconut sauce similar to mediocre Thai restaurant fare and there was way too much of it.

    Overall, everything was great except the entrees. And again, nothing was terrible, but there was absolutely no “wow” to the entrees, and hey, competition in this town is fierce – simply having nothing wrong isn’t good enough when there are so many exciting restaurants to go to.
    Vindalo seems a bit tired.

  15. rye says

    Ate at Vindalho two times last month, and I’m starting to wonder if Machado has left his restaurant to flounder. Meals were always great when he was expediting, but I’ve noticed a definite slip in food quality, which is sad since they got off to such a great start. Most of the meal was fine, but not memorable, and any cheap Indian lunch buffet in town would probably offer more flavorful food. We ordered a pakora appetizer special, which I was excited about, but the plate offered only disappointment. For instance, the vegetable pakora part of the plate was disgusting….the fritters looked great on the outside, but the center consisted of uncooked, thickly grated vegetables and gooey uncooked batter. Come on, David, your cooks can’t even manage a fried fritter?????

    Service is usually great, but last time I was there I was seated on the balcony and our server was either overextended or just plain forgot about us.

  16. julie schaaff says

    An awesome meal…I would go back weekly if I could afford it. Slightly spendy, but worth every penny.
    The sweet potato and cashew samosa was flaky, crusty, moist, and I could have eaten them all. The chutneys were wonderful, Mulligatawney soup was very flavorful, just the right amount of heat.
    The lamb curry was so tender it fell off the bone and the sauce tantalizing and rich, also perfect amount of heat.
    Tandori shrimp…perfectly done, flavor exceptional. The fresh slaw with cardamom and cumin seeds off-set the mild heat of the tandori.
    And to top it off, lime tart…absolutely mouth watering.
    I don’t care if it’s not “traditional” indian as some complain about…the flavors were exceptional. Nothing at all to complain about, and a new favorite in my books!

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