The Team From Chicago’s Only Michelin-Starred Indian Restaurant Is Opening a Cafe

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The team from Chicago’s only Michelin-starred Indian restaurant, Indienne, is opening a cafe where customers can sip fresh-brewed masala chai. Swadesi Cafe should open next week in the West Loop with unique pastries like samosa chaat croissants stuffed with spicy potatoes and a pleasant hint of tart tamarind. The menu also includes chicken tikka toasties with chicken, cheddar, cilantro, and mint.

Indienne chef Sujan Sarkar worked on the food alongside chef Sahil Sethi, his collaborator who oversees Sifr (ownership’s Middle Eastern restaurant in West Loop). But the man in charge of day-to-day operations at Swadesi is Yash Kishinchand. He’s a recent graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Napa where students run a cafe. That’s where Kishinchand received his only barista training.

Sarkar has toyed with the idea for a cafe for years. Kishinchand moved from Columbus, Ohio to Chicago to open St. Regis Chicago — the luxury downtown hotel that now houses Tre Dita and Miru. After he left the hotel, Sarkar offered him a chance to open Swadesi inside the former Ruin Daily at 328 S. Jefferson Street.

Kishinchand who enjoys brandishing a chef’s torch — he keeps a shiny gold-colored one handy for the finishing touches on treats like jaggery chocolate chip cookies — is trained in French cooking, and says he wasn’t as familiar with Indian ingredients and he received an education from chefs Sarkar and Sethi when creating Swadesi menu. The cafe’s name is derived from “desi,” a term that often refers to Indian Americans. The menu intends to reflect their tastes in combining cultures. How else would you explain the cheesy potato tikki tots? And it’s not just South Asian, a carrot halwa cake gives a taste of the Middle East.

This bakery approach isn’t that different from Kasama’s where pastry chef and co-owner Genie Kwon combines her husband’s Filipino culture and her Korean heritage with French pastry. In Lincoln Park, Indian native Arshiya Farheen has slipped in subcontinental influences in her pastries at Verzenay Patisserie.

There’s been a wave of interest in Indian egg sandwiches. Mini chain Eggoholic helped popularize them locally, and places like Superkhana International have taken them to another level. Swadesi will offer its own with avocado on a spiced potato rosti — yes, the Swiss get a say. There’s also a butter chicken croissant with burrata.

Finding the literal sweet spot for masala chai in Chicago has been a challenge. Swadesi will allow customers to customize the sweetness levels with sugar, and down the line, alternate sweeteners may be offered. For now, the masala chai is made to order whole milk, but an oat milk ready-to-go version is available. These drinks fundamentally differ from the chai lattes most coffee shops serve made from concentrate. Masala chai specialists, ones who brew black tea with South Asian spices (Swadesi uses ginger, rose, and cardamom), aren’t frequent in Chicago. Chiya Chai and Superkhana in Logan Square are locals’ best bets. Along Devon, Sukhadia’s Sweets and Snacks is a popular and quick option. Some Indian restaurants don’t offer the beverage. In Avondale, Thattu, which specializes in cuisine from the southern state of Kerala, serves South Indian filter coffee. Brewing masala chai takes time, but so does preparing pour-over coffee, so there’s a labor precedent if a demand emerges.

But it’s not just about tradition. Swadesi also plans to serve a cold nitro masala chai.

Eventually, Swadesi will extend hours and Kishinchand says they’re hoping to sell beer and liquor. The focus is on morning and evening service, but dinner pop-ups are a possibility.

Swadesi, 328 S. Jefferson Street, opening Monday, March 26.

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