In Search of "Chinese Mirch:" Good Chinese in FC

Sarah Green

"Chinese Mirch"? You mean the month before Chinese April?  Oh, you mean Mirch as in "merchant?" Not that either, eh? Maybe as in, "not mirch, what's new with you?" - close but no cigar, I guess. But it turns out that there's quite a bit that's new with this trendy Chinese/Indian hybrid currently in full swing on Stamford's bustling Atlantic Street. "Chinese Mirch," founded by third generation restaurateur Vik Lulla, is a labor of love for Mr Lulla and his wife Sienam. The couple opened the first "Chinese Mirch" in NYC in 2003 to great critical acclaim. Now, the couple owns two "Chinese Mirch" restaurants in Manhattan, this new Stamford location with another opening in Farmington this Summer, and one in Cambridge, MA coming soon. But what's this Mirch business all about?  As someone who HATES not knowing the true meaning of things, I just HAD to find out. Alas, there was only one solution to my definition dilemma - go to "Chinese Mirch" and eat copious amounts of food! All for the sake of CTbites, of course. Ahmi, the sacrifices we make.

The restaurant is stylish and sleek with black, cement floors and red leather stools. The tables have a chic grainy finish and the walls sport red and green carvings in angular, geometric shapes. We were the first costumers there when "Chinese Mirch" opened for lunch at 11:30 but the place soon filled to capacity. The aroma when we walked through the doors was distinctly Chinese with a whiff of curry in the mix. The definition i sought was surely nigh. It was at the tip of my tongue or at least was about to be.

For appetizers, we ordered the CRISPY OKRA (a dish that is hard to execute well) and, although okra is often on the "too slimy" side for me, this okra was crunchy and interestingly prepared. Fried with a smoky chili seasoning and served in a Bistro-style pomme frites cone, these pods were served with hot chili sauce and duck sauce for dipping. We also sampled the STEAMED MOMOS (they may also be fried if that's your preference) which are Tibetan dumplings stuffed with veggies or chicken.  We opted for the veggie filling and were delighted with the chunks of fresh shitake mushrooms, onions and the like. Often, dumplings contain overly pureed, unidentifiable, mystery fill. Big chunks in these MOMOS gave rise to a tastier, full veg experience. The MOMO shell was a tad doughy but that may be par for the course in dumpling-land. The inside delight mixed with the scrumptious vinegar/sugar/chili pepper dipping sauce was enough of a flavor high that we were able to ignore the shell that transported it!

The main courses came next and, as is our style, we ordered vast quantities. The CRISPY SZECHUAN LAMB is twice cooked and tossed with green and red chilis. It was given 3 stars on the menu - the hottest rating that "Chinese Mirch" gives - yet although tasty, there wasn't much fire. Perhaps the chef is catering to what he thinks Fairfield County-ers can handle. I say, "Bring it on!!!"  We ordered the BRAISED BOK CHOY which was vibrantly green, crunchy and full of flavor. There's plenty of garlic in this dish and it is the perfect side to accompany any entree "Mirch" serves. The SINGAPORE RICE NOODLES were a definite stand-out. These "angel hair" rice noodles were prepared with an ample serving of thinly sliced vegetables and chicken and a delicate dry curry. The noodles were cooked just right while the rich curry managed to play a starring role without overpowering the dish. Another hit was the GOBI MANCHURIAN CAULIFLOWER. Here, tiny cauliflower florets were lightly stir-fried with plenty of ginger, garlic and onion, and browned - just so.  They were bursting with flavor, slightly crunchy and mildly caramelized.  I would love to have these tasty morsels lying around in bowls for movie night!  They would make for an amazing healthy snack that both kids and adults would devour. (If anyone manages to get the recipe, keep us posted.)

The SALT and PEPPER PRAWNS, which were lightly battered and gently fried in garlic, onion, ginger and a green chili seasoning, were fresh and light but lacked depth. They were given just one "spice" star which should have given us warning, and although well cooked, we felt this dish could have been more flavorful. That being said, these would be enjoyed immensely by my children. 

Perhaps the greatest surprise at "Chinese Mirch" was - you're not going to believe this - the SWEET and SOUR CHICKEN!!!  Foodies, let me explain. We brought my 85 year-old mother with us on this quest for Mirch and she is NOT the adventuresome eater that we youngsters seem to be. The only thing on the menu that she dared to try was the SWEET and SOUR as it had no stars at all! It came to the table in a pineapple shell, steaming and exuding the most marvelous pineapple aroma. Usually, sweet and sour dishes are thick and cloying and WAY too sweet. Yet Mirch's sweet and sour is nothing of the kind. The chicken chunks are small and tender and there are bits of pineapple throughout. The sauce presents as your basic neon-orange glaze but Mirch's sauce is far from goopey. It is thin and packed with plenty of fresh fruit juice. It came to the table piping hot and my poor mom had to battle the rest of us for her share! Placed on top of a dollop of steamed brown basmati rice, Mirch's SWEET and SOUR is a winner!

We were too stuffed to order dessert but our waiter brought us one "on the house" - Yes, yet another CTbites sacrifice! We were treated to the WARM CHOCOLATE CAKE with GREEN TEA ICE CREAM. "Delicious" says it all. This was not a molten cake but a purely divine round of warm chocolate perfection topped with creamy, cool green-tea ice cream. Next time, I promise to save some room for the MITHAI WONTONS which sound intriguing -  crispy wontons stuffed with a sweet Indian paste made from milk powder and syrup and topped with vanilla ice cream. Yum.

So my search for Mirch was coming to an end. It turns out that the word "Mirch" is a Hindi word loosely used in India to describe chili. Mirch also refers to an area in India to where many people of Chinese origin immigrated, bringing with them their delightful and often spicy cuisine. Many of the dishes at "Chinese Mirch" also have the work HAKKA in them. The HAKKA people came from central China, originally, and many migrated to the Southern Chinese provinces and then down to India. Here is where the fusion begins and the result is this interesting and flavor-packed menu.  "Chinese Mirch" actually serves Chinese food infused with Indian spices. And though the "Chinese Mirch" web site warns of spicy and powerful dishes, we found the food to be relatively mild. "Mirch" is, in fact, a fantastic place to bring kids. They have a kids menu, complete with soups, chicken nuggets, and vegetable tempura with sides consisting of corn, stir-fried noodles or rice. But "Mirch" is a great place for kids even if you don't choose from the kids' menu. All the dishes are relatively mild this would probably an excellent 1st-time Chinese/ Indian fusion experience for children and grown-ups alike.  The chef promises that all the food here is free of MSG and all other artificial additives or preservatives. Also, purely vegetarian base ONLY is used in the vegetarian dishes, never chicken or fish stock, which is great news for strict vegetarians. There are no trans-fats and all the food is prepared in 100% pure cholesterol-free vegetable oil.  "Chinese Mirch" is located at 35 Atlantic Street in Stamford and you can call for reservations at 203-969-7000. 

Chinese Mirch 35 Atlantic Street, Stamford. 203.969.7000

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