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Co-owners Sheila Bommakanti and Elizabeth Golay tuck into a vintage tuk tuk, idled in the restaurant’s far corner.

Image: Karen Brooks

A new year has arrived, bringing not only seasonal blues and holiday eating remorse, but a desperate search for even a scrap of good news. Well, cheer up friends. Tiffin Asha, opening January 5 at 1670 NE Killingsworth Ave, might just be the place we’re looking for: sweetly passionate, full of Indian twists and turns, and delivered with candlelight, Kingfisher beer, and M.I.A. beats. The brick-and-mortar is the next chapter for one of Portland’s most inspired food carts, which ended its four-year North Portland run in August 2016. 

The 36-room setting is a bit spare, dominated by an industrial kitchen that cuts across the room. Color comes mostly from a handsome reclaimed redwood banquette that borders a row of two-tops and slightly golden folding chairs. Those candles will come in handy.

With a big upgrade in kitchen space and equipment, chef Elizabeth Golay and frontwoman Sheila Bommakanti (partners in business and life) have assembled one of the most appealing-looking menus I’ve seen recently. For now, the duo is serving dinner only, with brunch gearing up in the coming weeks. The restaurant picks up where the cart left off, delving more deeply into snacks and light meals from Southern India’s Andhra Pradesh region, often dusted with gun powder, a pepper-like condiment made from spices and ground lentils. (Golay makes no fewer than four versions, including a new green curry leaf number, ground with roasted tamarind; she’s that kind of cook). 

The cart’s playful dosas remain: Indian-style crepes rolled into cones stuffed with the likes of spicy pakora-fried chicken and black cardamom honey, tomato chutney-ed Yukon Gold spuds, or Rogue Creamery’s smoky blue cheese mingled with honey. Golay nails more traditional flavors, too, like idli (fermented steamed rice cakes) and sambar (lentil soup). Her cart chutneys were so good that customers would load up on 10 little cups at a time.

But I have my eye on some of the new options. Here’s what I’m ordering on my first visit (along with that pakora-fried chicken):

  1. Kebabs: Great skewers have eluded some of Portland’s best chefs. I’m willing to give Golay a crack at satisfaction. There’s three to start: pomegranate-sesame-glazed lamb; wild steelhead salmon glazed in coconut milk, with a dusting of green gram (mung beans) and fresh mint; and, most interesting, pork meatballs on a bed of fresh, raw cashew butter, topped with candied kumquat. Options will change seasonally.
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    Appam, a coconut rice pancake from South India’s Kerala region, sided by fragrant winter vegetable stew

    Image: Karen Brooks

    Appam: Golay has been hard at work perfecting the bowl-shaped coconut-rice pancakes. The texture is beautiful, lacy on the edges and puffy and yeasty in the middle. On the side for dipping: savory winter vegetable stew or pudding-like coconut milk, just sweet enough to be a spicy dinner foil or an after-meal treat.
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    Tiffin Asha’s Southern Indian “filter coffee”

    Image: Karen Brooks

    Filter coffee: Another Golay-Bommakanti obsession is Southern Indian coffee, slow-filtered through what looks like a giant double boiler. The drippings are poured into small metal cups and sprinkled lightly with brown sugar-like jiggery. Next comes boiled milk, poured in long arcs until it bubbles wildly. It takes four pours to reach the desired state: ethereal foam on top and a sweet, thick brew below. 

Desserts are limited to a coconut balls, rolled in rose petals. Golay calls it an Indian macaroon. Stay tuned for more details as the restaurant unfolds. 

 

Tiffin Asha
Opening Jan 5
1670 NE Killingsworth Ave.
Dinner: 5–10 p.m. Thursdays–Mondays
Reservations: 503-936-7663

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