IMLI, according to co-founder Nikhil Merchant, is a passion project. The upcoming Indian spot, which is set to make its debut at 4th and Main in Downtown L.A. next month, will put the focus on an element of the cuisine that hasn’t had extensive play in town: street food.
Merchant—a food writer and cook from Mumbai—is the main architect of the menu, and he has partnered with first-time restaurateurs Nish and Ashwini Jhaveri along with local Indian restaurant scene vet Himanshu Barjatiya for the venture. “My school of thought from the process of cooking and bringing out dishes, and everything I do, is to get to the root and history behind a particular dish,” he says.
In advance of their official opening, IMLI will pop up at Daily Dose Cafe this Friday and Saturday night. The menu will consist of four items, including two main dishes, dessert, and cutting chai, a sweet, milky tea drink that Merchant will be making from a recipe from the state of Maharashtra.
The Rasta Sandwich is perhaps the most obscure of the pop-up’s offerings, despite its ubiquity on the streets of India—”rasta,” in fact, translates to “road.” The pressed and roasted sandwich consists of two slices of bread, buttered and smeared with a spicy herb chutney and stuffed with vegetables, like thinly sliced boiled potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers. “That is considered like a meal which a person who works in a top office would probably eat on his way to his work, or it could be a laborer who could be going to cement a building. And he’s able to afford it, too, because that’s how Indian food is. It’s fulfilling; it’s hot,” says Merchant.
Also planned is a Goan prawn curry with steamed rice, which Merchant says he picked because his mother is from Goa. Sold out of beach shacks and homes, the common dish is made with the fresh catch of the day. Red chili makes it spicy, but the best examples are balanced by kokum, a dried sour fruit, and coconut milk. Merchant describes the dish as simple and addictive. “You can taste the sea in it,” he says, adding that he’ll be serving the curry with sol kadhi, a thin kokum and coconut milk chaser.
The menu will be rounded out with walnut halwa, a dessert that includes nuts, dried fruits and vegetables. It’s richness comes from ghee, which Merchant will be making from scratch, along with almost everything else in his recipes. “I believe if I was to cook for myself, I would do it this way,” he says. “So in my restaurant, something which I have a full, free hand over, I’d like to stick with doing extremely basic Indian food, but with the complexity and texturization it deserves and what you get back home.”
IMLI Pop-Up takes place Friday, February 12 – Saturday, February 13 from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. at The Kitchen at Daily Dose Cafe, 1809 E. 7th St.