I’m not sure how much good food news Birmingham, our our waistlines, can take in such a short period of time. First Publix. Then The Pizitz Food Hall. What else could possibly be as momentous?
Flash back to October 2014, when we stumbled upon and blogged about a guy making the most inventive sushi we’d ever had with very high quality ingredients out of a sports bar in Five Points. We followed that guy, Abhishek Sainju, when he moved his operation to the Blue Monkey, and when he became the opening executive chef at the much-acclaimed Bamboo on 2nd. The menu was pan-Asian, including his famous sushi, but also included dumplings, ramen, and banh mi. His food was so good, it drew city and over-the-mountain crowds alike, leading to two-hour waits and opening the door for other creative food projects like The Pizitz Food Hall.
We soon became good friends with chef Abhi and his wife, Ainah. We learned that Abhi’s years of experience at Surin, coupled with his intense perfectionist streak, discerning taste for flavors from his native Nepal and other places he’s traveled, tireless hard work, and ability to create a nearly cult following, are what make him and his food stand out. We also learned that Abhi’s long-term goal was to start his own restaurant, or two or three, where he could have artistic license to be creative and experimental, and expose Birmingham to both familiar and new flavors.
Last year, as part of our consulting for The Pizitz Food Hall, we introduced Abhi to the folks at Bayer Properties. We couldn’t imagine The Pizitz Food Hall without this Birmingham food scene change-maker. It warmed our hearts when Abhi decided to open a stall at The Pizitz Food Hall called MoMo, where he could showcase his signature momo dumplings, as well as other dumplings and banh mi (opening date TBA).
In the meantime, Abhi and the Bayer folks also hatched another plan for a full-service restaurant at The Summit. Abhi has such name recognition in this town, they encouraged him to name it Abhi.
Abhi the chef invited us to a soft opening of Abhi the restaurant yesterday evening, along with three friends of the blog: Jo, Leight, and Nicole, who have helped us eat our way through so many posts. We don’t normally blog about soft openings, but we know Abhi well enough to know that the outstanding food and service we experience will persist. So here it goes.
Abhi is located next to Pottery Barn Kids at the Summit. Here’s an exterior shot:
The first thing we noticed when we walked in was a lot of familiar faces: a wonderfully attentive staff drawn from some of the best bars and restaurants in the city. Even during a very crowded soft opening, things ran smoothly. Here are some interior crowd shots:
Looking at the menu, you see many of Abhi’s signature dishes. We couldn’t wait to dig in:
We started off with some drinks and apps by the beautiful bar, with an awesome bartendeer:
Kathmandu fried chicken: chicken lollipops fried and served with a sweet sauce. Juicy and delicious.
Tempura green beans: perfectly fried, with Abhi’s aioli.
Lumpia: Filipino spring rolls with ground turkey. Light and crispy.
And of course, Abhi’s signature momos. Ground turkey dumplings in an Alabama tomato sauce that Nicole drank after we each had a dumpling. Outstanding as usual.
Next, we wanted to try one dish from each part of the menu. Sushi was a must. Here we have Abhi’s signature Wham Bam Birmingham and Blazer Rolls, as only Abhi and his crew can make them. Perfect as ever. The Wham Bam is an Abhi legend – tempura shrimp on the inside, salmon seared with a blowtorch on the outside.
Next, the salads. Abhi’s Tako Salad is one of our top favorite octopus dishes of all time. Perfectly tender octopus in a light minty vinagrette with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and peanuts. So light and refreshing.
The beef salad is slightly spicy and perfectly tender:
We were excited to see that Abhi’s curries, which were offered as an occasional special at Bamboo, are permanent fixtures on this menu. First, the chicken rendang, a malaysian cocunut curry. I think this may be the only restaurant serving this dish in the city. A mixture of coconut milk and aromatic spices serves as a base for tender, juicy bone-in chicken. Outstanding.
Then the Nepalese lamb curry. Tender and rich.
I don’t think we’ve ever had any of Abhi’s desserts. As you can imagine, we could not have been more excited to hear about the dessert menu. Of course, we had one of each:
Coconut-pandan creme brulee. Hard to describe how amazing this dish was. It tasted like rainbows, angels, and sunshine with a delicious sugar-crusted top.
Deep fried bananas, which had a very hearty consistency and a great crunch, in a sugary chocolate sauce:
Bread pudding with an Asian-inspired anglais. Not too firm and not too soft, creamy and delicious:
Two years ago, if you would have told me that I would be sitting in our city’s first food hall writing a post about the Red Zone guy, who opened his own restaurant at the Summit and is about to open his own food stall, I would never have believed it. We continue to be amazed by the pace at which it is possible to turn from incredibly talented new food entrepreneur to food rock-star in this town. That’s what makes Abhi’s opening so momentous: not only is the food incredible, but it is the brainchild of an incredible and frankly inspiring chef.
Congratulations, Abhi, the guy and the restaurant!
Abhi will be open for dinner starting tomorrow (Monday), and after about 2 weeks will also be open for lunch.
Acknowledgements: A big thanks to Abhi and Ainah, and all the Abhi staff, for yesterday’s amazing complementary dinner. We can’t wait to see you again soon!