Ashim Vig is a name that may ring a bell for some Torontonians. Once considered among the best Indian chefs in the city, Vig built a restaurant empire on Gerrard Street East that started with The Bar-Be-Que Hut back in 1975. Over 24 years later, he claims to have served the likes of Barbra Streisand, Clint Eastwood, four Canadian Prime Ministers, Indian Prime Ministers, and thousands of loyal clientele from his five restaurants. He took a consulting hiatus in the US circa- 2000 for health reasons, but has now returned to the home of his success in hopes of another culinary win. But things have changed in Hogtown.
Vig’s new restaurant, D’License to Grill, is a modest spot in Little India. It’s the same space as one of his former establishments, with a small dining room and a patio out front – but the crowds have not come yet. The tapestry of Little India has ebbed over the last 14 years. Those in the neighbourhood who once revered his unique flavours and signature Paki Burger are unaware of his return.
Vig is decidedly staunch in his decision to create a no frills ambiance at his new location. His time is taken up in the kitchen. The man from Delhi, India began training under Hansraj Kapotra in the 1930s. Kapotra is the purported inventor of butter chicken and tikka masala; arguably one of the most influential Indian chefs of all time.
Vig grinds his spices by hand, spends hours on his marinades, and infuses an unparalleled smoky flavour into his dishes using proteins drawn from a tandoor oven. As it stands, his menu resembles most others along the Gerrard East strip, but the texture, aroma, and transcendent tastes of his food differentiates.
Around $20 to $25 per person can easily satisfy one’s appetite for dinner. Wonderful green chili chutney lifts up a crispy samosa, which is also accompanied by a sweet tamarind sauce. Oblong pieces of chewy naan make the perfect vessel for silky daal makhini (lentils simmered in onion, coriander, cumin, garam masala, ginger garlic and tomatoes). Spoon helpings of bright shrimp jalfrezie with peppers, tomatoes, ginger and cilantro over fragrant basmati rice. Let the heat of Thai chilies tickle your tongue with the lamb dhaba, an Indian street food specialty.
Alternate bites of charcoal kissed tandoori chicken with Vig’s unique butter chicken. The meat is marinated for over 30 hours in a daar masala blend of 17 spices before hitting the tandoor oven and then simmering in a sauce of fresh tomatoes, ginger, and spices. It’s entirely unlike anything I’ve ever had.
With food this good, Vig is confident that time will bring back the crowds. It seems like a matter of such, but unfortunately money is not on time’s side.
Given that his storefront lies just off the main Gerrard drag on Ashdale Avenue, word of mouth will dictate whether this Delhiite will bring back the scores of loyal patrons that will keep his business alive…
What’s your favourite Indian restaurant on Gerrard? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.