Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Clay Oven

I have been waiting for Clay Oven to open for almost a month with baited breath, eager to try this new restaurant. Even though we drive by it every work day, we would make special trips past the area on weekends just in case it would be open. So, on Monday, April 26, when I heard that it was opening that day, we made sure we stopped by that evening for supper.

Clay Oven, whose name would imply that it serves Indian food, also serves Chinese food and what they describe as Hakkan cuisine. What is Hakkan cuisine, you may be asking yourself. I’m not quite sure I fully understand this cuisine, even after checking out the Wikipedia article on Hakkan cuisine, but as I understand it, it is a fusion of Indian and Chinese food. Now, there may be some who doubt whether this restaurant actually serves “true” Hakkan cuisine, the same way there have been critics of India Garden , saying the food there is not truly Indian despite it being owned/operated by someone from India . As Indian cuisine is wide ranging, so too, I would assume that Hakkan cuisine can be wide ranging as well, just as American cuisine could also be wide ranging depending on what part of the United States you are from. Given this, if a person of Indian descent says that the food they serve is what they would serve if they were in India, it is Indian food, and by extension, if what they serve is what they would consider to be Hakkan cuisine if they were living in that area, I would also consider it to be true Hakkan cuisine regardless of what a person living in the United States would consider to be Hakkan.

When any new restaurant opens up, you expect there to be a few hiccups along the way as the staff learns to get the feel of the restaurant, and Clay Oven was no different. Some of them, like the waiter not knowing what questions to ask relative to what is ordered and having to come back a couple of times to get these answered, or them forgetting to bring the side dish with the food are a couple of these hiccups that we experienced that are easily overlooked for opening night, and all things considered, the staff did an excellent job in that regard. There were a couple of hiccups that I'm sure have been corrected by now that may or may not be expected for opening night--such as the fact that there is no host when you first go into the restaurant. We managed to get up to the counter with the cash register and were looking at the menu for quite a while, trying to decide what we wanted. We weren't quite sure if you ordered at the counter where the menus were or if we were supposed to sit down, so we asked after a few minutes. They said that the idea is to catch people at the door. This didn't happen in our case, despite the fact that we had entered the restaurant slowly and no doubt looked a little confused as we entered, and the fact that there were people standing behind the counter. When we said that we'd sit down, one of the people behind the counter even told us to Have a Good Night as if we were leaving. For it being opening night, the restaurant had maybe 20-25% of the tables in use, perhaps because it is an ethnic cuisine, and still one that people in Rochester aren't all that familiar with. The salt and pepper shakers on about half of the tables where we sat were noticeably empty.

We both ordered the Hakkan Chili Chicken, which is chicken based in a Tia sauce, served over a bed of lettuce, and served with either rice or noodles. We were told the rice was what it usually came with, but we could have noodles if we wanted, so we went with the rice. It also says that this is made medium hot. We asked for it to be a little bit spicier than normal, which is apparently done with the jalapeno peppers. It should be noted that spicy is spicy--not like restaurants that claim something is spicy and then it's very mild. So if you want something mild, you need to make sure you let them know. We asked what tia sauce was, and we were told that it was sort of like a szechuan sauce, but a little bit spicier and more flavorful. We also were served some papadums (lentil wafer) which I'm not sure if they were supposed to come with the meal or rather it was so people could experience something that isn't normally available in Rochester. We have had pre-packaged chip style papadums in the past, and these were a lot thinner than the pre-packaged variety, and probably tasted better, too. We made our way through four large wafers before our food arrived. We definitely weren't disappointed in the quality of the food served at Clay Oven, which was flavorful without being too spicy (to us--if you aren't used to spicy foods, you may need to work up to it). I am personally glad that Rochester has a restaurant now that isn't afraid to have spicy foods. Whether Rochester is ready for Clay Oven or not remains to be seen. Personally, I hope Clay Oven has a long future in Rochester.

Address: 2711 Commerce Drive, NW, Rochester
Phone: 208-4300

Clay Oven on Urbanspoon

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