Not every chef starts his or her career in the kitchen. For Marisa Paolillo, running a restaurant was always a goal, but it took a move to India—her husband’s homeland—to finally push her out of her sales job and into the culinary world. After time training in restaurants on both sides of the Pacific, Paolillo plans to open Mango Pickle (5842 N. Broadway, no phone yet) in Edgewater next month.
While her most recent restaurant gig was at Wood (3335 N. Halsted St., 773-935-9663) under chef Ashlee Aubin (now at Salero), Paolillo also cooked at the Table, a California-cuisine eatery in Mumbai. The Table was headed up by an American chef, but Paolillo says she learned about Indian food from her local colleagues in the kitchen.
“At the end of a shift, one guy would take a fish that wasn’t used, spice it, and throw it into the fire,” she recalls. “Within a few minutes, we had an amazing curry dinner.”
She also picked up some tips from her husband’s family, who cook a strain of western Indian cuisine unfamiliar, for the most part, to diners in the U.S. These coastal dishes are heavy on coconut, with flavors tending to skew sour, sweet, and spicy. Says Paolillo: “India is a whole continent on its own, and every region has its own flavor and way of cooking. My impulse is to do all of it, but that menu would be pages long.”
Instead, Paolillo will limit the selection to just 18 items. Western Indian dishes will make up about half of that, with stateside favorites and Indian-inspired experiments making up the remaining 50 percent. Also featured: lots of bites and shareable plates, like pakoras—giant peppers stuffed with beets or crab and deep-fried in chickpea batter. Diners can also expect lots of lentils and dal dishes, seasonal veggies, locally sourced ingredients (including proteins like chicken and lamb), and, in general, food friendly to gluten-free eaters.
“The nice thing is, we’re not adapting recipes to be gluten-free,” says Paolillo, “because most Indian cuisine is already gluten free.”
For thirsty patrons, Mango Pickle offers a hand-ground, house-made masala chai—the recipe comes courtesy of Paolillo’s husband’s family. Desserts, on the other hand, will not be moored to convention: Paolillo has taken some “creative liberties,” and will offer sweets that—she hopes—will appeal to traditionalists and fusion fans alike.