The bustle of cars passing down Sand Lake Road can be heard below, along with music and chatter from neighbor lounge, Cricketers Arms. Above the noise, and once past a softly lit stairway, you’ll find Restaurant Row’s newest tenant, American Gymkhana. A new concept to the area that melds traditional Indian flavors with modern techniques and locally sourced ingredients, American Gymkhana was conceptualized by Rajesh Bhardwaj of Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Junoon in New York City.
Inspired by the history of the gymkhana (a place of assembly for the elite) during the British rule in India, the guest experience focuses on creating a social environment suitable for the modern-day diner. This was accomplished by channeling the spirit of a traditional gymkhana, which was essentially the precursor for the country club, and bringing it to life in four intimate dining areas that are lined with historical black and white photos of members enjoying the much sought-after lifestyle. Low lighting with a blue hue compliments cream-colored seating arrangements in the main dining room and warm brown tones in the Hunter’s Cocktail Lounge.
The lounge is reminiscent of the gathering area found in many gymkhanas where men would often commune after a day in the woods. Private dining experiences can be enjoyed in the Maharaja Room, meant for meetings and celebratory dinners, or the Veranda, which provides a patio-inspired atmosphere reminiscent of the veranda in traditional gymkhanas where members would enjoy cocktails over sporting matches.
Chef Aarthi Sampath, originally from Mumbai, created a menu that incorporates spices imported from Indian markets and locally sourced ingredients from Florida vendors. This balance of traditional and modern cuisine shows the duality of cultures within the traditional gymkhanas. Common to Indian cuisine, both meat-based and vegetarian-friendly dishes are represented on the menu. In Sampath’s kitchen, which features two tandoori ovens, everything is made from scratch daily.
The cocktail menu was curated by expert mixologist Hemant Pathak, who incorporated house made syrups, fresh squeezed juices and Indian spices into unique libations that complement the flavors of the kitchen. A margarita comes to mind upon the first sip of the Jalisco Sour, a mixture of tequila, jalapeno infused maple syrup, lime and curry leaves. The Adraki Punch, a mixture of fig-infused vodka, lemon and grapefruit, offers a refreshing relief for the palate after a bite from one of Sampath’s spicier dishes.
If you’re not familiar with Indian cuisine, that won’t hinder your experience at American Gymkhana. The staff will answer your questions and guide you to the menu items that best suit your tastes. To start, the Gymkhana Chaat provides bites of some iconic Indian street foods like samosa, a pastry with spiced peas; the matar tikki, a potato croquet also stuffed with spiced peas; and the dahi vada, a lentil dumpling that is flash fried and dipped in yogurt to cool it down. The Malpe Shrimp provides more familiar flavors, as three plump shrimp prepared with fennel butter, pepper and garlic, then topped with cilantro-curry leaf pesto, line the plate.
Main courses are presented much like an American steakhouse in that the proteins are served individually and can be complemented by a selection of starchy accompaniments. For milder flavors, the Pistachio Chicken and Nashile Lamb Chops are a great choice. The chicken is roasted in a pistachio cream sauce and green cardamom, leaving it tender enough to flake apart with your fork. The lamb is cooked with whiskey, ginger, black cardamom and served with garlic whipped yogurt. For those not intimidated by spice, the Lamb Vindaloo, a stew of lamb, apple cider vinegar, black pepper, Goan chilies and twice fried potato will increase the heat with each bite.
Accompaniment options include naan bread, lentils and rice. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can try one of the biryani dishes. Two options for this mixed rice dish include the Nawani Goat Biryani (just be careful of the bones) and the Vegetable Biryani. Both are prepared using a traditional sealed and slow-cooked technique using saffron, rosewater and vetiver.
End your meal on a sweet note with one of the decadent dessert options like the Warm Chocolate Financier, a rich chocolate cake with almond feuilletine, macerated berries and chai ice cream. Yogurt-based drinks, Mango Saffron Lassi and Rosewater Khus Lassi, give an equally sweet finish.
The menu, the ambiance, the impeccable table maintenance, and the care that the staff puts into your experience will make you feel like one of the elite, just as the traditional gymkhana did for the British aristocrats and Indian royalty of the British Raj in India. Once you make your way to the top of the stairs and step through the entrance of American Gymkhana, you’ll be swept into the modern take on this Indian tradition.