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SEVA Kitchen: Bringing flavors of the world to Billings
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THE LAST BEST PLATES by Stella Fong

SEVA Kitchen: Bringing flavors of the world to Billings

From the The last best plates at some of Montana's local eateries series
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My friend Val Jeffries took me to SEVA Kitchen for lunch to celebrate my 60th birthday. At this time-marked stage in life, globally inspired cuisine only adds flavor and spice to my maturing palate.

I was excited to finally venture into this space. The once Broadway Deli and Cafe has taken on a new personality. The red metal chairs in the outdoor courtyard beckon to passersby. Even though we settled inside, the entire west wall windows opened onto the activity from North Broadway.

SEVA (pronounced say-vah) is Sanskrit for “selfless service.” Owner Harvey Singh actualized the spirit of his new restaurant, having been recognized by The Billings Chamber Business Excellence Awards as the 2016-2017 Business Person of the Year through his construction company.

Upon entering the restaurant’s foyer, a colorful painting of an elephant symbolizing wisdom and strength in the Eastern culture welcomed me. Co-owner and General Manager Schuyler Budde said, “We wanted a modern contemporary industrial theme. There’s a guys’ guys feel.” He started the initial design work, but later brought in Dennis Deppmeier’s architectural expertise.

Salvaged Oregon walnut slabs with butterfly joints, made by Mark Sevier of Dovetail Designs, topped the dining tables. The metallic rose-colored light fixtures simulated the shape of hops. Michael Weintrob’s “Instrumenthead” photographs hung on the gray tiled walls. Behind the bar, Schuyler described the 10-beer dispenser to be a “fire hydrant” or rather a “large panhandle industrial system.” But Buddha statues tucked in coveted spaces interject some Zen.

Executive Chef Josh Cannon bared the words “COOK THIS” tattooed on the knuckles of his hands. Growing up in Amman, Jordan and Damascus, Syria, he developed his love of food. “I was a 9-year-old kid eating the weirdest things of my life. I mean anything from fish heads to camel hump.”

At SEVA Kitchen he will have the opportunity to move away from his past Western-centric themes of beef and potatoes when cooking at Lone Mountain Ranch, Jake’s West End and a steakhouse in Virginia City. He shared, “This was our flagship of trying to get out of that realm, and trying to get people and press them on their limits and what they will buy.” His international flavors include “French, Jamaican, and then we have a mixture of Argentinian and a little of my own flair.” Asian, Mexican and Eastern Indian flavors are also found on the menu.

Chef Cannon interpreted his flair “as combinations that might seem weird until you try them and they just meld really well together.”

The dozen or so items on the lunch menu ranged from “House Cut Poutine” with homemade fries to “Gojuchang Fried Chicken” made with chicken thigh accompanied by soba noodles. Gojuchang is a spicy savory slightly sweet Korean sauce made with red chilies, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt.

Chef Cannon shared the inspiration for the chicken dish. He explained with humor that he liked to eat at a local takeout Chinese restaurant. “I took their orange chicken and gave it some flavor. It’s so ridiculous to take fast food and turn it into fine dining.”

For the meat lover, Cannon’s elevated “Burger” with Swiss cheese, shishito peppers, and pickled onion on a house made brioche bun, and a side of garlic aioli fries is not the regular patty of meat between two buns.

Val and I started with the signature “Samosa.” Chef Cannon had the opportunity to learn how to make the Indian pastry from Harvey Singh’s mother. After spending a day in the kitchen with her, he perfected the potato, pea and carrot stuffed package. It came to our table fried accompanied by a sweet and tangy tamarind chutney.

Val ordered the “Red Pepper Jam B.L.T.” with thick-cut bacon, sliced tomatoes and lettuce on thick sliced brioche. I went with the “Seasonal Veggie Wrap” with grilled mandolin sliced zucchini, roasted garlic, hummus, and arugula wrapped in a spinach tortilla.

General Manager Schulyer created drinks to complement the SEVA Kitchen food. Referring to his mimosas, “They were good tasting but not aggressive. Not overpowering.” The names for the sparkling wine-based drinks came from endangered species. Champagne anchored the “Black Rhino” with pomegranate juice and mint while the “Saola”, named after a Vietnamese spindle-horned ox, combines grapefruit juice and ginger beer with a sprig of rosemary.

To further the global spirit, Schulyer explained the dining experience: “We were trying to do the communal thing. Our mission was to be a social dining destination.” When they started the restaurant, they wanted diners to “embrace socialness,” to talk to people sitting at the same table even if they did not come together.

On this day, not only did my friend Val continue to globally inspire me, but so did the flavors at SEVA Kitchen.

Citrus Salsa

Makes about 4 cups

Ingredients:

2 tomatoes, quartered

1 red onion, quartered

2 red peppers, quartered

2 jalapenos, seeded and halved

1 c. fresh cilantro

5 garlic cloves

Zest of one orange

Salt and pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven 425 degrees. On a baking sheet spread tomatoes, onion and peppers in a single layer. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast and until slightly charred. Remove from oven and set aside. In a food processor, blend garlic, cilantro, OJ and zest. Add tomato, onion and peppers and pulse until combined. In a saucepan add salsa mixture and slowly cook over low heat until salsa has darkened and moisture has evaporated. Salt and pepper to taste.

Stella Fong, author of Historic Restaurants of Billings and Billings Food,  hosts Flavors Under the Big Sky: Celebrating the Bounty of the Region for
Yellowstone Public Radio.
 
TheLastBestPlates.com is a digital destination that serves up Montana's tasty food, travel and culture stories … one bite at a time.
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