Below the Sherman Oaks Galleria there is a windy stretch of Sepulveda that concerns itself mainly with being a busy onramp for the 405. Restaurants vie for space under the shadow of grim business buildings.
Our friends Doug and Rosina have been getting Heart of India delivered for a while now, and kindly invited us to eat at the actual establishment. The interior is elegantly dark, all reds and blacks and purples, with slightly outdated furnishings. A battered back room contains well-used buffet equipment.
We flip through the pages of an expansive menu, sipping on a fizzy ginger-infused lemonade called nimbu pani, characterized by balance and zest (the drink, that is, not I... I am generally characterized by a curious, somewhat snobbish apathy). As we blink over the concept of goat meat being called mutton*, we munch on crispy discs of papadam, raising a pleased eyebrow at the vibrant, addictive mango chutney that comes with it.
A new craving of mine (and, coincidentally, one of Doug and Rosina's) is the Chicken Makhni. It bathes in a crazy electric red sauce, tomato-based with an unexpected smack of mesquite. To its right in this photo is Lamb Korma, in a thick curry gravy with hidden slivers of almond. The lamb is most tender, with a slight muttering of gaminess that only adds to the sensation. I ordered this spicy, and relished a fairly mild back-of-the-palate spark.
The menu being as comprehensive as it is, it will take us a while to try even the major sections of it (the Tandoori items, fish, shrimp and mutton must come another day). The Chicken Saagwala has excellent texture, the creamed spinach becoming a lush green blanket. The Daal Mahkni is nothing like the Chicken Makhni, being murky and serious; the lentils are firm, the ginger and garlic subdued.
A departure from typical vegetarian Indian stylings, the Vegetarian Lamb Curry consists of onion, garlic, ginger, and little soy meatballs, firmly chewy with a nice burn that races around the tongue. We asked for this one spicy, but like many Indian restaurants I suspect they took it easy on us.
Everything comes in identically sized metal bowls with carved handles. The naan bread is puffy and perfect for swiping through the thickly sauced dishes, which I do.
There is a pay lot in back and free parking along the street if you're lucky. It seems there is hookah here; I'm curious when that is available, and where one would sit to enjoy it. I'm overdue for a hookah.
* That's not an error, actually; in India and Pakistan goat can be referred to as mutton, or chevon. This is your international note of interest for the day.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Indian, The Valley )
One thing I sharply miss about working on the West side is the lunch buffet at Flavor of India on Santa Monica. I am, therefore, jubilant that there is a buffet on Verdugo Road, above Indian-sparse Glendale. It's a local favorite occupying a tiny corner in a strip mall, and it is purely coincidental that its name is a spoonerism of my once-favorite place.
Inside is no less tiny, with ginger-colored walls, paintings of village women and a TV showing subtitled Indian movies. A few carefully selected testimonials and reviews hang above the register; the owners see no need to plaster every acclaim and endorsement they receive. He asks us in a rich tenor if this is our first time here; his wife and head chef is wreathed in smiles as she carefully, perfectly places table settings.
The buffet takes up a fearfully small corner, but manages to fit eight dishes plus salad, dressings and plates. The white rice is essential for soaking up some of the wetter delicacies here. The saag is solid and rich, nothing but spinach and onions and ginger, exactly what saag should be. The daal tarka (yellow lentils cooked in tomatoes and onions) is liquid but hides much flavor.
The vegetable korma is speckled and heavy with peas, and not as vibrant as that at Flavor of India (against which I measure all korma), but the tandoori chicken and chicken curry make up for it, the former red and spicy, the latter tender and forgiving.
They bring you your choice of naan bread; the slightly puffy garlic naan in particular is steamy and garlicky and awesome.
Happily, they have more to drink than the usual masala tea or mango lassi. The roohafza is a summer beverage made from rosewater and milk, and the nimbu pan is lemonade Indian-style, with ginger and lime added.
Lunch ends at 2:30, but they reopen for dinner at five.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, Indian )
Sweet Mother of Deurmekaar, what am I doing reviewing what basically amounts to a sports bar & grill?*
Well, it's four guys from South Africa, for one, so the sports you might be seeing up on those TVs would be rugby and cricket along with the obligatory "American" stuff... and the food is from the bottom hemisphere and a good deal east. It's friendly, it's wood-paneled, it's wood-tabled, there's a hedge-shrouded outdoor patio, and not too many beer-sponsor graphics in your face.
Being of South African descent, the menu departs in nice ways from typical wings n' potato skins fare. There are curried beef samosas, moist and meat-heavy and worthy of finger-licking. The fries are thick-cut, seasoned until they cry mercy, and crisp.
The Springbok has raise-an-intrigued-eyebrow entrees as well: Jan Van Riebeeck's Boerewors Roll is a South African sausage sandwich; the sausage is beef, of a really majorly Beefy McBeeferson demeanor, and it might be a bit too brutal for those preferring different animals squeezed into sausage casings, but it is complemented by "train smash," a cooked tomato & onion salsa. The bread is soft and slightly toasty around the corners.
There's Naidoos Durban Curry of the day (of beef, chicken or lamb--whatever they decide upon--so relish the profane concept of an Indian curry with beef if you happen to get that), with rice, sambals (spicy chili pepper condiment) and pappadum (spicy Indian crackers). For a homier yet similarly grab-your-beer spicy ride, try the Porto Chicken Peri-Peri (chicken breast coated with peri-peri sauce and grilled).
Speaking of beer: of course there is! Oddly enough their website doesn't list their beverages, but I must imagine they've got some African brews hidden about somewhere. Get yourself a Guinness on tap, if nothing else.
A small parking lot lurks in back, and there's street parking along the dark and moody Van Nuys Golf Course next door. Another location exists in Long Beach.
* Well, really, it's because some friends of mine have a cover band called Bandwagon, and they played here. They're lots of fun, and I like them. Therefore you should, too, and go to all their shows and sing along until they get famous and reward you by hooking you up with a Jaguar or something. Add them on MySpace and Facebook and know peace... or at least a general sense of exuberance.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Indian, American, The Valley, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs, African )
This L.A. staple (about twenty-three years) is next to a Coffee Bean I used to frequent on my way to work in Westside. It's not like the hip and shadowed, electronica-beats-filled Electric Lotus, in that the ambience is an equal to the cuisine. The interior is all mirrors, faux stone, arched windows into the other half of the restaurant, burgundy vinyl tablecloths under glass, and long vinyl booths that aren't quite salmon and aren't quite toupe.
And it's our favorite Indian place right now. I'm in love with it primarily for the korma curry chicken, in a thick sea of golden sauce with slivers of cashews on top. It's easily as good as the korma over at Flavor of India on Santa Monica. I cannot get enough of it, even ladling the sauce over basmati rice when the chicken's all gone.
Another delicacy to try is the ginger chicken kabab, sizzling on a bed of onions on an iron skillet. It's rubbed with mint, cilantro and ginger, which leaves the chicken a vibrant green not unlike the hue of a jalapeño hot sauce. Please believe me when I say this is not unsettling at all, but highly comestible.
If I ever have to become a vegetarian, Indian is the way to go, and the Clay Oven specializes in it: saag aloo (puréed spinach with sliced potatoes) and daal makhni (lentils cooked over low flame), for example. Oddly enough they have very few daal dishes, but they do have lots of eggplant for those who like it (I'm not one of them).
With that, some garlic naan bread, and the small dishes of dipping sauces (one's mint, and the other is red... is it tamarind?), you won't have room for much dessert. To drink last time we settled on a glass of Nandi Hills Cabernet-Shiraz (from India) for Bianca, and a bottle of Reed's Jamaican-style ginger brew for me (don't ask, I don't know either). The wine selection is broad, and the beer selection broader: India Special, Old Monk 10000, Himalayan Blue, Kingfisher, Karma Beer, etc.
I'm unsure if the streets on that part of Beverly have the "don't ever park here or you will get syphilis from a capuchin monkey, permits excepted" signs, but there's valet in the evening for four bucks or so (L.A. standard).
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, Beverly Hills/Wilshire, Indian )
So having acquired a nice new linen driver cap on a warm day in Santa Monica, it was fitting that we saunter into the King's Head for dinner. Inside it's all pub: wood, brass, dart boards, television with cricket, laughter. Outside is a long set of casual tables, where we like to be.
We got right into it, with the help of our (English-accented, thankfully) waitress, and got ourselves a pair of pints, one of Guinness, one of Fuller's Ale. We ordered an appetizer of sausages blanketed in a flaky pastry, painfully hot but incredibly delicious.
My first experience here was with the Banger Sandwich: English sausage and grilled onions on a simple-enough roll. It's pretty good and bursting-with-juices, and the chips are craveworthy, but there are other items I'm curious about. English cuisine is of course famous (or perhaps infamous, thinking historically) for having really good Indian flair along with it, and the roasted Chicken & Chips comes with a rich brown curry sauce that is superb, so I'm a bit envious of Bianca for having ordered that.
There are other English delights: fish & chips (using Icelandic cod); a mixed grill of steak, lamb chop, bacon and bangers, mushrooms and chips; Scotch eggs wrapped in sausage meat and breaded; Steak Guinness and mushroom pie; and black pudding if you're adventurous.
Peach Melba for dessert if you like, of course... and come into the shoppe next door if you're homesick for English goodies: teas, cheeses, crackers, even canned beans.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Indian, Santa Monica/Culver City, English/UK )
Indian cuisine is of course vast and cannot be summed up with a single region or style, and my personal experience with it isn't as deep as it could be, but so far we haven't had a bad experience at this trendy Los Feliz place; the raita is light on the cucumber, the chicken tikka masala is nicely spicy, and the samosas are sublime. The gulab jamon - homemade pastry balls dipped in honey nut sauce - are quite good.
Add to that a coolly decorated, nearly-too-dark interior and a DJ spinning delicious grooves*, and Electric Lotus makes for a good place to take date or a bevy of friends. There are places with more authenticity, where the service is slightly more attentive, but the Lotus's atmosphere is very L.A. Perhaps you wouldn't introduce it to a visiting dignitary from Bangalore, but it works for getting some friends together for some laughter and hip evening environs.
* Usually, anyway; occasionally there will be a guy whose odd choices and lack of crossfading ability make you wonder whether he's taking a break from washing dishes.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Indian, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park )