Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ingredient: Turmeric

Love it or hate it (or do both -- I understand), when it comes to Indian cooking this fluorescent yellow spice is here to stay.


I have a love-hate relationship with turmeric. It's one of the core spices in Indian food, has compelling medicinal benefits, and plays a role in Hindu religious rituals. But it also stains like crazy, tastes bitter if you overdo it, and can make all Indian food look uniform. Seriously, have you ever seen a plateful of Indian food where all of the different dishes look straight up YELLOW? That's when I turn my back on turmeric and grab an In-N-Out cheeseburger instead. Actually, make that a hamburger. After a meal of overused turmeric, the yellow coloring of the cheese could push me over the edge.

Seriously, turmeric has been around for a long time -- likely at least 2,500 years. India is the largest producer. The plant's (part of the ginger family) rhizomes are baked, then ground to make the fluorescent yellow spice. It's employed in Ayurvedic medicine, used as a home remedy for various stomach ailments, and perhaps most compellingly, has been shown in studies to potentially increase brain function (maybe even warding of Alzheimer's disease), decrease the risk of certain cancers, and act as an anti-inflammatory (providing relief for arthritis sufferers). One of my cousin's regularly sprinkles small amounts of turmeric into all kinds of random non-Indian dishes (even her morning oatmeal) in hopes of taking advantages of its health benefits. It's also available as a supplement in pill form.

One of the traditional Hindu wedding rituals is to rub turmeric all over the bride's and groom's skin the evening before the wedding -- it's thought to impart a glow and perhaps to ward off bacteria. However, I'm most likely taking a pass on this. Somehow the night before Nick's and my wedding does not seem like a good time to be trying out new skincare products. I'm terrified that I'll wake up the next day with a full-on acne break-out.

My fear of turmeric also stems from its amazing staining ability. Seriously, I wouldn't be surprised if whoever is living in my Atlanta apartment from five years ago is still wondering what caused the yellow countertop stains that just won't come out. Clean spills immediately! To avoid staining storage containers, I typically line them with parchment paper first, then store the leftovers. Also, beware the "Indian manicure," which is when turmeric stains your nails yellow. (This, I've found, will eventually come out with repeated scrubbing with soap and water.)

Taste-wise, I find that it doesn't have a strong taste and is used more for color. But in excess amounts, it tastes bitter. Some people detect a ginger-like flavor.

How to Prepare: Buy the already ground powder from either the regular grocery store or from an Indian store (where it will likely be less expensive per ounce, but is sometimes in too large a quantity for the home cook), then sprinkle generously into any savory Indian dish. In countries where fresh turmeric is ready available (like in India), sometimes the leaves are used for cooking -- but I've never seen that in the U.S., where the powder reigns.

Good Source of: Manganese, Iron, Fiber

Found In: Curry powder, virtually any savory Indian dish

What is your favorite dish to put turmeric into? Do you have any tricks for stain clean-up?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Recipe: Tandoori Chicken - Cheddar Cheese - Chutney Naanwich

Use prepared foods to create a delicious and unique naan sandwich -- the perfect Indian fusion lunch.

Ingredients:

1 prepared naan (like Trader Joe's Garlic Naan-- found in the freezer section)
2.4 ounces mild cheddar cheese (like Trader Joe's California Mild Cheddar Cheese)
2 Tbsp. prepared sweet or tangy (not sour) chutney (like Trader Joe's Mango Ginger Chutney -- found with other shelf-stable condiments)
3 ounces prepared tandoori chicken (like Tandoor Chef Chicken Tandoori with Spinach -- found in the freezer section of Whole Foods Market)

You'll Also Need:
an oven or toaster oven to heat up the naan, toothpicks to hold the naanwich together

Step-by-Step:

1. If the cheese and/or chutney are in your fridge, pull them out to bring them closer to room temperature (ideally, about half an hour before you start the rest of the steps).
2. Heat the naan according to the package directions. (For TJ's Garlic Naan, heat in a preheated 400°F oven for 1 minute.)
3. While the naan is heating up, slice the cheese into about 0.5-in. thick slices.
4. Tear the naan into two roughly symmetrical pieces (I had to tear mine vertically for this). Plate one, then put the cheese slices on top of the other. Heat the cheese-topped piece in the oven for about 2 minutes.
5. While the cheese is melting, heat up the tandoori chicken according to the package directions.
6. Place the chicken pieces on top of the cheese-topped naan piece. (If you used a frozen dinner in which the chicken mixed with spinach or another sauce, like I did, pull the chicken out of the sauce so your sandwich isn't soggy. You don't have to get the sauce totally off though.)
7. Spread the chutney evenly over the chicken.
8. Top with the other naan piece. Use toothpicks to hold the naanwich together. If you used a frozen dinner that came with a sauce/side, plate the remainder up as a side dish or dipping sauce.
Serves 1.

The AHH Factor:
I love recipes that are more food assembly than actual food preparation/cooking. It's like you do just enough work to where you feel like you really accomplished something, but not so much that you're tired and faced with a pile of dirty pots and pans. I was inspired to create this recipe after I purchased some TJ's Mango Ginger Chutney on a whim. Of course, you're also welcome to make this recipe using homemade leftovers. I've yet to create or collect recipes for chutney or naan and can only make tandoori chicken using the boxed spice mix, so I used Trader Joe's as the source for most of my ingredients. I wasn't sure how well naan would hold up in a sandwich, but it performed admirably. I will say mention though, that even with the toothpicks, the sandwich will fall apart after the first few bites -- but when is Indian food ever tidy?

Any suggestions for what I should do with the rest of the chutney? And, does any one know where to buy prepped tandoori chicken that's the chicken only (without a sauce or side dish included)?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Restaurant: Ocean Tava India Bistro, Redondo Beach

Rating: 8 out of 10 Peppers = Spicy
Filling the niche for a gourmet Indian restaurant in the beach cities of the South Bay, this newly opened bistro offers a fitting atmosphere, above-average food, and good customer service. It's a bit overpriced for its niche, but go during "Sunset Hours" for a more budget-friendly bill.

The Details: Being Indian, of course I refuse to overpay for anything. (Some members of the family, ahem, refuse to pay anywhere near reasonable value for anything, but that's not me. Not yet, anyway. Ha.) When my good friend Nicole suggested that we check out Ocean Tava, a new Indian restaurant in her neighborhood of Redondo Beach, I was intrigued. I used to live in Redondo and, though it houses two of my favorite restaurants of all time (Green Temple and Chaba, in case you were wondering), I'd never tried an Indian restaurant in its city limits. (There is at least one other one there, Addi's Tandoor, which I still need to try.) But I looked up the prices online and with the non-veg entrees ranging from about $13 to $20, I postponed a visit for a while.

Then, LivingSocial.com gave me the extra push I needed by offering a voucher, which I purchased for $20 and entitled me to $40 worth of food and drink at Ocean Tava. (Can I also just say that I'm obsessed with LivingSocial? Of all about five group coupon e-mail lists I for some reason signed up for it's definitely my fave.)

And we scheduled our double date. (If you hear groaning in the background, it's Nick. He hates it when I schedule outings with other couples, then call it a "double date" with a goofy grin. What am I supposed to call it? Our "very macho outing that just happens to be with another couple"?) Nicole, her husband Dan (if you're a Mad Men fan, be sure to check out his Telematic Dan! blog, Nick, and I went on on a Friday night.

We were fortunate that we wanted to meet for dinner at 6 p.m., because that happens to be right in the middle of the restaurant's "Sunset Hours" specials, which run Monday to Friday from 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.. During that time, select beers are $2.95, select wines $3.95, select appetizers are under $6, and select entrees are under $10. Score! I thought it was odd that the discounts run as late as 7 p.m., because who would want to eat dinner after 7 p.m. on a weeknight? But, then I remembered that, hmmm, that group includes my parents (dinner at our engagement party wasn't served until after 9 p.m., and that was actually running on time) and most other Indian aunties and uncles I know. And Ocean Tava does know its audience. When I arrived, the private parking lot was empty. When I left around 8 p.m., a car was impatiently waiting for me to back out to get my spot. (FYI, I think there are two parking lots for the restaurant: the surface lot I parked in, plus a garage in front, which Nick parked in. Also, don't quote me on this and be sure to check the signs, but I think street parking may be free too.)

Inside, I fell in love with the color scheme. It's filled with warm yellows. Yellow, I think, is underused in interior design. I love it. Also, the restaurant smelled of incense, which was reminiscent of my parents' house. The walls were adorned by wood carvings and subtle Indian paintings. The "bistro" idea is unique and fits well in a casual beach city; it manifested itself most obviously in the bistro tables placed outside. (We declined to eat outside as I'm always freezing. But I bet in the summer it would be quite nice.)

We were served complimentary Papadum, with the requisite chutneys. It was good if a touch overbrowned.

We ordered an appetizer of four-piece Vegetable Samosas, stuffed with cumin potatoes and green peas. They were tasty and I liked the presentation on the shapely plate with cabbage and a carrot slice for style.

The restaurant has a few Indian beers available. Dan opted for the Karma (a lager beer) and Nick for the Flying Horse Royal (also a lager). I ordered a (non-alcoholic) Mango Lassi, which was really good. Nicole had never tries a lassi before, so she had a sip of mine and liked it. You really can't go wrong with any sweet-flavored lassi. Yum.

Apparently, Ocean Tava and I are on the same wavelength, because instead of a straight-up "mild, medium, spicy" choice for spice level, we were actually asked to pick each dish's spice level on a scale of 1 (mildest) to 5. Nicole was the bravest and ordered her Saag, a greens dish, at a level of 3. She really enjoyed it. I tried a few bites of it; I liked the flavoring but I could only eat the 3-level spice in moderation. I'm a wuss and if I'd ordered it, I couldn't have finished it because it would have been too spicy.

Nick ordered the Prawn Masala at a spice level of 2. He really enjoyed it.

Dan got the Tava Special Fish at a spice level 2, which he let me try. It was mahi mahi cooked in the restaurant's secret recipe of herbs, raisins, and cashews. (Note: looking at the menu on the restaurant's website today, it says this dish is made with salmon. So I'm not sure if they changed it recently or what, but it was mahi mahi when Dan ordered it.) I wanted to try it because blog reader Vandana had requested some Indian mahi mahi recipes and my mom doesn't really cook with that fish, so I thought this might start giving me some ideas for a recipe for her. (I'm working on it, Vandana! Thanks for the request :) )

I got the Chicken Curry, also at a spice level of 2. I definitely liked it. If you're like me and you like you're Indian dishes mild, I'd say you're safe with a 2 at Ocean Tava. This was very easy to devour.

We bought an order of naan. (If you want dal, raita, and naan with your entree, you have the option to add all three for $4.)  It was OK but it was served too-cool temperature wise.

Our entrees came with Basmati rice (with peas) to share.

Overall, the customer service was good. Though one time we did have to repeat our request to have a water glass refilled. On the way out, an employee said "Namaste." I appreciate the friendly gesture.

What spice level do you think you could handle here? And what's your favorite restaurant (Indian or not) in the South Bay?

Ocean Tava India Bistro, 1212 South Pacific Coast Highway Hwy, #206, Redondo Beach 90277. (310) 540-2240.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Recipe: Chai Spiced Pumpkin Pie

With a few tweaks to Libby's Famous Pumpkin Pie, you can end your Thanksgiving feast with a satisfying exotic twist.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
a dash of freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz.) pure pumpkin
1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk
1 9-in. deep dish pie shell (like Marie Callender's Deep Dish Pie Shells in the freezer section)

You'll Also Need:
a large cookie tray, aluminum foil, small mixing bowl, large mixing bowl, an oven

Step-by-Step:
1. Line the cookie tray with aluminum foil. Place the pie shell in the center.

2. In a small mixing bowl, mix together the sugar, salt, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and a dash of freshly ground black pepper (about four grinds from the pepper grinder).
3. Preheat the oven to 425°F.

4. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs.

5. Stir in the pumpkin and the sugar-chai spice mixture to the eggs. Gradually stir in the evaporated milk.

6. Pour into the pie shell.

7. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350°F, then bake another 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for about two hours. Serve warm or refrigerate and serve chilled.
Serves 8-10.

The AHH Factor: About a month ago, I panicked and bought a bunch of canned pumpkin. Why? Apparently, I am still traumatized over last year's pumpkin shortage, which very nearly almost left me without pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. (I finally found a few cans, after getting on the phone and literally calling store after store.)

My family has traditionally used Libby's Famous Pumpkin Pie as our recipe, and it is delicious. This year, I wanted to try something a little different, while still staying true to the essence of one of my all-time favorite desserts. Lucky for me, this pumpkin pie recipe already has many of the spices that are traditionally found in the spiced Indian tea known as Chai. So, all I did was add two more spices to the mix -- ground cardamom and ground pepper. With those tweaks, this pumpkin pie becomes an Indian fusion dish that's even more warming than a typical pie. Even the aroma wafting from the oven was reminiscent of a Hot Chai, and, even though I usually prefer my pumpkin pie chilled, the first few bites of the warm pie were so satisfying as it was like Chai + Pumpkin all in one. Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf: Are you listening?

So, now I have an extra pie shell -- not from a panicked moment but just because the shell package came with two. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Movie: Today's Special

6 out of 10 Peppers = Medium
A feel-good comedy about Indian food and culture in the United States, Today's Special is a good, if not great, movie that serves authenticity on a well-garnished platter.

The Details: The new (English-language) feel-good comedy Today's Special really hit home with me. Maybe a little too closely, actually.

It's the (fictional) story of an Indian sous chef named Samir (Aasif Mandvi) who has to take over his father's failing Indian restaurant, except that Samir doesn't know how to cook Indian food. As an Indian food blogger who didn't know how to cook Indian food until, oh say about three months ago -- yes, that would be when I started this blog -- I could empathize with the plot. Lucky for both of us, Indian food encourages -- nay, demands -- improvisation, which seems to have worked out well for both of us.

The best scenes in this movie are those in the kitchen of the restaurant,Tandoori Palace, especially the interaction between Samir and the Indian chef he hires -- a former chef-turned-cabdriver (who's also done everything in between) named Akbar (Naseeruddin Shah) -- and his unorthodox cooking methods. The best lesson Akbar teaches Samir is one that any Indian auntie will agree with: it's all about translating your feelings onto the plate. About six years ago, I was trying to cook Indian food for some friends back when I lived in Atlanta -- I vaguely knew how to create about two Indian dishes at the time, and that was only because I wanted to be able to answer "yes" without technically lying every time a non-Indian person asked me if I cooked Indian food. (I never bothered to lie about this failing to Indians, most understood.) I called my mom for help with the recipes, and her response was, "Just make the food with love and it will turn out fine." (I can hear you "Aww"ing out there, but I need you to remember that the next time you make a recipe from my blog and you aren't happy with how it turns out!) There's even a Bengali word for this cooking method --  andaj or "estimate." There are no written recipes passed down from generation to generation in most Indian families -- it's all about estimating amounts of spices based on instinct and experience.

The movie also focuses on the drama between Samir and his father Hakim (Harish Patel), in whose eyes Samir's career and other life choices have made Samir a failure. Here's where the movie hit a little too close to home for me, as I have a tumultuous relationship with my own dad for similar reasons. In a culture where doctors, engineers, and in recent years we can maybe add businessmen and bankers, reign supreme, writing is not considered a choice profession. My dad literally wouldn't pay for me to go to any of the elite colleges I desperately wanted to attend and was accepted into, unless I enrolled as a science major. (I wouldn't do it, wound up going to an in-state public school instead, and have never regretted it.) So some of the scenes -- like when Samir is trying to tell his parents some important information about his career and they both blow him off -- were hard for me to watch. But I appreciated the scenes for their authenticity.

I will warn you that the movie will make you hungry. I felt famished after watching the film, and Nick and I had eaten right before. Nick audibly gasped when his favorite Indian food, puri, made a cameo at the beginning of the film. (Which reminds me: I need to get his mom's recipe for for a future post.) I watched the movie with a group from NETIP (Network of Indian Professionals) Los Angeles-Orange County Chapter (thanks to the NETIP board for organizing the screening!), and everyone really seemed to enjoy it. One critique several NETIP members made was that Tandoori Palace's cuisine didn't look like Indian food. It's true that the high-end Indian food -- complete with garnishes and fancy swirly designs -- being served by Tandoori Palace by the end of the movie was too high-end to really be served at a low- to mid-end restaurant like a Tandoori Palace, but it reminded me of the food served at restaurants like Tanzore and Chakra Cuisine.

My biggest problem with the film is that it's slow to get to the point -- that Samir gets forced into helping with the family restaurant. I mean, could Samir's dad just have the heart attack already? (Mind you, I don't make it a habit to wish Indian uncles ill -- but let's keep this plot moving!) Nick didn't think the beginning was slow at all though. And he's not shy about broadcasting his feelings, so he would have told me if that were the case. So maybe it was just me.

Have you seen Today's Special -- What did you think? What parts of the movie did you find authentic (or not)?

Today's Special, Los Angeles Showtimes

Friday, November 19, 2010

Restaurant: Tibet Nepal House, Pasadena

10 out of 10 Peppers = Extra Spicy
A consistent performer, Tibet Nepal House provides delicious food in a charming atmosphere that's just as ideal for a first date as it is for a group dinner.
The Details: Ahh, the memories. Tibet Nepal House has been a staple in Nick's and my restaurant circuit for the entire time we've been dating. Indeed, it's been a staple of Nick's restaurant -- and dating -- circuit, long before we ever met. He's taken so many first dates here that the restaurant staff knows him on site.

Having the staff recognize his date(s), however, is another matter entirely.

Nick definitely played the dating field, so, while he was exceptionally great at first dates, and occasionally at second, he'd usually elect to stop dating the woman after that point. (I think he actually tried to break it off with me during our second date, but that's a whole other story.) By the time he first took me to Tibet Nepal House on about date 4 or 5, he'd told me all about his salacious past -- and Tibet Nepal House's role in fostering it. After a delicious dinner, I asked him if I should go wig shopping so I could accompany him on future visits without ruining his player rep. (Luckily, for whatever reason, he doesn't seem to mind that the restaurant staff now recognizes me too.)

The atmosphere is casual, but unique. Prayer flags hang from the rafters, as do large paper feet decorated by customers -- which represent the feet of the Yeti (Abominable Snowman). The service is excellent. Also, the restaurant offers free parking (with validation) in the Parsons parking lot.

The menu features both Himalayan Nepalese dishes, which to me are virtually indistinguishable from Indian food (hence, why I feel comfortable reviewing the restaurant for this site), and Tibetan dishes, which are similar to Chinese food.

One dish that is different from what you find in Indian food are these Momos, or potstickers that are filled with seasoned ground meat. Nick loves them, and I prefer them to samosas, their Indian counterpart, as momos are steamed and not fried. I've added a tiered steamer to our wedding registry for the sole purpose of wanting to make momos at home. Other dishes you'll find here but not at Indian restaurants include hearty Himalayan stews and yak meat, which I have yet to try. Or rather, am scared to try, courtesy of a story Nick told me of a friend who, during Nick's group birthday dinner several years ago, ordered the yak, then proceeded to drink too much alcohol. So, by the end of the night, he had yakked up the yak.

Even though I know the puking had everything to do with the alcohol and nothing to do with the yak, the phrase "yakked the yak" has stuck with me. Actually, I hope I didn't just ruin yak meat for you too. But, if I did, I do think that story was worth it. (Plus, the non-yak menu here is several pages long, so you'll be OK.)


On this particular occasion, we'd taken Nick's visiting friend, David, here for an early lunch before he had to catch his flight out of Burbank. Tibet Nepal House offers a lunch buffet every day from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It's $9.99 and is a small- to mid-size buffet selection of about eight dishes.

Naan was brought fresh to our table. Champagne is also complimentary during the Sunday buffet.

The buffet (and entire menu) is both veg- and non veg-friendly. I really liked the mushroom dish that's on the left side of this plate.

David, Nick, and I were all huge fans of the Shrimp Curry. I really liked the cabbage too.

I helped myself to the Kheer (rice pudding). It's a great way to finish off a meal.

Honestly, the best review to heed on this restaurant isn't mine. It's Nick's mom's. She's a traditional Nepalese woman who grew up in Kathmandu. She has declared Tibet Nepal House "authentic." It doesn't get any better than that.

Have you ever tried yak meat? What would you say are the main differences between Indian cuisine and Nepalese cuisine?

Tibet Nepal House, 36 E Holly St., Pasadena 91103. (626) 585-0955.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Restaurant: Bombay Tandoori & Banquet, Torrance

Banquet Hall: 3 out of 10 Peppers = Mild

Restaurant: 8 out of 10 Peppers = Spicy
 
Bombay Tandoori & Banquet is a tale of two restaurants: the restaurant itself and the banquet hall. The restaurant, I recommend; the banquet hall, I don't.

The Details:
Via various leadership classes, I've learned to employ the "compliment sandwich" technique of delivering criticism -- in which the negative comments are placed between two compliments on either end. (Sneaky, huh?) Supposedly, it's a good technique when the entity on the receiving end has a lot of potential but needs select improvements.

So, Bombay Tandoori, we need to talk. By the way, I like your choice of cuisine -- Indian food rocks! But, seriously, I'll have to split this review into two parts -- the banquet hall and the restaurant -- because the experience was so different in each place. (The alternative, averaging the scores, wouldn't really have done justice to either component.)

So, the Banquet Hall:

The good: The decor is appropriate -- I especially liked the hanging Indian-style fabrics draped from the ceiling.

The bad: Banquet hall guests were not allowed to park in Bombay Tandoori's own parking lot. When asked where we should park, the parking attendant shrugged his shoulders. (As a side note, that must be an easy job -- being a parking attendant for a parking lot where no one is allowed to park!) He mumbled something to the effect of, "We have to keep the lot open for restaurant customers." Ironically, after Bobby (Nick's brother) and I (with Nick) parked seven and three blocks away, respectively, we did end up becoming restaurant customers. But more on that later.

So, half an hour later after we'd trudged back to the restaurant, there was indeed a sign in front of the banquet hall that said if you parked in its lot you would be towed...sucker! (Well, the sucker part may have been added by me. But it was implied.) During dinner (in the restaurant part of the establishment), we actually saw a tow truck pull up. It's been a few weeks since this event, and I'm crossing my fingers that those poor Nepalese aunties and uncles have finally made it back home.

The event, a celebration sponsored by a Nepalese association, had started at 6 p.m., or about an hour before we arrived. We'd each paid the requested $20 event donation, then made a beeline for the buffet table. The items set out so far were appetizers.

Available were Chicken Tikka, boneless chicken breast pieces roasted in a tandoor; Samosas, fried pyramid-shaped filled turnovers; and Vegetable Pakoras, deep-friend vegetables battered in chickpea flour and spices. The appetizers were OK, but Bobby and I both found them to be too salty. Nick liked them. Of course, Nick will also be the first to admit that he's currently annoyed with me for not keeping a salt shaker available in my apartment for his salting pleasure. (If food is flavorless when it's already been brought to the table, then I think it's too late for salt. At that point, I figure I'm better served spicing it up with something like chili powder,curry powder, cinnamon, or whatever spice will complement the dish.)

At about 7:45 p.m., we were starving, the scheduled entertainment hadn't started yet, and we decided to order food in the restaurant (restaurant review starts in 4 paragraphs).

When we returned to the banquet hall at about 9 p.m., the entrees had only just been added to the buffet line. And, due to the inefficient room layout, the line for food was snaking around everywhere, including completely blocking all seated guests' views of the dance floor -- where the association had planned on having various performances. Even after making an announcement that guests should get off of the dance floor, nobody budged. I don't blame them. Moving off of the dance floor meant losing your place in line, which at 9 p.m., I wouldn't have done either. (Sadly, I didn't get to try any of the food on this buffet, as I was too stuffed from having just eaten in the restaurant.)

At this point, I was seriously wondering if the room was over capacity -- all of the tables had long been filled, we were sitting in seats placed around the room's border, and some people were without seats altogether. I searched for the "max room capacity" sign and quickly found it near the entrance -- but instead of a number, it was blank.  I later found out that Bombay Tandoori says the banquet hall holds up to 250 people, but I think they must counting the seats that are immediately outside of the banquet hall.

The good: Service, in the form of picking up empty plates and the like, was prompt.

All in all, I don't think this space works for a large event. But, if you have a smaller event of 60 guests or below, don't need to use the dance floor for performances (or can get a stage built on it -- that would likely have solved the sight-lines problem), and are able to negotiate use of the parking lot, then it might work for you.

Now, the restaurant:

The prompt and courteous service continued in the restaurant portion of Bombay Tandoori. Our server even memorized our order without writing it down -- a party trick that has always impressed me. (Well, as long as the order comes out correctly. Which it did).

I was also impressed with the complimentary Papadum -- partly cause of the taste, but mostly because it was cone-shaped. (Can you tell I'm easily amused?)

Pickled carrots, mint sauce, and tamarind sauce were also complimentary.

\

Some people order alcohol to improve a bad mood. When I'm in an Indian restaurant, I'll order a Mango Lassi. The bad mood was courtesy of the negative experience with the banquet hall, but the lassi was the perfect pick-me-up. And, no, I didn't order a "double" -- that's the same mango lassi in both photos, but doesn't it look super cool in the second photo? The first photo is more true to the drink's actual color, but I wanted to share second photo because, with the table's candlelight and without a camera flash, it looks like the lassi is glowing with a light from within. I seriously can't stop staring at it.....

OK, moving on!

We split three entrees.

Bobby picked the Lamb Curry. It was yummy. Plus, if you like lamb, you'll be happy to know that the restaurant offers nine different lamb entrees..

As usual, it was up to me to order a vegetable. I picked the Bengan Bhartha, described as fresh eggplant first roasted in a tandoor oven then cooked curry style with fresh tomatoes. It was tasty -- not the best Indian eggplant dish I've had but definitely above average.

Nick's Lamb Biryani stole the show. Described as,Basmati rice cooked with tender pieces of goat meat in a blend of special North Indian spices, nuts, and raisins, it's flavoring was just superb.

Raita, an Indian yogurt sauce, was included with our entrees. Nick and I have never cared for raita, but Bobby is somewhat of a raita connoisseur. He said it was up to par.

After we were stuffed and had declined dessert, our server brought us each a complimentary dessert anyway. I'm not exactly sure what the motivation behind that was, but I suspect it may have had something to do with how, even sitting markedly far away from the banquet hall, we were still subject to its loud music and to overhearing the "talent" show (which included a very bizarre rendition of Taio Cruz's Dynamite). All three desserts -- carrot pudding, gulab jamun, and rice pudding -- were excellent.

Have you been to Bombay Tandoori (or its sister restaurants India's Tandoori in Hawthorne or India's Tandoori on Wilshire in Los Angeles)? What is your favorite banquet hall for Indian functions in L.A.?

Bombay Tandoori & Banquet, 4111 Pacific Coast Highway, Torrance 90505. (310) 303-3185.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Coconut Curry Bark

I offer up an exotic Indian twist on this traditional holiday gift-able sweet.

Ingredients:
10 oz. dark chocolate chunks (like Private Selection 62% Cacao Dark Chocolate Chunks)
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
1 1/2 tsp. curry powder, divided (like Kroger Curry Powder)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided

You'll Also Need:
a large cookie tray, parchment paper, a nonstick skillet, a microwave-safe mixing bowl, a microwave

Step-by-Step:


1. Line the cookie tray with parchment paper.
2. Put the chocolate in the mixing bowl. Cover the bowl with a paper towel. Microwave on high power for two minutes.
3. While the chocolate is melting, pour the coconut into the skillet in a thin even layer. On low heat, toast the coconut, stirring frequently.
4. When the microwave beeps after two minutes, stir the chocolate, then re-cover and put back in the microwave for another two minutes on high. Continue stirring the coconut.
5. When the microwave beeps, stir the chocolate again, then re-cover and put back in the microwave for another minute (or until completely melted).
6. Now that the coconut has been toasting for about four and a half minutes, add a 1/2 tsp. of the curry powder and a 1/2 tsp. of ground cinnamon to the skillet. Stir frequently for 30 seconds, then turn off the heat and remove the skillet from the burner.
7. Add the remaining 1 tsp. curry powder and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon to the melted chocolate. Stir through.
8. Add about 3/4 of the coconut mixture from the skillet into the mixing bowl with the chocolate. Fold in.
9. Spread the mixture thinly onto the parchment paper. Pour the remaining coconut-spice mixture on top of the bark. Refrigerate for about an hour.
10. Use a pizza cutter to break into pieces.
Makes about 14 pieces.

The AHH Factor: When it comes to making traditional Indian food, let's face the facts. You don't want me making it for you. Or, at least, you don't want me making it for you, then trying to pass it off as authentic, when the truth is I substituted multiple ingredients for ingredients that were "easier to find" or "healthier" or "that I could pronounce."

But fusion cuisine, now that I can do. So, with the holidays swiftly approaching, I developed this recipe as an exotic version of the American holiday favorite: chocolate bark. A few years ago, I made a white chocolate bark with broken candy cane pieces and gave it out as a casual Christmas gift. I got great feedback on this gift.

This year, I had friends taste-test this bark. Actually, I put them on the spot and asked them to guess the secret ingredient. (OK, so it's not a secret for you since you've read the recipe already, but I wanted them to say "curry powder.") I heard a range of guesses that were all in the correct range -- cumin, turmeric, and coriander, to name a few. I also got comments it was clear there was a "warm taste in the background," "a distinctive aftertaste," and that it should be "inhaled, and not just tasted on the tongue." I know -- my friends sound a lot more sophisticated than I do!

Later, Nick, who already knew what the secret ingredient was, surprisingly liked this bark too. I say surprisingly because Nick doesn't generally like dark chocolate. He's more of a sweeter milk chocolate guy, but I think it was the coconut that won him over.

Oh, and yes, I know that chocolate is better melted using the double boiler method, and it was also suggested to me (quite correctly, actually, I will also acknowledge) that instead of using a ready-made curry powder mix, I would be better off selectively picking the individual spices in the correct proportions, maybe even grinding them myself. And, I would even make my own suggestion that it's more fun to break the bark into pieces by slamming the pan on the counter, rather than quietly slicing with a pizza cutter.

But, again, let's face the facts: I didn't have the time to pull the bark out of the refrigerator until 1 a.m. (And I'd be willing to bet I'm not the only one with this no-spare-time predicament.) So, I say -- in the spirit of Thanksgiving -- let's all be thankful for pre-made mixes and microwaves!
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