Saturday, December 31, 2011

Udupi Palace, Artesia, Restaurant Review

South Indian vegetarian restaurant Udupi Palace is worth visiting to ogle at the ginormous food (and to enjoy some of its better menu items, including the Masala Dosa), but its atmosphere and service leave something to be desired.

6 out of 10 Peppers = Medium

The management at Udupi Palace should consider placing a basketball-player size sign outside saying, "You must be [this tall] to eat here." This vegetarian Indian located in Artesia is home of the giant food. It's pretty impressive when your meal is literally bigger than your (already huge) plate.

In my notes, I had Udupi Palace as a 5 Pepper restaurant, but reflection has made be a bit fonder of this place so I upped it to 6. The food here is, overall, worthy of a higher rating. But I had some issues with the atmosphere and was bummed with my specific order. I have eaten here once before, and I remember being astounded by the size of my Uthapam, which is like a savory pancake. I didn't like the flavor much, but the impression of the huge pancake sitting on my plate has stuck with me.

This time around I went with Nick, Nick's brother, and Nick's mom (during one of her visits to California).

THE SETTING


The restaurant was sweltering on this October day. I could have closed my eyes and literally believed I was in South India. Air conditioning would have been a welcome improvement. I don't remember it being this hot in here the previous time I went (but I also don't remember what month that was), so I hope this was a temporary issue. But we were all uncomfortable.

The artwork is fun bold images of Indian spices, lentils, and other food-themed items. There's a sign for parking in the back. I can't confirm that as I like to park far away on random side streets and walk when I'm in Little India, but you shouldn't have a problem finding free parking in this neighborhood. The service was bleh. Our server ran off without pausing to answer our questions.

The menu cracked me up because next to the drink options, the menu exclaimed "no refills." And by exclaimed, I mean four exclamation points.

THE FOOD

The food is South Indian vegetarian cuisine. I'm still learning about South Indian food, but, like most folks, I love a good dosa.

Nick ordered one of the restaurant's non-dosa specialties, Poori Bhaji. Nick loves poori, so you know he was thrilled when a big fluffy poori (with a side of potato curry) arrived. He was definitely happy with his order, though I think he was jealous when he saw an even bigger poori at the next table.

My mother-in-law ordered the Masala Dosa, which is a solid option here. The server told us it would be "plate size" but didn't mention how huge the plate was. No complaints there though. A Masala Dosa is a common South Indian vegetarian dish that consists of a thin rice flour and lentil flour "crepe" filled with potatoes and served with Sambar, which is a spiced soup that's great for dipping the dosa into or sipping separately. My mother-in-law said she was happy with this dosa.

One of the day's specials (listed on a board at the front) was a Spinach Dosa. I love spinach so I was all over this. Until I bit into it and realized it was full of potatoes! (Gasp!) I am not a potato fan, and, while there was spinach in it too, it was at least half spuds. Bummer. It was also bland.

And I saved the biggest dish for last: meet the Paper Dosa. Another solid option here. It's crispy and Bobby (Nick's brother) was happy that it wasn't spicy. The restaurant did give him some extra potatoes for it, which was nice to eat with the part of the dosa that couldn't be filled cause it would have fallen off of the plate.

My mother-in-law also got a Mango Lassi. The restaurant also offers a Sweet Lassi and a Salty Lassi.

At the end of our meal, our server offered us complimentary lollipops.

I'd love to try out some of the other vegetarian Indian restaurants in Artesia to see how they compare. That said, if this turns out to be the best one, I'd be OK with that. I'd just get a different type of dosa and probably get it to-go, if it's a South Indian-hot type of day.

Udupi Palace, 18635 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, CA 90701. (562) 860-1950.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Indian-Spiced Lentil Turkey Chili Recipe

Substituting spices commonly used in Indian food (like cinnamon and ginger) for typical chili spices and substituting lentils for kidney beans is the base for this sweet and spicy Indian-inspired chili.

Ingredients:
1 lb. ground turkey
1 cup brown lentils
4 cups chicken broth (or turkey broth, if you can find it)
1 yellow onion, diced
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 can diced or crushed tomatoes
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. curry powder, divided
1/2 tsp. ground ginger, divided
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided
salt to taste
pepper to taste
(optional) jalapeno (seeded or unseeded, to taste), diced
(optional) raita (for garnish)
(optional) cilantro (for garnish)

You'll Also Need:

a cooktop Dutch Oven or other large pot

Step-by-Step:

1. Pour 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil in the Dutch Oven over medium low heat. Add diced onion and cook until the onion starts to turn translucent.
2. Add the 1 lb. ground turkey and break it up in the Dutch Oven. Add 1/2 tsp. curry powder, 1/4 tsp. ground ginger, 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, and salt and pepper to taste. Brown the turkey. Then remove the onion and turkey from Dutch Oven and keep warm.
3. Cook the cup of brown lentils in the residual turkey fat. Add the remaining 1/2 tsp. curry powder, 1/4 tsp. ground ginger, 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, and salt and pepper to taste. If using a jalepeno, add it here.
4. Add the 4 cups of broth and the can of tomatoes (including the sauce). Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes.
5. Add the cooked turkey and onions back into the Dutch Oven. Add the 1 Tbsp. tomato paste. Stir through.
6. Cook with the lid off for about 10 minutes or until the chili reaches the desired consistency and the lentils are tender.
7. (Optional) Garnish with cilantro. Serve with naan (Trader Joe's has great pre-made naan options).

Serves 4.

The AHH Factor:
When I was in college, homemade chili was one of my go-to meals. It was so simple (pour everything into one pot), yet gave me the satisfaction of making my own dinner. The smell of the spices was terrific. Back then, I only made chili the typical way -- with spices like chili powder and cumin and with red kidney beans.

I preferred making chili to buying it because back then I could only find beef-made chilis for sale. But in recent years, that's changed. I find turkey chili everywhere, and I especially love the turkey chili in a can at Trader Joe's. It's perfectly seasoned and makes a great lunch, especially topped with some shredded cheddar.

While it seems silly to me to spend my time making a pot of turkey chili when I can easily buy it, I'm still a bit wistful for the days of homemade chili. So I started thinking of ways that I could make it unique -- something I couldn't easily buy in a can or at the deli. That's when I came up with the idea of making it a little bit Indian -- replacing the chili power and cumin for the spices I typically put in my Indian entrees, like cinnamon and ginger. Then I thought about replacing the kidney beans with lentils. (A quick Google search showed me that lentil chili recipes are rampant, which I took as a good sign that adding lentils to chili wouldn't be too weird.) And I wanted to top it off with bit of raita, as a replacement for the traditional sour cream.

The result tastes amazing, a chili that's a little bit sweet and a little more spicy, plus healthier than your traditional beef-and-beans variety. Plus, it'll make your home smell amazing.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Taj Mahal of India, Los Angeles, Restaurant Review

Taj Mahal of India is a decent option if you live close by, with its meat curries being some of the best menu options.

6 out of 10 Peppers = Medium

Whenever we have friends visiting from out of town, we show them the sights: the Santa Monica Pier, the Hollywood tour, an Indian restaurant -- you know, the usual ;) OK, so an Indian restaurant probably isn't on most residents must-do lists, but I like to get different perspectives on LA's Indian restaurant scene so I take friends with me whenever possible.

My cousin Annie had come all the way out from Washington D.C. for our housewarming party, and, having a decidedly spicier palette than I do, she's great for a different perspective. We also brought Nick's brother, Bobby, with us to Taj Mahal of India, which, if I remember correctly, we found through a Google search.

THE SETTING

It was a Sunday night and I was a bit worried when we walked in and I noticed that we were the only customers in the place at first. More people came in later. I get the feeling this place gets more take-out customers than dine-in customers. (The restaurant offers free delivery within 2 miles.) If you are going to dine-in here, Sunday night is probably the best time parking-wise. The meters aren't enforced, so our parking was free.

Inside, the color scheme is traditional reds, with wall hangings and beads as art.

Our server was intrusive. He kept interrupting, and he asked twice in one minute if we were ready to order. Also, he had trouble understanding our orders.

THE FOOD


The menu was a bit suspect because it included hummus and beef samosas. And misleading because it lists Fanta, but when Nick ordered it, a Sunkist came out. Not even close, guys. Also, the restaurant doesn't automatically bring out free papadum, but when we asked, the server brought us papadum and said it was complimentary. The papadum had good flavor and was satisfyingly crispy.

We ate all of our dishes family style. Portions seemed smaller than at similar restaurants.

The Lamb Korma was the best dish, with small pieces of lamb in a flavorful sauce. We ordered all of our dishes at a medium spice level, and that was a good call for this dish.

The Saag Paneer was just OK. Even though we ordered it medium, it tasted mild. The paneer pieces were small.

The tasty Shrimp Malai Curry was done well. Nick and I both thought it had a spicy kick, but Annie said it tasted mild. She is her father's daughter in that way for sure. I still remember the time my uncle (her father) made a dish for a potluck at the temple. It was literally so spicy that virtually no one -- including all of the Indian-born parents who were raised on spicy food -- could eat it. I'm in awe of this branch of our family's propensity for spice.

We weren't asked what spice level we wanted our Lamb Biryani, but the consensus was that this dish was the spiciest. Oddly, I actually didn't think it was spicy (my vote for spiciest was the shrimp), but my theory is that's because I expect biryani to be spicy. (Though sometimes it can go overboard.)

The Raita wasn't spicy at all, of course, but it was odd in that it was thicker and creamier than is typical.

All in all, I wouldn't dine in here again, but if I lived close by, I'd likely get take-out on occasion. All four of us thought the dishes were average or slightly above average, and the restaurant keeps its prices on the low end.

Taj Mahal of India, 8566 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles (neighborhood: West Los Angeles) (310) 652-8598.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Unique Indian and Nepalese Gifts in Pasadena

Via a Groupon I purchased a few weeks back, I found out about a unique boutique in Pasadena that's such a cool place to buy gifts for Indian or Nepalese friends and family -- and for anyone, really, who cares about fair trade.

It's called Ten Thousand Villages and it's located S. Lake Ave. It's a small store that I guess I overlooked the entire time Nick lived in Pasadena, but it's a hidden gem. And if you're reading this from somewhere other than Southern California, you'll be happy to know there are over 70 other locations of Ten Thousand Villages across the U.S. -- including in Houston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Cleveland. You can get a complete list of store locations here.

As the retailer's website says, "Ten Thousand Villages in Pasadena, CA, is a fair trade retailer of artisan-crafted home decor, personal accessories and gift items from across the globe. Featuring products from more than 130 artisan groups in some 38 countries, we are part of a network of over 390 retail outlets throughout the United States selling Ten Thousand Villages products."

When I walked into the Pasadena store, I was a little disoriented at first trying to find items made in Nepal. Then a sales associate (who may well have been a volunteer, as many of the workers here are) clued me in by telling me the store was organized by color. A little bit odd, I think, especially as it turned my hunt for Nepalese items into kind of a treasure hunt throughout the entire store. The associate was helpful though, in that he was able to use the store's computer database to find Nepalese items and walked me to several that he thought I might be interested in.

I was in the store to buy a gift for my mother-in-law (who's originally from Kathmandu), and it took me a while of walking around on my own to find something I thought she'd really like. Then I found these so-cute handmade notecards in this lovely box -- all made in Nepal. I love this and wound up buying it; it cost about $26 (minus my Groupon). Another customer who saw me with it at the register loved it so much that she actually picked up a notecard box too.

Plus, once the associates realized I was buying the item as a gift they even gave me a preprinted card that explained how the gift is fair trade -- so the receiver understands its significance.

This will be a fun go-to spot for me when I'm shopping for family and friends in the future. And they have foodie gifts too, like some premade mixes and snacks from other countries.

Ten Thousand Villages, 567 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena 91101 (626) 229-9892.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Eat My Blog Raised Over $4,000 for the Food Bank

Thanks so much to everyone who bought items at the Eat My Blog bake sale on Saturday. I realized that "pseudo-sandesh" is a pseudo-scary name for a dessert, so we called my donation Almond Ricotta Bars for the sale.

Of course, Nick and I also did are part of buying items from the sale.

We bought a mix of restaurant-donated and blogger-donated items. Clockwise from top left: a cakewich from Cake Monkey Bakery, Mushroom Empanada from Border Grill, Yoda Matcha (Green Tea) Cookies from Just Jenn, Ube Cheesecake from Pinoy Panda, and something sweet from Delightful Recipes (embarrassing that I can't remember exactly what it was; the holiday stress is definitely getting to me).

And I was so happy to find out that this bake sale raised $4,273.86 for the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. Yes!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Eat My Blog this Saturday (for a good cause)

I just put my Pseudo-Sandesh Ricotta Cheese-Almond Squares in the oven as prep for Saturday's Eat My Blog event, a bake sale where the proceeds go to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. (Why is procrastinating always so much fun? I probably should have put these in a few hours ago...but at least I didn't wait until tomorrow night. Ha!)

On Saturday, please join about 50 LA-based food bloggers, including myself, at the Eat My Blog sale. All of us, as well as quite a few restaurants, are donating baked goods to the sale. Items will be priced between ~$1 and $4. I am so excited to buy up everyone else's creations, and I love the fact that it benefits a food bank. When I was a teenager who was interested in community service, the Golden Harvest Food Bank in Augusta, Ga., welcomed me as a volunteer, and I would go at least once a month to help sort cans, clean the store, and organize items in the office. As an adult, I'm thankful to be able to help the LA food bank earn some money, especially right before Christmas. I hope you'll be willing to help too.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pseudo-Sandesh Recipe (AKA Baked Ricotta Cheese-Almond Squares)


Who knew making sandesh would be so easy? Oh, wait...[at least it tastes good]!

Ingredients:
15 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar
1 cup blanched slivered almonds
(optional -- I didn't use it) yellow food coloring

You'll Also Need:
a mixing bowl, a baking dish (ideally, a 9x13, but I only had an 8x8 handy so that's what I used), an oven

Step-by-Step:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. In mixing bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, sugar, almonds (reserve a few for garnish), and food coloring (if you're using it).
 3. Use a spatula to spread the mixture into a baking dish (ideally, a a 9x13). Bake for about 45 minutes, starting to check for doneness at 30. (It's done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.) Garnish with the rest of the almonds. Let cool and cut into squares.
Makes about 20 small squares.

The AHH Factor: I thought it was a simple request.

I e-mailed my mom for her sandesh recipe so I could make it for Diwali. (I have to e-mail her for recipes because if I ask her for one over the phone, I get a lot of "you know what I mean" when it comes to ingredient names. Except that I have no idea what she means.) For anyone who's not familiar with it, sandesh is a traditional Bengali sweet. It's creamy and snow white, sometimes with hints of yellow, if it's fancy and has saffron. A color it is decidedly not is the color shown in my photos.

So how did this pseudo-sandesh come to be?

"Sandesh is little bit hard the way I make it, especially for first-timers," responded my mom.

All of a sudden, I was thrust back to my teen years. In my mom's kitchen, I make a genuine offer to help her make dinner. Even then, I had a budding interest in the creative process of cooking and I loved to see all of the disparate ingredients come together into a completely different whole. And my mom was a great cook. There was a bit of mystery in her cooking to me, as it seemed to somehow materialize on the table as soon as I got home from school, without much effort at all.

Generally, after rebuffing my first several offers, she'd relent. Sort of. "OK, you can stir this," she'd say, nodding to a pot on the stove. At least it was something to do. Cooperatively, I'd stir it. Then hang around waiting for the opportunity to stir it again. But, whether she realized I saw her or not, as soon as I glanced in another direction, she'd rush over to the pot and stir it herself.

Because I guess stirring the contents of a pot is "a little bit hard," and best left to the experts.

To this day, I don't understand why she didn't want me to learn how to cook. I think part of it is she was primarily a stay-at-home mom, and cooking may have felt like her big contribution to the family. She may not have wanted anyone, even her own daughter, to take that away from her. Maybe a more positive spin on it is that, having spent her formative years in India, my mom saw that there it was primarily the housekeeping staff who tended to the cooking and cleaning and she felt it shouldn't be a homeowners' responsibility to cook. I'm pretty sure she's never enjoyed cooking, but she felt it was her obligation. Maybe she didn't want to pass that "burden" onto me.

Maybe someday she will tell me the real reason.

I learned to cook mostly from cooking with friends in college, then from watching the Food Network constantly (it's still the main thing I use my DVR for), and from collecting cookbooks. There was a lot of trial and error in college, but, for the most part, I think I'm up to speed at this point. When my mom finally saw that my interest in food wasn't going away, she did start responding when I asked for recipes, and she started genuinely giving me tips on how to make items turn out correctly.

That's why I was sad to see that she thinks I can't make sandesh. I'll be back on my blog later after I can get the true sandesh recipe, with the likely source being a different relative. I know it involves making fresh paneer and it doesn't involve an oven. (Most homes in India don't even have ovens.)

In the meantime, I'm sharing the recipe my mom placated me with. To be fair, it does taste great. It's sticky and sweet, and everyone who's tried it has raved about it. I get requests for it often. And the flavors do taste Indian (maybe despite what you'd expect from the list of ingredients), so I'd recommend finishing any Indian meal with this sweet dessert. And, of course, it's super easy.

But then again, any recipe can become super easy if you just give it a chance.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tamarind of London, Newport Beach, Restaurant Review

Newly opened in Newport Beach, Tamarind of London inherits buzz from its Michelin star-earning sister restaurant, but, while the food is flavorful, it doesn't quite meet the hype.

7 out of 10 Peppers = Spicy

As I was changing into my "nice" clothes in the cramped bathroom of Crystal Cove Promenade's Pier 1 Imports, I had a realization. I am not the target demographic of Indian restaurant Tamarind of London. If I was, I'd have a second home in Newport Beach, where I would have changed in a leisurely fashion into my "everyday" clothes, then dropped $100 on dinner at the newly opened Tamarind without a second thought. Or I would have gone on a vacation somewhere that wasn't a essentially a staycation -- we'd just drove into Newport from a one-night trip to San Diego, during which I petted goats at the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park -- and would have been wearing nice clothes to begin with.

But alas, Nick changed clothes in Starbucks and I changed in Pier 1, and together we made it on time to our reservation at Tamarind, probably the most buzz-worthy Indian restaurant to open in Southern California this year. Tamarind of London (as the name says) is a British import and its sister London restaurant has even earned a Michelin star, hence the buzz. Some of the menu items are even directly brought over from the London restaurant (and are indicated as such on the menu). The Newport Beach restaurant opened in Crystal Cove Promenade about two weeks ago.

For those of you haven't been, Crystal Cove Promenade is a mid- to high-end shopping center (at which I spent an embarrassing amount of money buying peacock feathers at that Pier 1). The good news is, unlike downtown Newport, there is a lot of free parking here. (There's also valet at the restaurant; it's $4.) And, though most patrons at Tamarind were dressed up, there were a few patrons there wearing jeans.

THE SETTING

The coolest thing about Tamarind's look is the exhibition kitchen. You can literally see the tops of the three tandoori ovens and the chefs were all dressed in starch white preparing orders. I found myself wondering what would happen if one accidentally spilled butter chicken sauce all over his white uniform. Luckily, there were no such party fouls during our visit.

Most of the color scheme is earthy browns. Nick was impressed by the decor. I wasn't blown away by it, but I think it had too masculine of a look for me. I tend to like feminine flowing fabrics and the like. Still, it looked like a big investment was put into the decor.

It felt a little stuffy when we entered, especially because the first thing we were asked was if we had reservations (highly recommended, by the way). We did indeed have them, so we were walked to a comfortable booth. I guess I see why Tamarind is so focused on reservations though. By the time we left, there were at least 15 people waiting for a table.

Our server was knowledgeable and attentive. So much so that Nick suggested she was "trying too hard" and hoped the service would be a little less in-your-face as the restaurant settles into its groove.

THE FOOD


Like many high-end restaurants, the portions at Tamarind are small. I've never understood that. Do rich people eat less? We figured entrees might be small though, so we ordered multiple things to share. Like most Indian restaurants, food here is served family style.

I still had to drive the hour back to West LA after dinner, so I got a nonalcoholic Mango Mojito. (The restaurant also offers a Mumbai Mojito with Bacardi Limon Rum, if you're looking for alcohol, as well as a large array of other creative cocktails.) With just a hint of mango flavor and a generous helping of fresh mint, I found it delicious. When you consider the ice and the lemon quarters in the glass, it was a small portion though.

Nick got an alcoholic London Underground. It's a blend of Old Raj gin, lemon, (homemade!) honey, and coriander syrup. Nick said it was so strong it reminded him of a Long Island Iced Tea. I gave it a few sips. I'd recommend it, but yes it is strong.

For an appetizer, we ordered Chicken Tikka. It was OK. I was thankful it was juicy, but it lacked flavor without the accompanying sauce.

As a special that night, the restaurant had an Almond Date Naan. It was superb. It was a sweet naan that was perfectly cooked and fluffy. The "almond date" part was a paste that was pressed into the naan. The flavor reminded me of the paste in a fig cookie. Nick didn't like that this naan wasn't good for sopping up savory curries though. It was too sweet for that. Honestly, maybe it should be moved to the dessert menu, but most people would probably think a naan dessert was weird. It came with four pieces, which was a decent portion size.

Nick ordered the Butter Chicken, a classic. The sauce was so smooth and so delicious. I loved the flavor. Nick enjoyed the flavor too, but said it was pretty typical of butter chicken, which, because of its buttery delicious ingredients, is kind of hard to mess up. He didn't think it earned the $19 price tag.

I picked the Prawn Pepper Masala. I appreciated they the spices were used liberally; there were whole peppercorns in there. But overall, the flavor didn't really sink into the prawns. It was just OK.

At $3, I thought the bowl of white rice was a rip-off. I initially said we didn't need rice for that reason, but Nick got halfway through his dinner and decided he couldn't finish it without rice. So we got one order of it, but when we got the bill, it was billed as $4. As a stereotypical frugal Indian woman, I was not going to let that slide. I admire the restaurant for how it handled the situation though. I was friendly about the price problem (don't want to make a scene in Newport Beach, after all) and simply asked the server if she could doublecheck the price before she ran my card. She came back super apologetic and said that I was right, the price was $3 and it was the computer that had been programmed incorrectly. She said that because they were now in the midst of fixing the pricing in the computer, the restaurant would just comp our rice. Integrity means a lot to me, so I do appreciate the gesture. (Though I am still tempted to sneak in $0.10 worth of rice with me next time!)

Tamarind offers a mix of traditional Indian and fusion desserts. We opted for fusion, with the Seven Spice Molten Chocolate Cake. Highly recommended! It was a creative lava cake, in which Indian spices flavored the chocolate. I was impressed that you could taste the spices through the chocolate. As I discovered when creating my Dark Chocolate Coconut Curry Bark, it is a challenge to get Indian spices to push through strong-flavored chocolate. Nick said the cake was the best thing on the entire menu.

The total damage to our wallets? $93, before tip. For us, the food was certainly above average, but the quality didn't justify the price. If you're in Orange County and it's quality Indian food you're looking for, I'd suggest Traditions in Tustin.

But it's not just about the food at Tamarind. It's about the entire experience -- the exhibition kitchen, the creative fusions of ingredients, and the customer service. (As we exited, an employee, most likely a manager, actually said bye to Nick by name, presumably because of his OpenTable reservation.) So, to that end, I say, if you're the restaurant's demographic -- with expendable income and interested in buzz-worthy place to eat on a Saturday night -- then get on OpenTable and make that reservation. If you're not that demographic, I'd suggest the restaurant's happy hour, which is at the bar only and offers discounted drinks and a limited menu, just to see what all the fuss is about.

For me, personally, it's not worth it to make that drive again, but I'm glad I made it once.

And I'm putting my petting zoo jeans back on.

Tamarind of London, 7862 E Coast Hwy, Newport Beach, CA 92647. (949) 715-8338.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lawrence of India, Culver City, Restaurant Review

Lawrence of India offers affordable Indian cuisine, attentive service, but just average flavors.

6 out of 10 Peppers = Medium

Happy Thanksgiving all! I hope you're having a wonderful day and enjoying all of the food (hell yeah!) that goes along with the season.

This year, I'm thankful for so many things. Nick and I live together, FINALLY. Coming from traditional households, we didn't live together until we were officially married. That meant that for three years we were taking turns commuting each weekend from Long Beach (where I lived) to Pasadena (where he lived). With LA traffic, it seriously felt like a long-distance relationship sometimes. But now we both live together in West LA, and it has made all of the difference in how much free time we each have.

West LA has so many perks, and one of them is that there are so many Indian restaurants. I think there are five within walking distance of our place. (And, of course, I don't just eat Indian food all the time, so I love that there are a ton of other types of restaurant within walking distance as well!) This is our experience at Lawrence of India on Venice Boulevard in Culver City.

THE SETTING

After working his way up from pantry boy at the Ashoka Hotel in New Delhi, India, Lawrence immigrated to the U.S. in 1975. He worked as a chef at an Indian restaurant until in 1986, when he opened his namesake restaurant in Culver City. That restaurant was open for 11 years, after which he took an 11-year hiatus from the restaurant industry. Then in March of 2010, he reopened Lawrence of India at the current location.

It's a hole in the wall and sadly easy to overlook. The staff was telling us how they were hoping for outdoor seating (to attract the eye of passers-by), but the landlord won't let them. However, I honestly don't think it would make a difference in catching the eye of drivers or pedestrians. The bigger obstacle is a tall partial wall at the Venice side of the complex that blocks the view of the restaurant and the complex's other tenants.

Once inside, I noticed the cool fabric-adorned seating and the green and gold color scheme.

Before I get to the food, I do want to give props to the excellent customer service here. We got attentive service from all the employees, plus we even got some items on the house. I was concerned that may have been because I'm a food blogger, but after Googling some other reviews of Lawrence, it seems like a few extras are pretty standard here.

THE FOOD


The food here is inexpensive, which the frugal part of me of course loves. The restaurant specializes in both Indian and Goan cuisine (Goan cuisine uses more coconut milk and more cardamom than Indian cuisine, according to the restaurant's staff). Unfortunately, taste-wise it's just average.

I started with the Signature Iced Tea, a Goan specialty of the restaurant. It was sweetened, and the blend of spices was excellent. I could really taste the cardamom.

We got an order of Chicken Pakoras for an appetizer. These are boneless pieces of chicken dipped in chickpea batter with spices and deep fried. Not the healthiest thing on the menu, but generally pretty tasty.

My order (the Chicken Saag dinner) came with soup, but our first freebie was that Lawrence whipped up an extra Lentil Soup for Nick. (I should note thought that one freebie that restaurant does NOT provide is papadum. Weird.) It was just OK. Nick added salt to his. The texture was odd. It was like the lentils were pulverized. I would have liked it better if the lentils were left whole. (The other option with the dinner choice was salad.)

Brown rice also came with my order. (I could have gotten white rice, but since it was up to me I chose the fiber-rich option.) I liked the fried onion garnish on top.

I chose naan (the other option was roti) for my bread. As you can see, this was an unusually-shaped naan. It was also unusual in the taste department. I was not a fan. The flavor and the texture were both off.

The dinner orders don't come with vegetables, but Lawrence whipped up a freebie for us. A sweet idea, but sadly, I didn't like the flavor at all.

My main dish was Chicken Saag. Unfortunately, this was just OK. It really needed more flavor. I felt like the spices should have been tripled to be to my liking.

Nick ordered the Lamb Biryani. It was a small portion, but Nick enjoyed it. He felt the spices were on the mark.

I give Lawrence props for his creative takes on Indian dessert. He offers kulfi in unique flavors (well, unique for Indian food): vanilla, chocolate (what we got), and coconut. These are his own creations. I'd recommend the chocolate one for sure. The texture and flavor was great.

One last freebie, which I think the restaurant gives to everyone, is this traditional Indian palette cleanser of seeds at the end of the meal.

Nick in general liked this restaurant more than I did. I think because he was enamored with the custom service, whereas I was kind of bummed with the quality of several of the dishes. For the variety of food though, I don't think the price can be beat.

The restaurant is in LA Bite as well, which means we may be turning to it on a lazy day sometime in our future. Now that we don't have to waste hours commuting, we have time to be lazy and just enjoy the day :)

Lawrence of India, 10032 Venice Blvd., Culver City 90232. (310) 841-6559.

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