Friday, February 25, 2011

Restaurant: Kamal Palace, Long Beach

Fit for an Indian food-virgin, Kamal Palace has some excellent dishes that are definitely worth a visit, though there are some flaws in service and decor.

7 out of 10 Peppers = Spicy

The Details: When I rate a restaurant, in the back of my mind I always think: Would I be OK with this being an Indian food-virgin's first time? In the case of Kamal Palace, the answer was literally right in front of me. "This was the first place I ever had Indian food eight years ago," said my friend Carla over dinner. "I loved it."

So, I guess I my job is done with this review -- because that's really the only thing you need to know.

[doing laundry, finding my misplaced cell phone for the fifth time today, writing out a grocery list]

Still here? Well, I guess I could be convinced to share some photos. And, well, to be perfectly honest, I can never resist a chance to share my deepest thoughts about food.

We -- Nick, Carla, her hubby Mark, and myself -- agreed that we would order a bunch of stuff and split it, so first up were one of Nick's all-time faves Keema Samosas (perhaps you've caught on by now, as he orders this everywhere we go). These were tasty; the only slightly aggravating thing is that an "order" here is three samosas, a little bit odd as you'd think they'd make it an even number for sharing -- but no matter, we just got two orders.

The Papadum was free and came with the typical mint chutney, but also with a really great mango chutney, which was a nice unique touch.

The drink orders were where the restaurant lost a pepper or two. Nick and Mark ordered Kingfishers, can't really mess those up; I got a Mango Lassi, which was fine but weirdly way more mango-flavored than usual (that may be the weirdest complaint I've ever made, but try it and you'll see what I mean); Carla ordered a glass of wine, but whoa, we had to ask for it no fewer than FIVE times. Mark commented later that that kind of flaky service is not atypical here.

I was impressed with the Tandoori Chicken, as it was perfectly moist. I tend to use tandoori chicken as an Indian food barometer, as it's too dry at many restaurants.

We were in the mood for something fancier than regular white rice, so we got the Lamb Biryani, described as saffron-flavored rice cooked with spiced lamb pieces. It was good, not great.

We got more tandoori (clay oven-cooked) food with an order of Tandoori Shrimp. These were good as well.

The star of the show was the Mattar Paneer, a dish of green peas, other vegetables, and homemade Indian cheese cooked in curry sauce. Normally, mattar paneers lays low as a side dish, but this dish was a stand-alone knockout. Definitely order it at Kamal Palace.

The interior of the restaurant is blah, but we were there at night and Carla and Mark pointed out that during the day the restaurant's big windows let in a view of the water and of the docked boats.

The location is a little tricky to find. It's part of a large shopping center at the busy 2nd and PCH intersection that includes an AMC movie theater, a Ralph's, a Barnes & Noble, and numerous other shops and restaurants. So, the shopping center itself is very easy to find, but Kamal Palace is on the "secret" lower level, so you'll need to walk through a bit of a maze to first go down the stairs then locate the restaurant. But there are signs, so just be on the lookout for those. The shared parking lot is large and free, but at certain times when the neighboring businesses are busy (like Saturday night at the movie theater), it can take a while to find a spot.

All in all, an enjoyable experience, or so Carla says.

Do you remember the first time you had Indian food?

Kamal Palace, 6374 E Pacific Coast Hwy., Ste. A, Long Beach 90803. (562) 493-0255.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Restaurant: Bombay Restaurant Cuisine of India, Ontario

Bombay Restaurant Cuisine of India serves up a solid (if a bit too spicy, in some cases) rendition of Indian food in weekend getaway San Bernardino County.
6 out of 10 Peppers = Medium

The Details: On the drive back from a Lake Arrowhead day trip, Nick and I realized it was the perfect chance to try out another Indian restaurant in San Bernardino County. The county is a short drive from where we live in Los Angeles County, but it always feels a world away. San Bernardino is the largest county in the lower 48 states by area, but its population is so sparse for its size. Compare that to L.A. County, where I can literally tell what song my neighbor is listening to on her iTunes. (Pat Benatar, again? Really?) It's a nice county for a weekend escape.

We took a quick detour off of the freeway to Bombay Restaurant Cuisine of India (whew, the name itself is a mouthful). Unlike in L.A. County, parking here is not a problem. The Indian restaurant shares a private lot with several other businesses. Inside, the decor was nothing special. It has a traditional red and gold color scheme, some Indian music playing, no real artwork, and some traditional light fixtures that look a little out of place. 

The complimentary papadum was too spicy for us to finish. Bummer that the spice gene seems to have skipped my generation in my family. I wonder if my little nephew can handle it. This papadum is not for the faint of heart.

Since we were given a choice of spice levels for our entrees, both Nick and I picked mild. Nick got the Lamb Palak, diced lamb cooked with spinach and ginger garlic.

Always on the hunt for vegetables, I got the Chicken Jalfrezi, which was described on the menu as tender chicken pieces cooked in fresh vegetables, ground herbs, and spices. I was happy to see the dish featured an assortment of veggies including zucchini, carrots, and cauliflower.

We got a side order of Basmati Boiled Rice, which was $3.95. All entree selections are served a la carte, though there are a wide variety of rices, breads, and other extras (pickles, chutney, raita, etc.) that can be added. There are about four options for complete combo meals that include rice, naan, and other extras; those start at $17.95 per person and are available for dine-in only.

Nick of course was ecstatic to see that his favorite (and somewhat elusive) Indian bread -- poori -- was available. However, he was none too thrilled to discover that it was made from whole wheat (not white) here and tasted of it. "I'd rather they not messed with it," he said. Truth be told, poori is often made with wheat flour, but something was  definitely off with the restaurant's recipe as the bread was not all fun and poofy as it should be.

All in all, Bombay Restaurant is fine but nothing spectacular. The food tastes traditional, like something my mom would make at home for the family, but not at home for company -- if that makes sense. It doesn't have the richness that's typical of Indian restaurant food.

The service was good; we didn't have any problems with our order. The restaurant was mostly empty, but it was a random Monday night. On our way out, our server handed us some coupons, which was a nice gesture. You can also print out coupons from the restaurant's website.

What's your favorite Indian restaurant in the Inland Empire?

Bombay Restaurant Cuisine of India, 405 N. Vineyard Ave., Ontario 91764. (909) 937-1282.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Restaurant: Tanzore, Beverly Hills

This beautiful, modern Indian restaurant and lounge offers an almost flawless high-end experience.

9 out of 10 Peppers = Extra Spicy

The Details: Modern Indian restaurant-lounge Tanzore has a truly lovely decor. I'd go so far as to say it's the most beautiful Indian restaurant I've ever seen. Nick went to far as to ask me, "So, why aren't we getting married here?"

If you're having a high-end Indian wedding (with an equally high-end budget), you could actually get married here. Adjacent sister venue Gaylord offers several banquet rooms. The Lotus Room holds 200 guests, the Haveli Room, 35 guests; Tanzore's own lounge can be rented out for up to 80 guests; or rent out the whole place, which can hold up to 450 guests (though this still might not be enough space for the typical Indian wedding -- unbelievable but true!).

Tanzore has been around in this incarnation since July 2007. Before that, it was Gaylord India Restaurant, one of the outposts for the Gaylord India restaurant chain that's headquartered in New Delhi, India, and that has several locations throughout India. (Gaylord still has several international locations, in cities like London and Hong Kong.) When the Beverly Hills location changed to Tanzore, it kept select menu items from Gaylord.

Not really being a high-end couple, Nick and I classify Tanzore in the "special occasion" category of restaurants. In fall 2010, we got seats at its annual Diwali Red Carpet Event. This event is an almost-weeklong annual celebration at Tanzore, and the Friday and Saturday events sell out every year. (The full Saturday event includes a 3-course dinner, live DJ and dancing, henna artist, fashion show, exhibition booths, Bollywood dancers, and club night.) Nick had a conflict for the weekend events, so we went on Thursday night, which was the 3-course dinner, plus a live Indian flute player and a henna artist.

We were asked if we wanted the veg or non-veg option, and both of us picked non-veg. Before I show the food photos, I have to knock a few Peppers off of my PHOTOS. My camera decided to give me a 3-photo warning before it died. (Thanks, Canon -- how about a 30-photo warning next time!) Nick saved the day with his iPhone -- but I am sad you can't get the full effect of the gorgeous presentation, including the arty-shaped white plates. (Note to self: Charge camera on a regular basis, with or without the warning light.)

The first course was a sampler trio of Tandoori Shrimp Kalimirch, Achari Chicken Tikka, and Lamb Stuffed Besan Chilla. The shrimp (left) was delicious. The chicken (right) was a little dry, but I liked it despite that. The lamb (center) was a little spicy, but in a good way. (The veg option would have been a trio of Paneer Methi Shashlik, Vegetable and Corn Fritters, and Upma Medallion.)

For the second course, I thought we'd have to choose between the three items, but, as it turned out, we each got all three! I liked the Tandoori Chillean Seabass (left) best of of the three. Also on this plate was an Adraki Lamp Chop, which I thought was just OK. It was gritty with spice.

Nick liked the Chicken Tikka Masala the best. I liked it a lot too. The sauce was yummy, and it had a unique background flavor that I couldn't quite place. This was served in the largest portion of the three, and I was too full to finish mine. The server said she'd put it in a to-go container, but then a kitchen employee accidentally threw it away. So, the server arranged for the chef to make me a fresh mini-batch of it to take home. This was a very sweet gesture that sent me home with a good feeling about the restaurant. (The veg main course would have been Okra Do-Pyaza, Spinach Kofta in Spinach Shorba, and Paneer Makhni.)

Also included were Naan, Basmati Rice, and two sauces.

For dessert, we did each have to make a choice: between the duo of Indian desserts of Gulab Jamon and RasMalai or a Fresh Fruit Tart. Luckily, we each wanted a different one so I got a bite of both options. The RasMalai (right; paneer soaked and served in cream with cardamom flavoring) was so amazing. It was cold and the flavor was so terrific. I've had a lot of mediocre RasMalai, but, wow, when it's done perfectly it may actually oust kulfi (Indian ice cream) as my favorite Indian dessert. The Gulab Jamon (left; a deep-fried ball of milk solids) was served warm, but it was just too sweet to be my style.

Nick's fruit tart was nice and fresh, garnished with a sprig of mint and some cream on the side.

My one real complaint about the meal is that it didn't have a single vegetable. (Nick's response, "I didn't care that it didn't have a vegetable...and you can quote me on that.") But if I'd gone the veg dinner route, the veg meal would have been the same price as the non-veg meal -- which doesn't seem fair.

Drinks were an additional cost. Nick got a Taj Mahal beer. A nice thing about Tanzore is that, unlike most Indian restaurants, it actually has an extensive wine list.

My other issues with Tanzore are the host stand situation and the parking. The host at the host stand was on the phone both times we tried to talk to him (originally to be seated, then to ask if Tanzore validated parking). A server wound up having to seat us. I'm sure the host was busy taking other reservations, but it just seems like if taking reservations is his role, he shouldn't be placed at the front stand where real-life patrons are walking in and out and might need assistance. For parking, plan to pay -- either at a meter on the street (I think the Beverly Hills meters take credit cards, which is at least a plus), or park in the adjacent garage for $2.50 for lunch or $4.50 for dinner. Later in the evening and on popular nights, paid valet parking is also available. We didn't get any discount on our parking for dinner and we both had to take separate cars (we both came from work), so it was aggravating to spend $9 on parking when we'd just spent over $50 each on dinner.

Tanzore is definitely one of the premiere special occasion restaurants in Southern California. It hosts all kinds of other cool events throughout the year (Halloween parties, New Year's Eve parties, etc.), so join its mailing list here to stay in the know.

What's your favorite "special occasion" Indian restaurant in Southern California?

Tanzore, 50 N La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills 90211. (310) 652-3894.
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