Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Restaurant: All Indian Sweets & Snacks, Torrance

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Taste-wise, the Indian food is below average, but there are some yummy sweets available, a mini-grocery store inside, and surprisingly inexpensive food options that justify trying out All Indian Sweets & Snacks if you're in the area.

 5 out of 10 Peppers = Medium

The Details: Actions speak louder than words, and, as much as I love to support my neighborhood mom-and-pop restaurants, it is hugely obvious to anyone who knows me at all that I don't like the food at All India Sweets & Snacks. It is literally a two-minute drive from the office where I spend my weekdays, but I rarely ever get lunch there. Two of my best friends go there at least once a week and bring their lunches back to the office, which prompted one of my other co-workers to whisper, "You don't like that place, do you?"

No, I personally don't. Though I will say that it has improved in the five years that I've been casually avoiding it. When I first tried it, it only offered vegetarian food. It was (and still is) mostly served cafeteria-style, where you point to the items that you want. Unfortunately, due to all of the curry sauce covering the solid ingredients and a language barrier with some of the employees, I once accidentally got a potato curry. Did I mention that I really dislike potatoes? My friends had a good laugh over it (I'll admit, it was pretty funny, as I slowly realized what it was during my first bite), but I was none too happy about that. Since then, the restaurant has added several meat options, and, in general, those are better. The restaurant tends to use too much turmeric with its vegetables, but is better job with the meat.

Price-wise, you really can't beat it. Lunch -- and a huge portion (it would be a two-day lunch for me) -- is like $5. So, if you're waiting for your next paycheck and are about to resort to McDonald's, then try this place instead. (There is a $10 credit card minimum though, so bring cash.)

I made my annual visit to check out this place right before Diwali 2010. I figured it would be an affordable and convenient place to buy some sweets to share with my coworkers in honor of the happy occasion.

Out front, the restaurant had a festive temporary Diwali display. There were various religious and cultural items for sale, including sindoor (vermilion) and pretty candle holders. But there was also baking soda. We hoped that wasn't for if you accidentally set your house on fire with Diwali candles.

For lunch, I got a combo plate. For my meat, I picked Chicken Tikka Masala. The chicken was a little tough and the sauce wasn't sweet enough. For one of my veg sides, I got the cauliflower. It was a little spicy, but that was OK. For my second vegetable, I got the beans, which I thought the best of the three items I choose. FYI: My friend Melanie says that on days when the okra dish is available to definitely get that; she says it's delicious.

The lunch combo comes with white rice (which is put on your plate first, then you choose which dish you'd like poured over it) and Chapati (shown here), an unleavened Indian bread. I'm pretty sure you can upgrade to other kinds of bread, like naan.

For a sharable fresh sweet, I bought some Besan Ladoo, which is a round dessert made with gram flour. This was really yummy. It was flaky and has a taste similar to peanut butter. (It's pay per pound for the fresh sweets.) I also bought some packaged shelf-shable sweets to share: Haldiram's Karachi Halwa ($8.99) and Bikano's Soan Cake ($4.99). Each contained 12 individually wrapped pieces.

Seating here is limited at at communal tables, so as usual we took our food back to the office. (The tables are generally full of Indian patrons, which is a testament to the restaurant. I'm just not sure if it's a testament to the food or to the prices.)

For a place that has a lot of to-go customers, the packaging really needs to be improved. (As I'm mentioned previously it's one of my pet peeves when curry dishes are put in flat containers that spill, instead of in bowl-shaped ones.)

One neat thing her is that the restaurant does contain a mini-Indian grocery store. That's definitely a nice added convenience. This time, I bought chaat masala. They sell other spices/spice blends, daal, and I've heard the elusive Indian cola Thums Up is available (though it wasn't in the visible refrigerated case).

What's your favorite budget-friendly Indian restaurant?

All Indian Sweets & Snacks, 20916 Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance 90503. (310) 370-5156. [no website]

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Recipe: Corn with Lime and Chaat Masala

Just three ingredients make an easy Indian-spiced side -- thanks, Jasleen!

Ingredients:
2 ears of corn
1 lime, quartered
2 tsp. chaat masala (like MDH Chunky Chat Masala -- available at Indian grocery stores. You can also find chaat masala blends on Amazon.com.)

You'll Also Need:
a large pot

1. Fill the pot with water (enough to cover the corn) and bring it to a boil.

2. While you're waiting the water to boil, remove the husks from the corn and rinse.
3. Place the corn in the pot, bring back to a boil, and cook for 5 minutes.

4. Place the corn on a plate or serving tray, rub two lime quarters over each ear, then squeeze the lime quarters so the juice covers each ear.
5. Sprinkle about 1 tsp. of chaat masala on each ear.
Serves 2.

The AHH Factor: When I asked Jasleen, a friend since high school and current ophthalmology resident in Chicago, if she had any recipes I could publish on saagAHH, she initially didn't know if she had anything to offer -- saying that she tended to use pre-mixed boxes of spices for everything Indian that she cooks. I, of course, told her that pre-mixed spices are great! There are so many options these days and, with plenty of Indian stores just down the road from me in Artesia, Calif. (though this time, I was in Torrance, so I bought this mix from All India Sweets & Snacks) and with mixes now available on Amazon.com
(I knew I bought that Prime membership for a reason!), it seems silly not to take help when I can get it. So, chaat masala is a dried mango powder-based spice blend that can be added to virtually anything. Jasleen got this particular recipe through an Indian uncle and family friend, and it's one of her favorites. Nick and I both enjoyed it, though Nick pointed out that I could have been more careful in making sure there weren't huge clumps of chaat masala stuck randomly on the corn -- so try to break up any clumps in the mix before sprinkling it on!

What's your favorite way to dress up corn?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Restaurant: The India's Tandoori, Burbank

The India's Tandoori has some excellent dishes and is in an adorable neighborhood, but the slow service and blah interior take it down a few notches.
Rating: 6 out of 10 Peppers = Medium 

The Details: Ahh, the lure of the Groupon. When Nick's friend Nicole mentioned that she'd bought a Groupon for The India's Tandoori in Burbank and needed help using it, we, of course, obliged. That's just the kind of friends we are!

It's located in downtown Burbank, which, by the way, is surprisingly cute! I don't venture into the Valley often, but I liked how walkable this downtown is -- there are a ton of restaurants (more than 80, according to a tourism site), 200 shops, plus the occasional fine arts festival and a summer concert series. Plus, we were there on Halloween, so children had donned costumes and were going from business to business to claim their candy. (I was happy that The India's Tandoori participated in the candy giveaway.)

The restaurant interior is blah. There are some Indian wall hangings in frames on the walls, and the music was way too loud. I'm a loud talker in general, but I found myself yelling over the music (especially embarrassing during the pauses between songs).

Service was exceptionally slow. I actually got worried toward the end of our meal when we couldn't find anyone to bring us our bill -- and our free parking spot was only intended for 90 minutes. It really shouldn't take more than 90 minutes to eat dinner at a casual restaurant. Not cool, The India's Tandoori.

The restaurant offers the standard complimentary papadum, which is always nice, but it took a really long time to come out of the kitchen -- apparently because the cook wanted to burn it first.


After I added sugar, the Chai Tea was good. Also, it came with free refills.


In some cases, bigger isn't better. These Lamb Samosas would have been better if they were smaller. Parts of these large samosas were devoid of filling, and the filling that was inside tended to fall out after a bite or two.


The Chicken Tikka Masala "melts in your mouth," Nicole commented. I agree that this dish, especially the sauce, was excellent.

Turned out we couldn't use the Groupon toward the Tandoori Mixed Grill (which we didn't find out until we tried to order it),but since ordered $30 worth of other items (the Groupon value), we were able to try out this dish. We figured that with a name like "The India's Tandoori," the visit wouldn't be complete without sampling the restaurant's tandoori specials. This dish included mostly chicken tandoori, with some lamb tikka, fish tikka, sheekh kabob, and (one) tandoori king prawn (the prawn was big, so we split it). I think tandoori chicken is a barometer for how good an Indian restaurant is, and this restaurant passed this test. The chicken was great and not too dry (a common problem). I didn't think the fish worked, but both Nicole and Nick liked it. Nick was impressed that the fish stood up to baking. I wasn't impressed with the prawn -- it had too much lime juice and was dry.

It is a compliment to the restaurant that Nick liked the Matar Paneer, a dish of green peas and Indian cheese in a saffron sauce. (He tends to not like most vegetarian dishes.)

The restaurant's Naan was good. We got the regular naan, but the restaurant does offer many naan choices from Cheese Naan to Garlic Basil Naan to Chicken Naan.

We also ordered some rice, which I believe was the Pullao Rice for $1.95.

The last thing that aggravated me is one of my pet peeves with Indian restaurants -- don't put liquid-laden curry dishes into leaky tray-style foam to-go containers. I find that most Indian restaurants realize this and will put curry dishes in deep bowl-shaped to-go containers, but sadly, The India's Tandoori has yet to catch on.

All in all, I wouldn't make the trek out to the Valley again to go here, but if I was in the area I'd be happy to stop by in for some of these dishes and to try out more of the menu.

Have you been to The India's Tandoori? What did you think? And what's your restaurant pet-peeve?


The India's Tandoori, 142 N San Fernando Blvd., Burbank 91502. (818) 848-0004.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Stand-Up Comedian: Rajiv Satyal

As I've previously mentioned, I'm overjoyed when I hear about Indian-Americans successfully venturing into non-traditional career fields (which to us, apparently means anything outside of engineering, medicine, or finance). I feel an instant camaraderie with them and wonder if they too had to bear the embarrassment of repeatedly being asked at Indian social functions, "When are you getting a real job?" (Mostly by my own parents, actually -- who finally gave up about three years ago. Before that, they would spend a disproportionate amount of their time embarrassing/threatening/begging me into abandoning my writing career. Secretly, I think they still hold out hope that I'll pick something else. This, despite the fact that I've been a successful professional writer for over 7 years. But I digress.)

So, when I met stand-up comedian Rajiv Satyal at an event hosted by the Network of Indian Professionals about two years ago, I was super excited. Nick had met Rajiv before and felt a camaraderie with him too -- but that's just because they share the same last name. (As good a reason as mine, when you really get down to it.)

Rajiv is a reformed engineer, actually, and I can genuinely appreciate that. I caught his show for the first time last week at The Laugh Factory in Hollywood, where he hosted for Tim Allen. I'm not going to use the saagAHH 10 pepper rating system because I don't really have the expertise to rate comedians, but I will say this: I loved his performance.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but I guess I wasn't expecting Rajiv to be as hilarious as he truly was, because after his first set I said to Nick, "Wow, he's actually really good." I loved his self-deprecating humor mixed in with his sharp pop culture commentary and witty observations about life. I especially enjoyed a joke he made playing off of the Usher (featuring Pitbull) song "DJ Got Us Falling in Love" -- where he observed that maybe it's not such a great idea to "dance like it's the last night of your life."

Reviewers always say that when it comes to comedy, delivery is everything. Rajiv has the art of joke delivery mastered -- I loved how he used the inflection in his voice to give his jokes dimension. (I also liked how his inflection helped keep me awake. I have serious problems staying awake for anything after work toward the end of the workweek!)

He didn't do any "Indian"-themed jokes during this set, which was appropriate as Nick and I were likely the only two South Asians in the audience, but Nick has seen Rajiv perform at a different venue and said that his Indian jokes are funny as well. Honestly, of all of the Indian comedians I've seen (probably about four in total -- including the most famous Indian comedian, Russell Peters), Rajiv is the only one whose show I'd recommend to a friend.

If you get a chance to catch him in action, do. Actually, you can plan on it by checking out the dates of upcoming shows on his website: www.funnyindian.com.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Recipe: No-Bake Bengali Coconut Snowballs

A Bengali dessert, these snowballs (otherwise known as naru) are actually great year-round.

Ingredients:
8 oz. sweetened, flaked coconut
2 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup instant non-fat dry milk (a powder you can find in the baking aisle, usually with the condensed milk)

You'll Also Need:
a large non-stick pot, cookie tray, parchment paper (but don't worry -- you're not baking), and (optional) a blender

1. (Optional) Pour the coconut and the half-and-half into the blender and blend for about 15 seconds.

2. Pour the coconut and half-and-half into a large non-stick pot. (If you skipped Step 1, stir the two together.) Turn the heat to high until the mixture boils, then lower it to a low-ish medium. Stir occasionally.
3. While the half-and-half is reducing, line the cookie tray with parchment paper.

4. As the mixture reduces, you'll need to stir it more frequently. After about 30 minutes (give or take about 5 minutes, depending on a number of factors), it will look like the above picture.

5. Pour in the dry milk. Stir through.
6. Let cool for 30 minutes. (Don't let it cool for too long, or you'll have one gigantic congealed not-remotely-snowball-shaped mess in the bottom of your pot.)

7. Take a heaping tablespoon of the coconut mixture and roll it between your palms, creating a snowball. Place on the cookie sheet and continue rolling until the pot is empty.
8. Refrigerate for at least an hour before enjoying.
Makes about 15 snowballs.

The AHH Factor:
Who in her right mind would turn down an invitation to a holiday cooking exchange, right? Who, except for me, who is baking-phobic of course. Luckily, I came up with a brilliant plan to claim my cookies. And I earned them too!

So, this recipe obviously doesn't involve any baking, but it's a little exotic and plenty festive and, well, if anyone had tried to claim it wasn't a "cookie," I would simply have grabbed my free cookies and run out the door! Bah humbug. I got this recipe from my mom and it is indeed a traditional Bengali dessert. I have yet to see it outside of Bengali circles or at any Indian restaurants. In Bengali, they're known as naru (or narkel naru, if you prefer, narkel meaning "coconut") and are similar to the easier-to-find coconut ladoo, except that ladoo are a lot more complicated to make.

Oh, and about Step 1. My mom would tell you it was NOT optional. She puts it in a blender every time. Actually, I sort of led her to believe that I did too. But let's face it, the blender step would have caused me to bow out for real. And honestly, they're just as delicious without the use of a blender. So much so in fact that, embarrassingly, Nick and I ate so many that I had to make a second, much larger, batch so I'd have some to take to the exchange the next day! Oops.

As you can see, the cookie exchange was quite delicious. And no one seemed to mind that I didn't bake my offering.

What are your favorite wintertime cookie recipes?
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