Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Giveaway: Ice Cream from Saffron Spot

THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED

Courtesy of the owner of Indian ice cream restaurant Saffron Spot in Artesia, Calif., we have a delicious ice cream giveaway this week! One lucky saagAHH reader will get two free scoops of your choice of Neemo's Ice Cream flavor from Saffron Spot -- one scoop for you and one to share with a friend.

Saffron Spot is one of the few restaurants that's earned a perfect 10 Pepper rating, which means I highly recommend you stop by--whether you win or not. (P.S. If you win you get a "secret password" with which to claim your prize -- as if the free ice cream wasn't already enough to impress your date!)

Entering is easy, and there's no purchase necessary to win. All you have to do is check out this list of Saffron Spot's flavors, then leave a note in the comments section for this blog post saying either 1) which flavor(s) you've tasted at Saffron Spot and your opinion of them, or 2) if you haven't been to Saffron Spot, which flavor you'd most like to try and why. You can get 1 bonus entry if you sign up as a "follower" of saagAHH (on the lower right side of this page), for a max of 2 entries in the giveaway. (If you are or become a follower, leave a second comment letting me know that you're following saagAHH.)

Update 6/17/11: If you're unfamiliar with the commenting options available in the drop-down, simply pick "Name/URL" and leave the URL line blank.Thanks!

Rules: Open to U.S. residents only. Entries must be received by 5 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday, 6/17/11. Entries received after that time will not be included in the giveaway. The winner will be drawn using a random number generator. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received.

The winner will be announced on saagAHH by end-of-day on Sunday. The winner will have 3 days to respond to get his/her "secret password" or an alternate winner may be drawn. I recommend leaving identifying info with your comment (such as a first name and/or link to your own website that has your contact information) to make it easier for me to contact you if you win. (Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't have a good option for hiding your e-mail address, so if you put that in your comment it will be posted.) Or just tune in over the next few days to see if you won!

Good luck, and happy eating!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Restaurant: Himalayan Cafe, Pasadena

Old Town Pasadena now has a second Nepalese-Tibetan restaurant in its midst. Newbie Himalayan Cafe is worth a visit, but not quite as good as established Tibet Nepal House.


7 out of 10 Peppers = Spicy

The Details: I felt a little bit like I was cheating on Tibet Nepal House when Nick and I decided to check out the new Nepalese-Indian restaurant on the block. Newly opened in Old Town Pasadena (less than half a mile from Tibet Nepal House), Himalayan Cafe is a second Pasadena option for tasty Nepalese, Tibetan, and Indian cuisine.

It was near impossible for me to not compare the two restaurants, and Tibet Nepal House is better, hands-down, on virtually all counts, from food quality to decor to parking. (Himalayan Cafe doesn't validate anywhere; however, it is right next door to the School House public parking structure that offers free parking for your first 90 minutes.) But Himalayan Cafe is a worthy restaurant, so if the city is able to support two restaurants in the same niche (not to mention the four or so other Indian restaurants in Old Town!), then more power to it.

At the door, a friendly employee was passing out fliers and really working it to get people inside. Nick was already seated, so I didn't have to be convinced, but I stopped to talk to the employee for a minute anyway. Once inside, I saw that it was fairly busy on this Saturday night, but not as busy as Tibet Nepal House tends to be (though that could just be because Himalayan Cafe is new). The decor is OK. It has some South Asian-themed wall hangings and wood carvings, but the look isn't cohesive.

We were seated at a table by the kitchen doors, which I would not recommend because the smoke caused me to cough intermittently throughout the meal. The server was too aggressive when taking our order. He repeatedly kept trying to get us to add extra stuff to our order that we didn't want. Plus, the extra Nick did want -- Aloo Achar -- he informed us the restaurant was out of. Bummer!

Luckily, the kitchen had Chicken Momos, a Nepalese dumpling that's a perennial favorite. These were yummy. I don't think I've ever had a bad momo, come to think of it (is "momo" the singular of "momos"? that sounds so odd), and these were certainly as good as any others I've had.

Nick wanted to try to Shrimp Masala, described at tandoor-baked fresh tiger shrimp served in cream sauce with Himalayan spices. It was a nice sweet sauce. The shrimp pieces were smaller than I expected, but Nick said he liked the size of them for their texture.

Of course, I took it upon myself to order us something with vegetables, so I opted for the Chicken Saag, described as boneless chicken and garden fresh spinach with Himalayan spices. Nick didn't like the chicken, saying he thought it tasted "cheap," but I thought the chicken was perfectly tender. I did think the spinach needed more flavor.

The restaurant has a pretty extensive rice and breads section, including six different kinds of naan. We were in the mood for just plain Basmati Bhat (plain basmati steamed rice with a few peas), which is $2.99 and was enough to share.

So, we don't have a new favorite go-to Nepalese restaurant, but I would eat here again. I feel like for every three or four times we eat at Tibet Nepal House (where we go probably more often than any other restaurant; it may be tied with Domenicos in Long Beach, an Italian restaurant with an amazing ground pepperoni pizza, as our go-to restaurant for when we want guaranteed good food) we'd go to Himalayan Cafe once.

Have you been to Himalayan Cafe yet? What did you think of it? Have you tried the buffet? I'm definitely curious about that.

Himalayan Cafe, 36 S Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena. (626) 564-1560.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Recipe: Easy Peas-y Brown Rice

You can throw this fancy side dish together in less time that it would take you to prepare a traditional pot of rice.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup frozen peas
1 pouch (10 oz.) Trader Joe's Organic Brown Rice (in the frozen foods section)
1 1/2 Tbsp. Smart Balance buttery spread
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

You'll Also Need:
a microwave, a medium-sized pot

Step-by-Step:
1. Thaw the peas according to the package instructions using the microwave method.

2. Prepare the rice according to the package instructions (cut a small slit in the top, then microwave for 3 minutes).
3. Melt the Smart Balance in a pot. Add the cinnamon stick, garlic powder, ground ginger, and ground cardamom.

4. Add the peas. Stir to coat.
5. Add the rice. Stir to coat.

Serves 2.

The AHH Factor: I came up with this super simple version of the Indian classic Peas Pulao when I was trying to use up a bag of peas that had been sitting in my freezer for a while. It's amazing what a few simple ingredients will do to liven up a pot of rice! It's become my new go-to side dish for Indian entrees. I feel like the addition of even just the peas elevates the dish to almost restaurant quality. It's certainly a great dish for company.

Have I mentioned how much I love Trader Joe's pre-cooked frozen brown rice? That has been such a time-saver. It's sadly not basmati rice, but other than that it's the perfect dinner shortcut. Especially because Nick prefers white rice while I prefer brown rice, so this way I don't have to cook two separate pots of rice (though I'm still hoping he'll convert to brown rice--hi babe!).

What's your favorite rice-based dish? Have you tried Trader Joe's precooked rice--did you love it?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Restaurant: Lush Lounge, Long Beach

An Indian restaurant (plus nightclub), Lush Lounge is a delicious addition to downtown Long Beach.

 
8 out of 10 Peppers = Spicy

The Details: It might seen odd that I wanted to "work" on my birthday, AKA go to an Indian restaurant, but I'd been searching for an excuse to go back to Lush Lounge in Long Beach ever since I first discovered it in February. It's a new venue in downtown Long Beach across from the Long Beach Convention Center (it was formerly "Ice Bar", though I was unaware of it back then), and the owner is Indian. Which sounds like a random comment on my part for the nightclub part of the venue; however, it is totally relevant to the soon-to-open Indian restaurant part of the venue.

If it's "soon-to-open," then how did I already eat dinner there, you ask? Well, it was my birthday after all, and magical things have a way of happening on my birthday.

OK, so truth be told, you may be able to get in before it opens too, as the owner has been hosting quite a few private parties, weddings, etc., even before the restaurant is fully open. Apparently, a Bollywood starlet even had her birthday party at Lush a week before mine.

The February event I attended was a party organized by an Indian networking group that I'm a member of. That night, Lush served Indian appetizers including samosas, pakoras, and garbanzo beans. The food was too small of a sample for me to write an accurate review on, but I was captivated by the space. First, it was huge; it felt like three times the size of any other club I'd been to in Long Beach. Second, it had a cool modern aesthetic. Third, it had all sorts of semi-private areas including flowing outdoor cabanas (which at times double as hookah lounges). Plus, there were multiple bars throughout the space, and one of the bartenders told me that Lush was planning on being a restaurant too and that it would serve Indian fare.

Fast forward to the end of April, when I decide to visit Lush's website to see if the restaurant was open yet. On the restaurant tab of the website were tantalizing Indian dishes, but also a note that said "coming soon: Indian cuisine." However, I'd heard through the grapevine that the owner was willing to serve Indian food to groups before the full opening, so I got her contact info through the networking group, reached out to her, and waited to hear back. I figured that regardless I'd see if I could get a booth at the nightclub with bottle service (which I wound up doing, as it got my friends into the club for free), and that if she couldn't accommodate a dinner, then I'd just take my group to a nearby restaurant beforehand.

It took a while to get a definite answer, but eventually it did come back as a yes! Lush, it turns out, already has a fully operational kitchen and a network of chefs who offer catering services on location. The owner told me it would be a limited menu only and gave me examples of some dishes they'd be able to serve. I said a limited menu was fine with me, we set a time, and I had to give her a headcount and a per person budget, and we were all set.

I wasn't certain how the food would be served before I got there, and as it turned out it was family style. Most of the entrees were placed in various spots throughout the tables, except for the Samosas, which the attentive servers walked around. I appreciate how the chef put a little garnish on the platter to spruce it up. It was served with a mint sauce. We also got Pakoras as a second appetizer.

We also shared plates of an Indian-style Green Salad, which consisted of cucumbers, tomatoes, and cilantro. This is actually one of the salads I typically make when I entertain Indian-style, as it's easy to put together (I dress mine in coarse salt and lime juice) and is a great complement to most Indian dishes. My friend Jillian commented that she loved how generous the restaurant was with the cilantro.

The one thing that was odd with the main entree service is the servers came around to ask each of us individually which entree we wanted for dinner--garbanzo beans, paneer, or chicken tikka--but then all three entrees were served family-style and placed randomly throughout the tables. Our best guess is the taking-our-orders part was only so the chef knew about how much of each dish to make. Family-style was cool with me, as I was happy to be able to get a little taste of everything, but one of my friends is vegan (I'd mentioned this to the owner in advance, so the garbanzo beans dish was primarily for her) and I'm sure she was bummed that she couldn't partake in the bounty.

I'd personally ordered the Chicken Tikka, and it was excellent. It had a slightly sweet flavor to it and included raisins, which added to the sweet aspect and enhanced the texture of the dish.

The Paneer entree had great flavor, but it was too spicy for me. I took a bite of that one and kept on passing.

The other dish that was too spicy was the Cauliflower/Vegetable side dish.

The Paratha was a highlight of the meal for sure. Everyone loved it, plus it was a fun switch up from the typical naan. It was so buttery and soft.

We also got Turmeric-seasoned Rice to go with our dinner. When I first saw the yellow rice, I assumed it was saffron-seasoned, but my friends Amishi and Greg set me straight by clarifying it was turmeric. (Sad but I am still learning my Indian spices!) I was kind of surprised because generally turmeric tends to make foods bitter when used in large amounts, but the rice wasn't bitter at all. As common with Indian rice, it was mixed with some peas, and was a great accompaniment.

The Raita was a bit odd (at least I think it was raita). I personally liked it because I don't generally like raita -- but this didn't taste like raita, it tasted like sour cream. I'm not really sure if that was intentional...

Dessert was so cute. I'd asked in advance if I could bring a cake, and the owner said that would be fine but that maybe it would be easier if Lush just served one of the cheesecakes it kept on hand. Cheesecake of course isn't Indian, but it certainly sounded like an easier plan, so I said we'd go with that. So, at the end of dinner, the servers brought out fruit-topped cheesecake slices for everyone, plus my slice had lit candles in it and an Indian Rasmalai on the side. Score!

All in all, I was very happy with the meal. As for a "limited" menu, it seemed pretty bountiful to me! Our friend Liz even said it was the best Indian food she ever had--and that she couldn't wait for our wedding if my birthday food was this good! That made me smile, and, while I wouldn't rank Lush as the best Indian food I've ever had, I'd definitely say it's considerably above average Indian restaurant fare. Lush isn't catering our wedding (more on our wedding caterer in a few months :) ), since our wedding is in Atlanta, but if the wedding was here and we were looking for a caterer, I would put them on the short-list.

I appreciated the little touches the restaurant did to make the event feel special, from the birthday candles in the cheesecake to the purple tablecloths on the tables and the centerpieces of votive candles in jars of colored water. Several people commented how they loved how it felt like eating in a private restaurant.

The couple of downsides are I was having trouble getting responses to my e-mails from the owner. It frequently took four or five days for her to respond. E-mail (and texts, though moreso e-mails for event planning type things) tends to be my No. 1 way to communicate, so this was stressing me out in the days leading up to the event. I wasn't even sure the dinner was happening for sure until about three days before my birthday. However, the owner is much better with phone calls, and in the end much of the stuff was worked out via telephone.

Also, as much as I love eating outside (and believe me, I will take virtually any excuse to eat outside, whether it's on a balcony or a bench or on the beach) after the sun went down it was really freakin' cold during dinner. I would love it if Lush would put some heat lamps outside. After dinner when I was asked if I wanted our bottle service table to be inside or outside, I immediately yelped "inside." I think everyone in my group thanked me for that.

Parking at Lush (the entrance is on Ocean Blvd., across the median from Rock Bottom Brewery; it took me forever to find it the first time) is either free or $5/car, depending on the whims of the attendant. Usually the attendant leaves by 10 p.m. and it's free after he leaves, but on my birthday he left early (right around 7 p.m.) to see a televised fight, so many of my guests got to park for free. Nick got there before the attendant left, but he found street parking that was only metered for a few more minutes, so he paid like a quarter to park.

After dinner, some of us went inside as the restaurant transformed into a nightclub. It wasn't busy at first, but it got packed around 11:30. The DJ had good taste in music, but he was blaring it abnormally loud. I mean, of course it's going to be loud in a club, but I didn't remember it being even close to that loud when I first went in February or really at any other club I've been to. Or maybe I'm just getting old? Either way, I wound up leaving around midnight cause I was actually concerned for my hearing.

The service at Lush is top-notch. The owner asked me to tip 18% when we first made the plans, and I was happy to tip more than that because of how professional and courteous everyone was.

I'll try to post an update here when the restaurant is fully open (feel free to leave a comment if you know the date), but in the meantime if you'd like to plan an event there, contact the owner at channi1 [at] hotmail.com. Feel free to tell her Sree sent you.

What's your favorite SoCal birthday restaurant (Indian or not)?

Lush Lounge, 49 S Pine Ave., Long Beach 90802. (562) 436-8100.
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