Sunday, October 30, 2011

Naya, Silver Lake, Restaurant Review

Just opened Naya in Silver Lake refines Tantraz (previously in its location and with some of the same staff) and gives the space a complete makeover.

8 out of 10 Peppers = Extra Spicy

After driving over an hour in stop-and-go traffic (in what we'd, foolishly, thought would be a 15-minute trip), we arrived at the doors of just-opened Indian restaurant Naya in Silver Lake. Except as we pulled up to the $5 valet, Nick scanned the space and said, "We've been here before." Thank God my keys were already in the valet attendant's hands or I may have erupted in a serious case of road rage. After hearing the buzz all over LA that a "brand new" Indian restaurant had just opened days before, how was it possible that we'd eaten here months ago?

Well, as it turns out, we'd been here, yet hadn't been exactly here. We'd been to Tantraz, which had the same chef and a similar high-end fusion niche, but this was a new incarnation: Naya, that, yes, had just (re-?) opened days before. It has a different owner than Tantraz did, and an improved interior design. The chef too has improved and been more precise in carving out a niche. And there's a cool lounge now too.

THE SETTING

The design of Tantraz was too bank vault-esque to me, but Naya comes to life with flowing feminine white fabrics and a much more romantic feel. Nick said it felt like we were inside a wedding. Naya has a connected lounge with its own entrance that is moody bronze. The lounge serves the full restaurant menu and a unique happy hour menu is in the works. The specialty cocktail list is fun, with drink names like Spa in Goa, Buddha's Bed, and The Hot Yogi. Both the restaurant and the lounge are great date places and the large booths would be great for a birthday party or other festive occasion. Service was great, and I'm hoping the staff will be able to keep that up over time. The big negative is the parking still sucks (plan to pay for valet if you don't know the area). Also, our seats were near the restaurant entrance and for part of our meal we could smell car exhaust from cars idling just outside. Also, there's a ton of fish entrees at the menu, so the restaurant smelled heavily of fish for part of our meal. I love fish, but it was odd to smell it when we weren't eating it ourselves.

THE FOOD

We knew as soon as we saw the samosa (spelled "samoosas" here, and I'm not sure why) that it was Tantraz chef Imran Ali. (We confirmed this later.) One of our friends, Amrapal, refers to them as "designer samosas." These samosas have a frilly garnish and are a-little-too-perfect little crispy triangles. They also have hit-or-miss creative fillings. We got the assorted samosas, which were four different fillings. The potato and peas is the traditional samosa. Feta cheese, arugula, and walnut made for a somewhat sweet appetizer. Spinach and tofu tastes like spanakopita. Kidney beans and nacho cheese was fun. At first, Nick didn't like it, but then remarked it'd be cool at an Indian fast food joint. I really liked it, but I'm a huge fan of nacho cheese (not my best moment, I admit). No free papadum here, by the way, I'm wondering if the restaurant will add it as its working out the kinks.

The food is progressive, and I love the creativity. And taste-wise it's better than Tantraz's was. (Hence, the extra pepper in the rating.) Nick got the Naya Pot Pie with lamb. (It's also available with vegetables or with chicken.) It wasn't exactly what I expected -- I thought it would be Indian-flavored chicken with the other typical pot pie ingredients. This was actually biryani in a naan-lined and topped copper bowl. It had a cool presentation though. One of the employees emerged to cut the top off of the pie, which made it all fancy. In addition to what you see in the photo, there were also big chunks of lamb under the rice. Nick said he liked the little bits of lamb mixed into the lamb better than the big chunks, but for $18, I was happy that the big chunks were included.

I ordered the Tandoori Cornish Hen. Honestly, I ordered this because I was starvvving after being stuck in traffic for so long, and I envisioned the glory of having a mini-chicken all to myself. That wasn't exactly true. The Cornish hen piece was the size of about one and half chicken breasts. But it's OK. The five-spice blend was delicious and the chicken was cooked perfectly. Plus, as is my norm, after a few bites my stomach was full anyway. I was especially impressed with the Raita on the plate. It had a lot of cucumber in it, and, for probably the first time, I liked the yogurt side.

We ordered Spinach with Cheese a la carte. (The spinach is also available with cheese or with corn.) This dish was truly delicious. It may be the best Indian spinach I've ever had. Even Nick liked it, and he normally claims to like vegetables while leaving all of them untouched on his plate. He was scarfing this one down.

The dessert, Nick suggested the Chocomossa, but I reminded him that the chocolate samosas weren't that great last time. So we got the Cardomom Infused Rice Pudding & Ice Cream instead. Taste-wise it was yummy and the drizzled caramel was a nice touch, but the ordering process was confusing. Looking at the menu again now, it makes more sense. The restaurant wants you to pick a sauce to have drizzled over it: mango, caramel, chocolate, or rose. (When I read it the first time, I thought it meant all of those flavors would be included in the dessert, especially since we weren't asked which flavor we wanted.) I'm not really sure where the ice cream part is though. Maybe it was mixed into the pudding? It tasted like a light kheer with caramel sauce.

If you're in the area, I do recommend checking out Naya, though I'd advise waiting a few weeks to let it work through its growing pains. The restaurant is still waiting on its hard copy (not paper) menus and its lounge menu. The website just went up, so you can check out more photos and a chef bio there. I recommend making a reservation before you go, especially if you want to go on a weekend. (On this weeknight, the restaurant was about 1/3 full.) And leave early!

Naya, 3705 West Sunset, Los Angeles (neighborhood: Silver Lake), 90026. (323) 663-8268.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Diwali Celebrations in Southern California 2011

The pani puri table at the NETIP Flavors of India Gala 2010
Happy Diwali! Diwali starts on Oct. 26 this year, and the party starts even earlier! Here are some of the upcoming Diwali events in and around Los Angeles.

Oct. 21:
:5th Annual Show Off on the Red Carpet Diwali event, Tanzore restaurant, Beverly Hills. 3-course festival menu, henna artist, exhibitions booths, Bollywood dancers, plus DJ and dancing after 10 p.m.

:Diwali Dinner, Norwalk. Organized by Indo American Senior Heritage. Dinner and musical entertainment.

:Youth Diwali Party, Norwalk. Organized by Shree Ramkabir Bhakta Samaj. Dinner and dancing.

Oct. 22:
:5th Annual Show Off on the Red Carpet Diwali event, Tanzore restaurant, Beverly Hils. 3-course festival menu, henna artist, exhibitions booths, Bollywood dancers, plus DJ and dancing after 10 p.m.

:Diwali Celebrations. Organized by Shree Ramkabir Bhakta Samaj. Dinner and dancing.

Oct. 23:
:Children's Day, Tanzore restaurant, Beverly Hills. Live music, story-telling, fashion show, dance performances, Diwali crafts, 15% discount to Tanzore brunch if attend Children's Day.

:Diwali Celebration, Simi Valley. Organized by A More Balanced World. Song, dance, dining.

Oct. 27:
:Annual Meeting and Diwali Celebration, Norwalk. Organized by Matiya Patidar Center. Social hour, annual meeting, sparklers (children under 15), dinner and social. 

Nov. 5:
:Diwali Cultural Program, Clifton Middle School Auditorium, Monrovia, Calif. Organized by the Pasadena Hindu Temple.

Nov. 6:
:A Joyful Diwali Celebration, Agoura Hills, Calif. Organized by Chili Beatz (an L.A.-based band that specializes in Bollywood music). Live Bollywood music, dinner, dancing, plus belly dance performance.

Dec. 3:
:Network of Indian Professionals (NETIP) LA-OC Annual Combined Diwali/Holiday Gala. Dinner, entertainment, and dancing. Updated 11/16: Hosted by Miss India Galaxy Diksha Vadan, this year's gala will be at the Kyoto Grand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. This year's theme is "A Night of Elegance." Buy tickets at http://www.membership.netip.org/assnfe/Ev.asp?ID=119

Also, Indian fashion site Exclusively.In is having a Diwali sale. I believe it's spend $100 get $20, spend $250 get $55, or spend $400 get $100.

If I left off an event, please leave me a comment with the details or e-mail it to sree[at]saagahh.com.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mezbaan, Pasadena, Restaurant Review


Go for the extensive alcohol menu (including 7 Indian beers!) and stay for the tasty Indian cuisine at Mezbaan in Old Town Pasadena.

8 out of 10 Peppers = Spicy

Old Town Pasadena is a sweet place to experience South Asian food. In just a few blocks, there are at least five Indian and/or Nepalese restaurants, including the new Himalayan Cafe and our perennial favorite Tibet Nepal House. Each has its own niche. For Mezbaan, its the alcohol. It has its own Maikhana Beer & Wine Lounge, which has some great beer and wine specials. On Mondays and Thursdays, there are $2 drink specials. I was impressed that the restaurant carries seven different Indian beers.We went on a weekend, so unfortunately, we didn't get any special drink prices (I think those are only in the lounge anyway), but Nick did try one of the crazy drink offerings.

THE SETTING

The main restaurant is pretty standard when it comes to decor -- nothing special. There are some framed Indian-styled fabric pieces on the walls. There's also a lengha (the Indian outfit that's the fitted blouse with the long embellished shirt) on the wall, which I thought was cool but Nick thought looked like a cheap attempt at decor. The restaurant uses metal glasses for water, which felt authentic since everyone in India seems to drink out of metal glasses, and custom-labeled plates that say "Mezbaan".

The wine bar is a semi-private area that holds about 60 people. There's also a patio, which the night we were there was holding a wedding reception.

THE FOOD

Let's actually talk more about those drinks first. Nick ordered an intriguing concoction called the "Whatever." Description? "An undisclosed mix of alcohol and juices." Our best guess: rum and ginger ale? Whatever it was, Nick said it was "mad strong." It tasted pretty good, but Nick didn't finish it.

I ordered a (non-alcoholic) mango lassi. When our server brought it to the table, I thought she got my order mixed up because the drink looked more like mango juice than like a lassi. It was thin and had ice in it. The server said this was indeed Mezbaan's version of a lassi, adding that it was Americanized. She offered to remix it with more yogurt to make it thicker, but it was refreshing as it was so I kept it.

The papadum was free. It was your standard papadum. Most foods are yummy when they're free :)

We got an order of Keema Samosa's, one of Nick's faves. It came with two fairly large samosas. They were deliciously hot and fresh.

We wound up ordering two orders of sesame naan. Normally one is enough for us to share, but both of our dishes had a lot of gravy this time, so two was the way to go.

We were definitely curious about the Lobster Karahi -- we've never seen lobster on the menu at an Indian restaurant before -- but neither of us were interested in spending $22.95 on our entree at the time. That one is on the list of things to go back and try. For this visit, Nick got the Lamb Madras (a more affordable $14.95). It was a unique blend of textures for an Indian dish: there were chunks of lamb meat, plus ground lamb. It was all in a South Indian-style coconut curry sauce. We ordered it (and my dish) mild.

I got the saag aloo (spinach and potatoes). It was good, not great. I'm not generally a big potato fan, but dishes here are served family style (as is typical at Indian restaurants), and Nick likes potatoes.

I'd definitely go to Mezbaan again. It's a solid Indian food experience. If Nick still lived in Pasadena, I'd say we should go try out their happy hour specials. If YOU live in Pasadena, feel free to try them out and leave me a comment :) I'll live vicariously through your "Whatever."

Mezbaan, 80 N Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena 90013. (626) 405-0580.

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