Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dosa Truck, Los Angeles, Restaurant Review

Indian food roams the LA streets via several different food trucks, and in the case of the Dosa Truck, the best dishes are the Indian-Mexican fusion ones.

7 out of 10 Peppers = Spicy

I should be in charge of naming things. Sure, I write plenty of headlines that I think are pretty clever for articles at my magazine job, I once nicknamed a high school classmate "cowboy" (because he was from Kentucky and for some reason that is the only association I had with the state) and it actually spread and stuck for years (Sorry, Heath!), and I briefly tried to get Nick to call the 5-Freeway the "Panch" (the Bengali word for "five") because I thought it would be cute (he didn't). But I mean it would be great if people would hire me to solely to name random things: movies, inventions, books, etc. I would be so great at it.

And if I got to name the Dosa Truck, I would name it something having to do with amazing Indian fusion food truck cuisine. Because that is where it excels. The Mexican-Indian fusion dishes are amazing. But the dosas aren't very good (Sorry, Dosa Truck!), plus I don't think most folks here, even those familiar with Indian cuisine, actually know what a dosa is. (It's a savory South Indian lentil-rice crepe, generally stuffed with potatoes, in case you were wondering.) And the Dosa Truck doesn't include Sambar, the typical soup/dipping sauce served with dosas. Which is like serving a hot dog without ketchup.

THE SETTING

The Dosa Truck roams the streets of LA. The first time I caught it was at an Indian event (the annual Indian Film Festival, if I remember correctly). More recently, it happened to be outside a wine bar in Pasadena, where a dear friend (blogger Rhonda at Shine Beauty Beacon) was throwing a girls' night out party to celebrate her birthday.

THE FOOD

Rhonda was so thrilled because she can't eat gluten, and this was the first food truck the bar had partnered with in weeks that wasn't a gluten-fest (i.e., one of the grilled cheese trucks had been there earlier that month), and she had a lot of options. If you want vegan options, the truck has those too. (It doesn't use ghee so there's no dairy there, and it was very willing to take custom orders.)

So...I don't know if the food truck purposely has a "secret menu" (a la In-N-Out Burger) or if the employees simply forgot to post one or more of the menu boards this particular night, but I found that the best dishes were the ones that were not on the posted menu. But here's what I would order, in order (Did I mention Rhonda's friends were amazing and let me sample all of their food? This is why I love girls' night out. Wine and so much food):

One of the girls asked the employee taking food orders what her favorite dish was, and she responded that it's the Chicken Tostada. I definitely agree. It's fried roti topped with an assortment of sauteed veggies and chicken in Indian seasonings.  

Masala Fries were on the menu, but AHH for Sweet Potato Masala Fries. WHICH NO ONE SHOULD KEEP FROM ME! One of the girls somehow found out that sweet potatoes were on the truck and got these amazing bites of deliciousness.

Here are the standard Masala Fries. Despite the fact that I don't generally like non-sweet potatoes, I have to hand it to the Dosa Truck that the chunky tomato sauce was really delicious, and the fries' spice level was perfect.

I believe this was the "Tandoori Chicken Tacos" order, although it clearly looks like a quesadilla. But regardless, it was great and all of the Mex-Indian fusion dishes are great options.

The one traditional Indian item that I thought was perfect was the Mango Lassi. It was $4, so not cheap, but it's the most delicious lassi I've had to date. It tasted like it incorporated the flavors of rose, cardamom, and pistachio in with the mango and the yogurt.

These were the Samosas. They were crispy and well-flavored. I appreciated that they were served with two chutneys.

This was my actual order. The Goa Goodness, AKA spinach-mushroom-cheese dosa. It had a good mix of flavors but the dosa itself was soggy. And I couldn't blame that on the sambar since there wasn't any. In the Dosa Truck's defense, one of the girls got this dosa as a custom order without cheese (substituting caramelized onions instead) and hers wasn't soggy.

And here's the most traditional dosa, what the Dosa Truck has dubbed its Mumbai Madness. It's stuffed with curried potatoes. It's OK, but if you really want a good dosa, I'd recommend Annapurna Cuisine in Culver City.

I hope to catch this truck again in my excursions around LA. And next time, I'll know to order.

Dosa Truck, Los Angeles (location varies), dosatruck[at]gmail.com

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mini Indian-Seasoned Eggplant Pizzas with Mushrooms

You won't have to cut the crusts off this pizza, as the eggplant base makes it dough-free and fabulous.

Ingredients:
2 ~1/4-in. round eggplant slices
~1 Tbs. tomato paste
2 slices provolone cheese
~1 tsp. garlic powder
~1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
2 whole mushrooms

You'll Also Need:
a toaster oven

Step-by-Step:

1. Take each eggplant round and cross-hatch it. Rub in about 1/2 tsp. garlic powder into each round.
2. Place the seasoned eggplant on the toaster oven tray, preferably on top of a wire rack so the heat can get all around. Bake at 375° for 20 minutes.
3. Spread about 1/2 Tbs. tomato paste over each baked eggplant round.
4. Sprinkle the cumin seeds on top.
5. Top with a slice of provolone each.
6. Tear up the mushrooms and place the pieces on top of the cheese. Bake for about 7 more minutes.

Makes 2 mini-eggplant pizzas.

The AHH Factor: I have my share of vices when it comes to eating healthy. Fried chicken from KFC, even though I usually feel sick to my stomach after I eat it. Custard-y desserts, especially if they are lying around the house. Cheese is my Achilles' heel.

But I do have a lot of things going for me that help me maintain a healthy weight. I love almost all vegetables (eggplant is one of my all-time favorites). I go from ravenous to full in about five bites. And I hate almost all carbs.

Bread? Only if covered with the aforementioned cheese (even then I will probably find a way to separate the cheese from the bread). Potatoes? Only if they are sweet potatoes, thank you very much. Rice? I'm burnt out after eating in every day as a kid. I don't even really like pie crust. I'd much rather just have the filling.

So, like most people, I love a good pizza (or even a bad pizza), but I like everything about it except for the crust. So with this recipe, I've found a way to eliminate it entirely. Try it with all of your favorite pizza toppings. If you love eggplant like I do, you will find this the easiest and tastiest pizza "dough" around.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Chakra Indian Cuisine, Beverly HIlls, Restaurant Review

With superb cuisine, customer service, and atmosphere, Chakra Indian Cuisine is an amazing Indian food option in Beverly Hills.

10 out of 10 Peppers = Extra Spicy

The first time I ate at Chakra Indian Cuisine, the restaurant seemed as sparkly as the engagement ring that had been slipped onto my ring finger only a few hours before. After a private proposal, Nick sought a festive Indian restaurant to tell his family (who had flown in from Alaska for the occasion, his mom being privy to his plans) and decided on this reputed spot in Beverly Hills. It truly was the perfect venue. At the end of our meal, our server even emerged with a complimentary strawberry-festooned miniature cake with chocolate cursive lettering spelling "congratulations" on the white plate. Customer service is alive, well, and chocolate-coated (at least when you dine in Beverly Hills).

That was more than two and a half years ago, and Nick and I hadn't walked in the restaurant's red-carpeted entrance since. While the restaurant is lovely, delicious, and friendly, it is also out of our usual price range. However, we are plotting for a future in which our dining-out price range increases, and when Nick took a step toward that plan (and more importantly, toward being a better teacher) by passing his National Board Certification, we agreed, together as a married couple this time, that Chakra would be the perfect place to celebrate.

THE SETTING

Tied-back curtains decorate the space from the entry to the VIP room and to my personal favorite, the semi-private cabanas for two. The cabanas feature roomy curved velvet sofas, a table just large enough for an assortment of family-style entrees, and a romantic feel. I also love the water feature that separates the host stand from the dining area. Valet parking is free. It's been said that the space is fit for a king, well the King of Pop at least, as Michael Jackson frequented it. (That alone is probably reason enough for Nick to love any restaurant.)

THE FOOD

The food is primarily traditional North Indian cuisine, done superbly. There are a few adventurous dishes here and there, but the most adventurous aspect is the cocktail menu.

I ordered a Peacock Martini, which tasted like raspberries. The restaurant also has cocktails named after the seven chakras. Will a blend of Captain Morgan, passion fruit rum, and mango unblock your second chakra? I'm not sure, but I'd be willing to find out.

Since we were going all out, we opted for the Chef's Special Menu, a seven-course dinner for two for $75. This is a great way to impress a date, and a starving date at that. (We wound up with take-home bags.)

 The Papadum came with an assortment of chutneys in a lovely display.

The mushroom samosa in the Samosa Trio was brilliant. Not being a potato fan (the typical samosa filling), I am eager to make these at home.

Like everything else, the presentation of the Malai Chicken was terrific. Don't they say you eat with your eyes before you eat with your mouth? Your eyes will be very happy.

Some of the menu was set and some of it we got to pick, and I was impressed when our attentive server mentioned that we might want to switch our order from both the chicken tikka masala and the paneer masala because both came in the same flavored curry. (We switched the chicken to Tandoori Chicken. The other option would have been to switch the paneer to the daal of the day.)

When I initially looked at the Chef's Special, I thought pick one of the four entree categories (seafood, meat, poultry, and vegetarian), but on closer inspection, I realized we got to sample them all. How indulgent. We opted for the Shrimp Korma (over the fish curry) from the seafood choices.

The Lamb Ragan Ghosh was a perfectly cooked New Zealand lamb cooked in "passionate" Kashmir spices.

The Paneer Butter Masala had a delicious curry sauce. If you like chicken tikka masala, then give this dish a whirl. Paneer is a delicate quick Indian cheese.

It was served with aromatic saffron rice.
For bread, we had a choice of Naan (shown, available in garlic, butter, or plain), Paratha, or Roti.


And, unlike lots of dinners for two, we didn't have to split one dessert, we got to split two! The tri-colored Kulfi was my favorite, boasting the colors of the Indian flag with its mango and pistachio layers. We also enjoyed a Mango and Kashmir Apple Tart, served with vanilla ice cream.

The Chef's Special Menu was an amazing way to try a variety of the dishes available at Chakra. But I don't think you can  go wrong, whatever you order. Whether you have a special occasion with a lover, are trying to turn a first date into a lover, or want to impress your parents or in-laws, Chakra is an amazing place to make some memories.

Chakra Indian Cuisine, 151 South Doheny Drive  Beverly Hills, CA 90211. (310) 246-3999.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My "Kiss My 20s Goodbye" Birthday Party

I love an extended metaphor. Well, all literary techniques really -- metaphor, simile, analogy, symbolism, hyperbole, alliteration, you name it, I love it and, for fun, I'll even analyze novels for them. In my creative writing heyday, I could write an extended metaphor that would go on for an entire 12-page essay. I love all of the different ways of explaining an idea and how a metaphor or a simile can bring in all of the other senses, depending on what you're making a comparison to.

Alas, I don't have much time or inspiration for creative writing these days. Journalism school constantly edited out my metaphors in the name of being "straightforward" or for a made-up rule about how long a lede could be or how many syllables were allowed when writing for the "everyman." And since I've never found creative writing to pay and inspiration in the form of classes takes away time that I feel like I don't have, as a "responsible" adult, I rarely devote to any time poetry and the like.

However, one creative outlet that I've found as a new homeowner is the THEME PARTY. Yes, it's like we're 12-years-old and it's a "princess party" where everyone dresses in pink and we have tea or whatever other activity we imagine royalty would do with their friends in the afternoon. It's silly but in a way it lets an extended metaphor come to life, 3-D style.

So as I turned 30 this year, I decided on the theme....Kiss My 20s Goodbye. That lends itself to some sweet food and drink suggestions, no? Here's what I came up with:

 Open (Kissy) Faced S'mores
I made these in the microwave cause I had to do so many batches for guests arriving at different times.
 Finger Lip Foods
I bought a lip-shaped cookie cutter from Amazon.com, then used it to make an assortment of sandwiches. These were vegan ones with hummus and cucumber on sourdough.

 Hershey Kisses
I set out bowls of Hershey Kisses. That was easy.

 Lip on a Stick
I probably spent too much time making these, but we used them as props in all of the photos. I traced a lip drawing I found online cause drawing is not my forte.

 Goodbye Kiss Cocktail
Remember "pucker" from your college days? This watermelon pucker tasted like a Jolly Rancher, and I don't mean that as a good thing. It's so funny to me though that every time I've come up with a signature drink for one of our parties, it's always been the first thing to go. People really get into following the recipe and shaking up the martini shaker, then taking that first sip of the drink they mixed themselves (followed immediately by commiserating with others about why it tastes like bizarre fruit candy). This recipe was 1 part vodka, 1 part watermelon pucker, and 1 part cranberry juice -- shake that together with ice in a martini shaker. Strain into a glass, top with Sprite, and enjoy.
Ass Kisser
And I love my old college roomie Trish (she moved out here from Georgia also, a few years before I did) for being the "ass kisser" that she is and fitting the theme with this amazing beer that she brought.

Our next theme party will likely be a "Holiday Pi(e) Party" to celebrate both the holidays and Nick earning his National Board Certification as a math teacher (hell yeah!). I figure "pi(e)" is pretty easy food-wise -- pizza pie, pumpkin pie, maybe I'll try a savory meat pie or chicken pot pie -- but I need to get my creative juices flowing for the decorations. Maybe a funny pie chart? Hmmmm...especially if I can fit an extended metaphor onto it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pumpkin and Red Kuri Squash Indian Chicken Curry

Canned pumpkin, a whole baked squash, and an easy sweet curry powder, make this recipe a healthy crowd-pleaser.

Ingredients:
1 whole red kuri squash
2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground mace
1 tsp.  whole cardamom seeds
1/2 tsp. whole cloves
1/2 tsp. whole anise seeds
vegetable oil to coat the pan
2 tsp. ginger-garlic paste
1 yellow onion
2 lbs. chicken thighs, cut into bite-size chunks
1 cup coconut milk
15 oz. (1 can) 100% pure pumpkin (like Libby's)

You'll Also Need:
a spice grinder

Step-by-Step:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Poke the squash in several places with a fork. Bake for about 50 minutes. Let cool enough to handle. Remove the peel and seeds. Dice into chunks.

2. Place all of the spices (cumin, salt, cinnamon, mace, cardamom, cloves, and anise) into a spice grinder and pulse until powdered.

3. Dice up the onion. Coat a deep skillet in oil and heat over medium heat. Add onion and ginger-garlic paste to the skillet. Saute for about 3 minutes or until onion is lightly browned.

 4. Stir in the spice mixture. Continue stirring for 2 minutes.

5. Add the chicken thighs, coconut milk, canned pumpkin, and squash. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Serve over Basmati Rice that's been cooked in stock and saffron for extra flavor.

Serves 4-6.

The AHH Factor: I subscribe to Farm Fresh to You produce delivery service for several reasons. I like to support local farmers, eating organic has always sounded like a good idea, and I just hate searching for items at the grocery store. (Just this morning, it took me 20 minutes to find the pancake mix. Why isn't it with the cake mixes? In my mind, it's a dessert, not a true breakfast item. It shouldn't be next to the oatmeal.)

But the most exciting reason I subscribe to the service is something that I hadn't thought about until a few boxes in: Farm Fresh sends me produce that I've never heard of before...and I love that! When I shop at the farmers' market, I get all of the other benefits -- but I always play it safe and buy produce that I recognize. (Well, except for the time when I thought I was buying apples, and, as it turned out, they were yellow plums. Now that was an interesting first bite.)

It's like my own personal Iron Chef. "Sree, you have one weekend to use all of the items in this box. If you succeed, you enjoy organic deliciousness. If you fail, you will feel really bad throwing food away." Would you believe I'd never cooked with leeks or fennel until they showed up in my produce box? That shit looks intimidating in the grocery store!
So,  when this adorable red kuri squash showed up recently, I challenged myself to figure out a way to use it. I'd been wanting to create a pumpkin curry ever since I tried one at Mahan Indian Restaurant in Alhambra, and I reasoned a squash would fit in perfectly as an additional vegetable. If you are braver than I am and aren't afraid of chunking up a raw squash, then you can probably save yourself the first 50 minutes of this recipe and just add the raw chunks into the curry when you add the chicken. It should soften up enough in an hour or two during the simmering. (If you bake it first like I did, it does get mushy by the end, but it tastes great blended in with the pumpkin and I still had a few chunks for texture.)

And if you don't have access to kuri squash, then of course add whatever vegetable you like or leave it out entirely. Luckily, since the sauce base is pumpkin, it's a healthy spin on curry regardless. I'd definitely try the spice blend with the pumpkin and the coconut milk, whatever protein or veggie you choose. I started to get nervous during the simmer-time about whether all of this work was for naught as I threw together the spice blend on the fly, but it was one of the favorite Indian meals that I've made so far. Challenge completed!

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Diwali 2012 Celebrations in Southern California

Happy Diwali! There are plenty of places for you to celebrate this season:

Nov. 13,  6 p.m. - 8 p.m.: Pasadena Hindu Temple, Diwali Lakshmi Puja

Nov. 13, Chakra, Beverly Hills, Champagne Dinner

Nov. 14, Hindu Matiya Patidar Samaj Inc. Diwali Annual Dinner and General Meeting

Nov. 17, Chakra, Irvine, Champagne Dinner

Dec. 1, NetIP LA-OC, Annual Gala at Whimsic Alley, with full Indian dinner and DJ Sukh providing the music for the dance floor.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tava Lounge, Artesia, Restaurant Review: Now Closed

Indian fusion done with creativity and a real sense of deliciousness. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed earlier this month but check out the Tava Lounge Facebook page for updates on catering and a potential new location.

10 out of 10 Peppers = Extra Spicy

I went to Kolkata, India, for a week and a half in October (for the first time in 12 years!). And let's just say that, in general, for every day that I leave Los Angeles my life is actually disrupted for about two days -- between packing, arranging transportation on either end, doing laundry, and whatever other anxiety-inducing tasks that pop into my head that could probably wait but all of a sudden seem pressingly urgent. (I think in the back of my head every time I prep to leave I think of the .0000001% chance that I'll never see my condo again, and I don't want the post-earthquake rescue crew to see that I never finished my wedding scrapbook or judge me for not taking out the trash.) And if it's an international trip, you can pretty much much double that time frame. Visas, money conversions, credit card travel alerts, etc. -- it's a lot of work.

So that pretty much explains where October went. But now I'm back and I was so stoked to get back to blogging because I had a 10 PEPPER restaurant to review.  Only the fifth one since I started saagAHH two years ago, and one that I had just visited right before I left and figured I'd write up as soon as I got back. I even let it cut to the front of the line (yes, as usual, I'm behind with my reviews).

But ironically, on the same day that the restaurant too had a two-year anniversary (two years since it opened its doors), it suddenly closed its doors. Tava Lounge in Artesia's Little India is no more :( At least not in physical restaurant form. When I went on the Tava Lounge Facebook page to get a little more info for this blog post, I saw that it closed on November 3, a day that was supposed to be its two-year anniversary celebration, caused, apparently, by a problem with its lease agreement. The reason I'm still doing this post is because the Facebook page says the chef still offers catering and hints that Tava Lounge is looking for a new space. I hope it reincarnates soon. Preferably somewhere near me?

You can also still get recipes from the Tava Lounge chef on the Around the World with My Tava Blog.

THE SETTING

So, the setting is totally irrelevant now. It was large. It was lovely. It had a shared private parking lot. I went for a friend's birthday party (she's not Indian and she picked this restaurant; that says something, I think) with a group of about 14 people. I'm sad it's gone.

THE FOOD

The aspect of this restaurant that was the most amazing was the food. It was Indian fusion. Fused with all sorts of cuisines from Mexican to Spanish to Southern U.S. And whereas many times I'll give props to restaurants for simply experimenting with Indian fusion, even if it doesn't quite work out taste-wise, at Tava Lounge the combinations of ingredients truly worked. The food at Tava Lounge is so delicious. With a large group, I got to taste a ton of different dishes, and they were all superb. There were, by the way, some traditional Indian fare offered as well, but the fusion dishes are where the chef truly shines.

And something the whole table found amusing (though not amusing enough to order it): one of the dishes was reputed to be so spicy hot that everyone at the table had to sign a waiver if you ordered it, literally. Upon request, the restaurant let us glance at the binder full of waivers (heh) and the waiver basically said don't rub your eyes, wash your hands after eating it, and we're not responsible if you have an "accident" due to ingesting Bhoot Jolokia. They. Are. Not. Messing. Around.

One of the Mexican fusion items available was the BiriyaniRito. It was Tava Lounge's twist on the classic wet burrito, filled with biriyani and topped with butter sauce and cheese. It was truly ginormous. Another Cali-Mex-Indian-fusion dish that I was intrigued by but that we didn't order were the Tava Fish Tacos. The menu said the tacos were filled with pan-seared masala fish topped with cilantro-mint coleslaw and served with biriyani and daal.

I ordered the Seafood Biriyani Paella, Spanish-Indian fusion. Which was abundant with shrimp, mussels, squid, and crab.

Nick ordered Baby Back Ribs, which I believe is Southern U.S.-Indian fusion. (Love the sauce lettering on the plate!)

The appetizers menu served up creativity as well. These are the Tava Wings, available in three different exotic sauces.

And instead of papadum there was delicious potato chips. These disappeared so quickly, and I certainly ate my share. And this is coming from someone who doesn't generally like potato chips. They were so thin that I originally didn't even think they were made of potato (but the server assured me they were).

And, the drinks. There was a huge signature cocktail list with Indian-inspired cocktails like this Tava Monsoon (mint, raspberries, lime, infused vodka), a Young Coconut Oasis, and a Blueberry Sparkle.

With this restaurant closed, the best Indian fusion restaurant I can recommend is Susan Feniger's Street in Hollywood. Though that restaurant's focus is really on street food from all over the world, not exclusively India, though the Indian-inspired dishes (as well as the rest of the menu) are extremely tasty.

And more than that, I find the dishes at the now-defunct Tava Lounge to a source of inspiration. They show what modern Indian fusion can truly be. The dishes will inspire me as I experiment with recipe creation at home, in hopes of moving closer to a balance of creativity and taste.

Visit Tava Lounge on Facebook.

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