New India Grill
1321 Westwood Boulevard
Westwood, CA 90024
My Mom is a badass. Not a badass like Tony Bourdain is a badass, but if a Korean mom could ever be known as a badass, it’d be mine. She is nothing at all like the stereotypical Korean woman, the ah-joo-mah.
Years ago, ah-joo-mahs were outfitted in thick white tennis socks (the kind with pom poms at the ankle), feet shoved into plastic 99 cent Ranch market slippers, squatting on the floor in their bright floral-print-doesn’t-show-stains highwater rayon pants, with a giant purple plastic tub between their knees, making kimchee. The sleeves of their long-sleeve fake Polo shirts were rolled up to their biceps, revealing no skin at all since they have yellow rubber latex gloves on to protect their hands from the goh-choo-gah-roo (Korean red pepper) red and smell of mah-neul (garlic). All ah-joo-mahs had the exact same hair-style. Remember how there was a hairstyle named the Rachel/Aniston? Well, it’s not that one. But there is one named for ah-joo-mahs, what I call the Ah-joo-mah Afro – super short cut, permed hair, poufed out into a soft afro, and no matter if the ah-joo-mah is 45 or 85, her entire head of hair is jet black. Ah, the wonder of hair coll-ah at the salon.
Ah-joo-mahs have since then evolved from squatting to a slightly more upright position. I suspect that somewhere in the back of HK Market, there are a few of those old-school women grinding out the kimchee for the customers, but it’s not your mom on your kitchen floor anymore. Now the stereotypical ah-joo-mah is a little different. I have seen her. She is driving a Toyota Avalon down Western Avenue. She is wearing enormous Dior sunglasses a la Sophia Loren of the 1950s. She is sporting a visor, and it's not just any Disneyland visor, but a vah-ee-zur *draws a hula hoop sized circle around head*. She is wearing white chauffeur’s gloves, and has borrowed one of her husband’s old dress shirts to drape over her left arm, the arm that gets hit with sunlight through the window. And she’s on her way to one of the many netted-in-at-50-yards pseudo driving ranges in K-town to meet her other friends who look exactly like her, and slice golfballs like her too. Like an ah-joo-mah.
But that’s not my mother. Mom is, like I said, a badass. My Mom wears jeans, not rayon pants, and not the high-waisted, balloon-butt Dockers that are really trousers made with denim. They are real jeans that are slightly fitted and with a flare at the bottom that that’s just wide enough to show off her trendy wedge heeled sandals, but not wide enough to snicker "too young." She doesn’t make kimchee. Between running her own business, keeping Dad out of trouble, and playing golf, she just doesn’t have time. Yes, my Mom smacks the golfball in a way that would put any other typical Korean male to shame, but it amuses my Dad that she sweeps the Seniors’ Tourneys every time. Probably helps that she’s packing Honmas. :) Do I brag? Yes, and I shall brag a little more.
Perhaps it’s strange that I am so proud of this upcoming fact, but Mom could drink me under the table. She doesn’t actually do it, but I know she could. When she comes in with a bouquet fresh from her garden, she puts them into a vase on the counter, brushes her bangs aside with the back of her still garden-gloved hand (I hate to admit this, but there is nothing I can do about her succumbing to her stylist for an Ah-joo-mah Afro), and asks me to grab a beer for her out of the fridge. She pops open the bottle of Heineken, takes a long swig, then looking at me, she says, “Ah, shyun-hae!” If you were asleep all semester during Korean 1A, that’s “Ah, refreshing!”;) When she sits down to a dinner of thick steak, seared bloody rare, she likes to pour herself a glass of wine. Do you know any other Korean Mom that eats steak? Galbee, yes, but steak? Rare? Hey, she uses chopticks, but she’s drinking Cab. Damn, I love this woman.
But, Mom, like any other mom, is not without her faults. I have perfect eyebrows because of her insistence. Sometimes she gets a little aggro about trying to help me. Occasionally, she sports a visor, but trust me, if I ever caught her in a vah-ee-zur, I’d ground her for a week. LOL! And what kills me the most, what makes me wonder if I am really her daughter, is her incredibly narrow range in culinary preferences. She likes Korean, Japanese, and Chinese, in that order. Sure she’ll eat a steak. She also loves prime rib. But that is it. I doubt she ever gets a craving for Spanish tapas. Or Ethiopian. Or Brazilian. The idea of her asking my Dad, “Yo-boh,” (Korean version of “Honey”) “Oo-ree jun-hyuk-eh Greek muk-cha!” (Let’s eat Greek food for dinner) and his replying “Joh-tah. Gah-ja!” (Good. Let’s go!) is just so ridiculous that I am silently giggling, picturing it in my head right now.
So we decided to try Indian at New India Grill. I wasn’t overwhelmingly inspired the last time I tried it, but that was a while ago, and besides, if she was going to try Indian, I wasn't going to argue.
We ordered a whole variety of dishes so that Mom could try a little bit of everything, and everyone else could also have their usual favorites. Of course, there was naan, which was a little thinner and chewier than I like, but then again, I think I will perpetually be on that quest for thick, fluffy naan, which seems to only exist in my head. Mom liked it, as well as the basmati rice with peas. I can’t remember if it was biryani or pullao, and actually, never understood the difference between the two until today. Biryani comes from the Persian culture, in which the word “birian” means “fried.” For biryani, the rice is fried first in ghee (clarified butter), layered with cooked meats and spices, and cooked again all together. For pullao, rice, vegetables (usually no meat), stock and spices are all cooked together from the beginning. At least this is what I think because, like all the different languages, religions, and styles of cooking in India, there seems to many interpretations of biryani and pullao. I learn something new every minute with this crazy thing called the Internet ;)
I have gotten used to Indian restaurants serving foods slightly toned down in terms of heat, with the understanding that the Indian version of “spicy” would probably cause five-alarm fires in everyone else. However, the curries are always still deeply flavorful with fragrant, aromatic spices. Our chicken tikka masala and chicken korma (I think. But it might have been makhni – I don’t remember which one) had gravies that were certainly thick, rich, and creamy in texture, but they left me slightly unfulfilled with respect to richness in flavor.
Perhaps the curries tasted slightly bland to me by comparison to the pickled green chilis on the table that I had been eating until our orders came to the table. I realize they are a condiment, but I couldn’t help but eat it like…kimchee. When Mom and I had finished the chilis all the way down to the deep red oily swirl in the bottom of the little pastic jar, we asked for regular hot sauce for the foods. The servers brought us a small bowl of what looked like Tabasco, but was definitely different. Like mother, like daughter – we spooned it all over our plates, and I think, we were starting to glisten. And I have new appreciation for raita - it's not just a sauce, it's a cooling extinguisher. LOL!
One of the things I noticed with the curries is that the ratio of meat to gravy was very low. There was probably not more than five pieces of meat in either the chiken tikka masala or the chicken korma. The few pieces of chicken that were in there were somewhat dry giving it that texture that makes the meat stick just the tiniest bit to my teeth, and a little less tender than I expect. Not surprisingly, the tandoori chicken was the same.
My personal favorites in Indian cuisine are the vegetable dishes. Sometimes it’s bengan bharta (eggplant), sometimes it’s saag paneer (spinach and Indian paneer cheese), but tonight, it is gobi aloo. I’m not totally sure what spices New India Grill added to their gobi aloo to make it slightly more red in color than others I have had (which are usually quite yellow from the turmeric). The potatoes and cauliflower were soft, and had not been broken down into an indistinguishable mess. I think this was my second favorite of the meal.
My first favorite (what a stupid phrase – isn’t a favorite always the first favorite?!) was the saag chicken. I always like saag paneer, sometimes called palak paneer, or sometimes it’s saag with tofu instead, but pretty much the the reason I like the dish is the saag. The chicken was slightly dry and a little tough, but that gave me the perfect excuse to just eat the saag. I wonder if I could ever just order saag. I wonder if my family would think it weird if served saag paneer at Thanksgiving this year instead of creamed spinach. LOL!
Mom had eaten Indian food once before, and by comparison, she said this time at New India Grill was better, but for some reason, I don’t think we converted her. Yet. Next time, we should probaly throw in an IPA with dinner.