Despite what my inner fabulously wrap-dressed, wedge-heeled, designer-handbag-carrying inner fashionista would insitinctively have me guess, gucchi is actually...a mushroom. At least, that is what I have brilliantly deduced from my investigations of various Indian restaurant menus. It is the same way that I figured out that “gobi” is cauliflower and “aloo” is potato. Gobi aloo is always cauliflower and potatoes. And since the menu says that samosas are made with aloo and there isn’t a single caulifower in a samosa I’ve ever tasted, I figured that “aloo” is potato.
Not only beauty but, *points to stomach* brains!
Akbar’s menu is slightly different from other Indian restaurants’. The restaurant offers the familiar dishes: starters like samosa and pakora, meat and vegetable curries, meats from the tandoori grill, breads, and rice. However, within each category of course, Akbar offers a few things that are slightly less common, and in some cases, totally new to me. If ever there was a time and place to spread my little Indian wings and fly out from the comfort of gobi aloo and chicken tikka masala, now is the time and Akbar is the place.
Of course, I kept my little fairy wings tucked under my cropped, fitted jacket until after the appetizer because some things, like a strand of pearls, a Chanel suit and a samosa, never go out of style. Akbar makes their samosas just like every other Indian restaurant I know – a slightly flaky, almost imperceptibly chewy pastry cone filled with spiced smashed potatoes and peas. So far, I have not come across samosas that are so wildly different that they deserve special attention, Akbar included, except that Akbar’s are $4.95, and most other places charge under $3. “Two dollars more” may not sound like a big difference, but “67% more” sure does.
The SOP (stands for “standard operating procedure,” not a typo for SOB, which I would never use to refer to ex-boyfriends) is to eat samosas with a tangy sweet sauce like tamarind chutney, but I prefer to eat them with whatever happens to be the hottest thing on the table. Unfortunately, whatever hot pickled sauce I was using was not that hot, and would only rate a 1.75 on the Chilli Meter. The Chilli Meter is how Akbar rates everything on their menu (not sure if "Chilli Meter" is trademarked), with 5 being the hottest, but I am guessing that the Chilli Meter on the menu, which rates a few things as 5 that could earn a “That’s Hot!” from a hotel heiress, but not from anyone of real substance, is different from the Chilimeter (notice difference in spelling), on which everything, unless it were marinated in jalapeno and cooked in helium, would only be at most a 1.5, maybe 1.75.
Gucchi dhania, according to Akbar’s menu, is “Mushrooms cooked in Chef’s special sauce highlighting the importance of fresh cilantro in Indian cooking.” Obviously, this is a very important description because 1) it hints that gucchi could be either mushrooms, Chef’s special sauce, or cilantro (that is where I did my deductive reasoning), 2) it indicates that the hated herb, cilantro, is highlighted in the dish, and 3) it refers to the chef as “Chef,” and not as “the chef,” as if “Chef” were his or her name, like “Chef” in South Park. I have never watched South Park, or at least not more than thirty seconds of it, but I do know of Chef. But this is the least important part of the description so I’ll move on now.
I am fond of mushrooms. I am not fond of cilantro. In fact, I can’t even be delicate and polite here. I hate cilantro. So it makes perfect logical sense that we ordered gucchi dhania, which highlights “the importance of cilantro in Indian cooking.”
Strangely, I loved the gucchi dhania, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that “gucchi” in the name sounds exactly like my favorite logo-ed handbag. That may work in other ways, like how I love every person named “Sarah” because it means “princess” in Hebrew, but not in food. The curry was rated a 1 on Akbar’s Chilli Meter, which, along with the cilantro highlights, worked against it, but the flavor of the curry itself was fantastic – deep, dark, almost as if it had been made with a beef base, buttery, creamy and thick. I will say that I believe that either the "fresh cilantro" that is so important to Indian cooking was merely referring to the fresh cilantro garnish on top, around which I deftly maneuvered the serving spoon, or cilantro stems were cooked down and very well incorporated into the gravy, such that I couldn’t distinguish it. Cilantro leaves are fairly innocuous.
With the decision to order things that are outside my typical ordering repertoire, we ordered plain basmati rice scented with saffron, which is, of course, not all that unusual, and a better, more interesting choice would have been either the akbari biryani that is cooked with lamb, chicken, and shrimp, or the banarsi pilao, which contains vegetables, nuts, and raisins. However, the biryani sounded like fried rice, and the pilao sounded like breakfast. Besides, since most of the time naan is the carb of choice, rice in and of itself was unique enough. Wait, why am I defending myself?!?! We ordered basmati rice, okay?
What is really notable about Akbar's menu is the offering of seafood: salmon and Chilean sea bass from the tandoori grill, as well as a number of shrimp curries, some of which are called "shrimp" and others, which are totally different because they are called "prawns." However, "not tikka masala" was far enough outside my confort zone, that I had to at least stay with chicken. Chicken Aamras cooked in a mango sauce sounded delicious, but we opted, instead, for the most highly heat-rated chicken dish, Chicken Chutneywala. It quietly rang in at a 3 on Akbar's Chilli Meter, but the cooling effect of the mint chutney in which the chicken cooks made the dish a 2 or less in reality. Aside from the slight mis-truth in spice advertising, the dish was fairly good. The chicken was tender, flavored as if it had, indeed, cooked with the mint and herb sauce, and not separately, tossed together just before serving. I had originally been wary of "mint" as I am not always impressed with mint in anything other than gum and cocktails, but the sauce was not overpoweringly minty.
Next time, I might even order the Coco Lamb, since, like I said, Chanel is timeless.
Akbar Cuisine of India
2627 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90403