My love of Indian food, I think, is rooted in a high school crush – his name was Suresh. He was the rockstar of the tennis team from his freshman year. With the top down on his hot little red Miata, Suresh would roll into school in the mornings with shades on, music roaring. He’d slide out, and the times I caught him casually slinging his tennis rackets across his torso along with his book bag, I sighed. He looked so dark and gorgeous in his perfectly preppy tennis whites. Not only was he *sigh* an amazing athlete, he was the smartest person in my class for four years, though I was as devastated as his double M.D. parents when he was only named salutatorian at graduation. It didn’t matter, as he was probably accepted at Harvard and the Med school the day he was born. Suresh was the man.
Alright, so Suresh was actually a total dork, but I am so totally turned on by very big . . . brains. After he beat me out for the number one spot our freshman year, and I realized that he was *no!* smarter than me, I developed a pathetic, yet secretly competitive, crush on him that none of my friends could understand. And when he *gasp!* asked me to the senior prom – it was over. I was in love with a tall, dark, lanky, exotic erotic egghead. Ah, memories of my senior prom – but that’s a story for another blog.
I’ve no idea where Suresh is now – he’s probably on his 4th book about some cancer vaccines he’s about to discover, playing tennis on the courts in the backyard of his mansion....or something like that. But I’m here in LA and feeding my long-ago contracted Indian fever with an occasional visit to one of the many Indian restaurants in the area, my particular favorite, All India Cafe. (last time, New India Grill - *eh*). Incidentally, it seems a bit of an epidemic right now, as Sam of Becks n Posh is dedicating this entire week to India’s curries and spices, and yesterday's post on Taste Everyting Once was about tandoori at home.
All India Cafe is a clean, bright white restaurant located on the second floor of a strip mall in West L.A. (there’s also a location at 39 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, CA 91105 (626) 440-0309). Up until this last time, I didn’t know they were also related to Electric Karma, a trendy sexy Indian spot on 3rd Street in Los Angeles, which I also love.
We start with samosas, deep fried pastries stuffed with a mixture of mashed potatoes, peas, and spices. All India Cafe makes them in long, narrow cones, that makes for a few big, squishy potato-y bites, and a few thin, crisp bites toward the tip. I always prefer spicy to sweet, so I have to add hot sauce to the sweet tamarind chutney that it comes with.
Of course, we never go without naan, and though I’m not quite sure how “authentic” it is, it’s usually garlic naan. The first time I ever went to All India Cafe, the naan was the fluffiest, puffiest, softest naan I had ever tasted, but unfortunately, on all subsequent visits, it hasn’t been quite the same. i guess there’s nothing like the first time. *sigh* Actually, I haven’t found the same sort of thick fluffy naan anywhere else in LA and am now wondering if all the thinner, flatter naan is in fact, the way it’s supposed to be.
Basmati is a deliciously fragrant rice. All India Cafe offers a plain basmati rice and a Chef’s Special made with whatever vegetables are in season, which we order. This time, it looks a bit like Chinese Yang Chow fried rice, with red pepper, corn, peas, and some other vegetable that looks mysteriously like ginger, but has no real taste. Although I don’t normally eat rice, I make an exception for basmati. With their long grains, I think I tried to convince myself that it’s like a very short pasta ;)
We order a mixed plate from the tandoori and palak paneer. The mixed plate has chicken and lamb. Chicken tikka (part of the chicken tikka masala, which I love) are boneless pieces of chicken that have been marinated with cilantro, ginger, garlic, and other spices, and tandoori chicken are whole pieces with bones. Both are tender, though the tandoori chicken, perhaps because it was cooked with the bone, was more flavorful. Boti kebab and sheesh kebab are lamb. Now, I almost never eat lamb. For as cute as they fluffy white babies are at the petting zoo, the few times I’ve eaten lamb, in whatever cuisine, it has always smelled like sweaty feet. Perhaps all the onions, green chilies and spices in the marinade were enough to mask the smell, so All India Cafe’s lamb was tolerable.
Boti kebab are small pieces of lamb, which were slightly pink inside, so I was skeptical, but I will say that they were tender. Sheesh kebab look more like lamb sausage, and though spicy (“spicy” as in “has spices,” not spicy heat), they were a bit dry, and needed a long, deep dip in the kachumber, made of cucumber, cilantro, and lime juice. Quite refreshing as a dip for the naan as well.
Of Indian food, I prefer the smooth, comforting curries and stewed vegetable dishes to the meats from the tandoor. My usuals are gobi aloo (potatoes and cauliflower), bengan bhartha (eggplant), and any saag paneer (greens and Indian cheese). Palak paneer? Palak?! Where’s my saag paneer?! I have just learned that “saag” refers to any green leafy vegetable, and “palak” is specifically spinach, so I’m calm now. It’s delicious, and though I tend to think of Indian food as heavy and fattening (even the vegtables, since they are cooked with oil) it doesn’t taste like All India Cafe has even used oil. I think I’m attracted to the palak paneer because the paneer looks like familiar tofu. In fact, though All India Cafe does not, it’s sister Electric Karma offers many dishes with tofu in place of meat or the paneer.
Ah, now onto my quest for that fluffy naan...
All India Cafe
12113 Santa Monica Blvd. (@Bundy)
Los Angeles, CA 90025