Bombay Cafe – Frankie Goes to Bollywood

bombay cafe, west los angeles, ca - aloo ki tikki
Bollywood.

It sounds like an amusement park in India, kind of like EuroDisney, but Indian, and with real elephants instead of floppy-eared ones made of steel and plastic that fly through the air. Or maybe more like Dollywood, where you ride on locomotives through the backwoods of Tennessee and large-breasted, platinum blonde women pop out from behind the trees singing “Islands in the Stream.”

Bollywood is not an amusement park, but hey, you already knew that. But since the only thing I know about India’s entertainment industry is garnered from glimpses of of scantily-sari’d Indian women and a throng of men behind them executing highly complex choreography that is a hybrid of Backstreet Boys and Westside Story, I will stick to writing about Indian food.

Unfortunately, I don’t know much about Indian food either, even though I eat Indian food every Sunday night and sometimes even during the week if I’m feeling especially brown. However, it’s always some variation on the standard, somewhat boring formula of 1 vegetable samosa + 1 garlic naan + 1 chicken (choice of: tikka masala/vindaloo/korma) + 1 aloo gobi +/- extravegicular (saag paneer or bengan bharta). You’d think that my huge high school crush on Suresh, which has matured into quite the adulthood crush on Dr. Sanjay Gupta, would have gotten me into growing bindhi and grinding my own garam masala by now.

No, I don’t do that. Now give me my chicken tikka masala!

Yes, of course I realize that chicken tikka masala isn’t real Indian food, but is a burrito named Frankie real Indian food?!?! That, I am not sure, but I do know that a frankie is something new to me.

Bombay Cafe, West Los Angeles, Ca
today, it’s called mumbai
Bombay Cafe, West Los Angeles, Ca - viognier and lunch menu
viognier isn’t indian, but that’s okay

In fact, everything I ate at Bombay Cafe in West LA, except for the glass of Viognier, was new to me. Technically, I had never had that particular Viognier, so I can, indeed, say that everything I had at Bombay Cafe was new to me, even the glass of wine I drank during lunch because I can because I don’t have a real job. *oops* Did I blog that out loud? Sorry, I think I’m still getting over the bitterness.

I had been to Bombay Cafe before, but it was a very long time ago, and since the occasion happened to be that horrible thing that is a homonym for a supremely sweet, dark brown, wrinkled ovalescent Mediterrenean fruit, I chose not to remember it. It was like I was walking into the restaurant for the first time.

Bombay Cafe’s decor is a bit of a departure from that of other Indian restaurants to which I have been, though you would never be able to tell that from the rather non-descript muted yellow exterior and simple neon sign above the door. Rather than a sterile, cheap Ikea-furnished interior (non)decor that only screams “Indian!” with randomly placed artwork on the walls and scattered Indian garage sale accessories because it was a hasty takeover of some generic joint in a stripmall, Bombay Cafe has a warm, comfortable bistro feel that whispers ethnicity with the integrated use of warm and dark colors on the walls, lighting, and furniture that could have come entirely from Pier 1. Or Cost Plus. Or India, for that matter. Not Ikea.

Every table that runs along the the row of windows that face Pico Boulevard was taken by a casual clientele. No power lunchers here, unless they’re in disguise, or every day is casual Friday in West LA. I wouldn’t know. I don’t work, West LA or otherwise. Dammit. It slipped out again. We took one of the open tables by the window.

The menu is slightly different from the standard Indian restaurant menu format. The “standard” format categorizes food into appetizers, breads, rice, vegetable dishes, curries, and foods grilled in the tandoori oven. Bombay Cafe has some of the usual dishes, but categorizes them slightly differently, and admittedly, it was a little bit intimidating for me at first. There are no official appetizers, but categories that looked like they could be ordered as appetizers. They were called chat, Indian street snacks, and “savouries,” which are familiar things like pakora, samosa, naan filled with lamb or chicken, and uttapam. Vegetable dishes are separated from paneer (homemade cheese) dishes, there are soups and salads that very clearly have a western influence, and of course, frankies.

Bombay Cafe, West Los Angeles, Ca - frankie thali
hello, thali…well, hello, thali!

We were there for lunch, so we were also given the lunch menu, which lists thali. A thali is an Indian dinner plate, and basically refers to the silver plate that holds a combination of foods that are an entire meal. A thali was a good way for me to sample a variety of things I had never tried before. We ordered the Frankie Thali, and though I rarely eat lamb when given a choice, the menu said that the lamb frankie is Bombay Cafe’s “spiciest dish.” Oh. Oh no. Oh no they di’int. It was like Bombay Cafe double-dog dared me with “We doubt you can handle the fire, Pansy Palate” a
nd I had retorted, “Oh yeah? Prove it!” We ordered the lamb frankie. Bring it on, baby.

We also ordered aloo-ki-tikki because suddenly, I was feeling like a fire-breathing Indian food big shot. Yeah. Unh. Bring on the aloo-ki-tikki while you’re at it, suckaz!

Bombay Cafe, West Los Angeles, Ca - aloo ki tikki
it’s been broughten
Bombay Cafe, West Los Angeles, Ca - aloo ki tikki
aloo? aloo? anyone there?

Of course, the aloo-ki-tikki were nowhere near hot. Mildly spiced mashed potatoes were shaped into three perfect pucks, then fried to a crisp, deep golden brown on the outside, leaving the inside a soft, creamy ivory. Each potato pancake had been carefully topped with a thin layer of rich, smooth tamarind chutney that was sweet and just tart enough to notice that it was. They were delicious, though my preference is always for something slightly more textural, and of course, hot.

Apart from my personal non-preference for adorable, cute, cuddly baby sheep, I was excited about the lamb frankie. You see, though many say that Indian food could quite possibly be the hottest, spiciest food on the planet, I have never broken a sweat while eating Indian food. Never. Sure, I’ve had to reach for a glass of water (yes, I know, bad idea), but I have never had to lean back in my chair with my head tilted back because tears of fire are steaming down my face and my eyes are rolling back in my head as if possessed by some chili demon. I was hoping Frankie would make me sweat. Or at least, glisten a little.

The thali was a lovely presentation. The frankie looked exactly like what I had imagined – a slightly narrower “burrito” that had been washed with egg and fried. There were a few extras on the thali, but they didn’t receive too much attention from me. I tried one of the sev puri, a small, thin upward-curved cracker filled with fried, puffed rice. I didn’t love it. It tasted like puffed rice cereal on a Wheat Thin.

Bombay Cafe, West Los Angeles, Ca - sev puri
puffed rice cereal on wheat thin
Bombay Cafe, West Los Angeles, Ca - lamb frankie
will frankie make me glow?

We cut the frankie latitudinally through the thin wrapper so I could see whatever was inside that made the lamb frankie Bombay Cafe’s “spiciest dish.” It was a non-beef carnivore’s dream – nothing but dark mahogany meat, cut into enormous chunks that each held their shape individually, but looked like they would fall apart into long-cooked shreds at the slightest touch. Nothing oozed out upon cutting, but wrapped up in there bathing all that lamb, there was a sauce. It just didn’t ooze out because it was so velvety thick, clinging to every thread.

I took a piece of the lamb on my fork.

Immediately, it had a deeply complex, spiced (not spicy hot, but spicy herb/spice) flavor, though there is no way that my non-Indian sense could describe it. As I chewed, a slow wave of disappointed victory started to take over. Bombay Cafe had dared me with their “spiciest dish,” but it wasn’t hot. *shrugs* Maybe a tickle, maybe a tease from the herbs and spices that trick the senses. But it wasn’t spicy hot.

I took another bite.

And another bite.

And then.

And then the little lamb Frankie that was spicy-but-not-spicy must have hit some sort of switch on its way down, because it started to glow. The heat of Bombay Cafe’s “spiciest dish” had skipped my tongue, but erupted into a strange warmth that was *whoa* pretty warm. As I continued my way through the rest of the lamb meat in the frankie, I noticed it. I had started to glisten. The lamb frankie didn’t make me sweat, but it sure got me hot.

In fact, I was so warm I suddenly had this urge to wrap myself in a mini-sari, jump up on the table, and do an Indian song and dance.

Bombay Cafe
12021 West Pico Boulevard
West Los Angeles, CA
310.473.3388

www.bombaycafe-la.com

** a year ago today, shane in santa monica. what a shame **

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  • Anonymous

    My Asian brotha’ … why you be hatin’ on the Indian man/woman and his pop culture??? What exactly does your obtuse diatribe have to do with food??? Also, Indian food is as diverse as the states and various communities that make up India and Indian society so perhaps you should seek out something other than tandoori chicken and samosas before forming your opinion of Indian food.

  • Catherine

    haha! @ your description of Bollywood movies. My Indian friend is really, really into the singing and choreography displayed in these productions; she and her roommate are like the judges on American Idol when it comes to watching their ever growing collection of Bollywood DVDs. I’ve kind of grown fond of the movies myself (it’s comedy), and I’m quite impressed with the pelvic thrust action these men are capable of! And the women, OMG, the costumes are so elaborate and beautifully adorned with jewelry, bindis and mahndi! They’re so beautiful! It really grew on me their dedication to the genre. I mean, they’re really feeling the music!

  • sarah

    l.a.c.: you can have the korean dramas. i can’t stand them. though i do love to watch a good dance clip.

    cat: i want a pink sari. just to wear out. i love them.

  • s’kat

    Sarah, my husband won’t bear the breath of Indian foods upon his environment. I’ll just have to live vicariously through yours.

    Dammit.

    I like Indian food.

  • onetomato

    ohh..me too. the pink sari. pink, eh? you are a girly girly at heart. the pics look so good. the one time i had indian food, i fell in love with it. but i can’t find anyone to go with me…oh well, i too shall live vicariously through sarah.

  • Anonymous

    pics are making me hungry!

  • peachiee

    What a great review- I am SO going to eat there next month! The thali sounds perfect because I love to nibble on a little of everything. Can’t wait to taste this place!

  • NS

    Another great post! I can tell you that frankies are, in fact, sold out of carts on the streets of Bombay. I had never heard of one here in the US, however, until I read your post. I’ll be curious to visit Bombay Cafe the next time I’m in LA…

  • sarah

    s’kat: ah, but he is going to have to expand his palate if he’s married to a professional critic!

    onetomato: pink? did i say pink? uh, i meant “light red.” pink. ha. i’ ain’t no girly girl like that. ;0

    anonymous: it’s working. ah yes, it’s working…

    peach: oh my. we have SO many places on our list for when you’re in la, don’t we?

    ns: have you eaten the frankies from the carts in bombay?!? oooooo…

  • Anonymous

    You actually have no idea, what indian food is….
    It is one of the best foods in the world. If you really want to enjoy it you should go with some indian friends who have come to USA for only 3-4 years and go with them to places where they eat.

    ss70
    Indian Actress

  • 5cents

    Hahaha, cool story, cool site. The stuff you find on random net excursions, huh?

    The hottest Indian peppers (the hottest in the world being from somewhere in Kerala, S. India) are all delayed reaction (similar to Habaneros). You could go as long as 30 seconds without feeling a thing.

    It’s fascinating you like Indian food. Enjoy.

  • sarah

    5cents: thanks, and yes, i always find the most interesting things in all the corners of the inernet :)

    i am going to have to find myself a taste of the pepper. it’s all i can do to keep from punishing myself with hot peppers – it just hurts so good.

  • Dejean

    “it just hurts so good” – nice way to put it – a true pepper addict here.

    Hip Hop Choreography – Tom John Choreographer

  • Dejean

    “it just hurts so good” – nice way to put it – a true pepper addict here.

    Hip Hop Choreography – Tom John Choreographer

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