Naan-pareil – All India Cafe


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.


samosas of potatoes and peas

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.


garlic naan

chef’s special basmati rice

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 ;)


chicken tikka and tandoori

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 and sheesh kebabs

cucumber, cilantro, lime kachumber

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.


palak paneer

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
310.442.5250

www.allindiacafe.com

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  • Michael

    Another stunning review. Added to my list of places to check out. Thanks!

    Do you ever get weird looks when you photograph the food?

  • Jennifer

    Sarah,

    Everything looks divine! I’m really interested in the tamarind chutney. Tamarind is a food I’d like to learn more about and I think you gave me the push!

    Jennifer

  • sarah j. gim

    michael:
    sometimes i get strange looks from other diners, but i just let them think i’m some crazy asian tourist who has never seen anything but rice. haha! but the restaurants have never had a problem so far :)

    jennifer:
    if you do a tamarind chutney, an Indian co-worker of mine told me that people in the u.s. tend to oversweeten. in India, they really let the tang of the tamarid stand on its own.

  • Anonymous

    The strange looks usually comes from her dining companions! :) -JP

  • T

    im going to check this place out. my friends have been dying to go out to indian food but since im not familiar with the restuarants out here, i always hesitate. thanks for the review! (electric karma sounds intriguing as well- would you recommend one over the other for first timers? most of my friends havent really had all that much exposure…)

    oh by the way: yeah i dont really know that garlic naan is all that authentic- more of an Indo-American creation Id say. naan is supposed to be soft and puffy in places, sort of like its pocked (sorry for the poor analogy!)

  • sarah j. gim

    hey tanvi: All India Cafe’s menu says that they cover Indian food from all over the subcontinent – so it’s probably a good introduction. Though there isn’t much in the way of ambience, it’s clean and simply decorated.

    electric karma is more of a “fun” place to go. it’s richly decorated, they have sort of ambient ethnic electronic music playing, and there’s a back room where you can sit on the floor with huge pillows and stuff. very sexy ;)

  • BBQ Junkie

    I’ve been to both the Santa Monica and Pasadena locations several times. Although I do prefer the restaurant in Pasadena to the one in Santa Monica, the food is good at both. One thing that I would recommend against would be the lunch buffet, it’s very uninspired. If you do happen to find yourself there order one of the specials instead.

    F.Y.I. One Indian friend of mine didn’t like the restaurant at all another one loved it.

  • Anonymous

    Guys, there is better Indian Food out there. You must try Gate of India on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood, not the Santa Monica location. The Sunset location rocks…they have the best vege and meat dishes. There are authentic delicacies on the menu that Ive never seen anywhere else.

  • http://KOOL tony

    IS BEST FOOD I GOT IT IN THE TOWN I REALY SOOOOOOOOOO GOOD

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