No More Number Eights – Asian Kitchen

There’s been a strange quarter of employee exodus at my office. In the last three months, almost 15 people have left the company, which might be considered normal in a large corporation, but for a small private company, a 15% attrition rate in such a short period of time is a bit alarming. Perhaps there is something I don’t know.

Losing an employee is tough on our company, but it’s great business for Asian Kitchen, which is not a $1 chinese fast food as I had originally thought, but an Indian and Pakistani restaurant. Farewell luncheons at Asian Kitchen have become somewhat of a tradition for our company. Oddly enough, it’s not just eating at Asian Kitchen, but the fact that everyone, the 10-15 people who go, all order the lunch special number 8 – chicken tikka masala. It’s so much a tradition now, that we joke that it’s not “giving notice” at our company, but “doing a number 8.”

asian kitchen is not chinese food

I had never actually had the pleasure of going on one of these luncheons because inevitably, a conference call with the east coast or an emergency presentation comes up. But recently, I made it to Asian Kitchen on a different occasion just to check it out for myself. The restaurant is situated in the back corner of a rundown looking plaza on the corner of Venice and Motor. The sign is a bit faded, and somewhat overshadowed by its neighbor, Taste of India, though it appears they are sister restaurants, not competitors, from very similarly designed signs in their adjacent windows. One of the signs in Asian Kitchen’s window is a large green letter B. I brush off my qualms. There are a lot of reasons a restaurant can get a mediocre rating.

Asian Kitchen has no atmosphere per se, as I doubt I’d bring my parents here for a first try at Indian food, but it is a step up from the usual holes in the wall along Venice Blvd. It’s surprisingly spacious, given its very limited squashed-into-the corner storefront, and the inside of the restaurant looks clean, with white tablecloths topped with thin sheets of glass. It’s 12:30, high-time for a lunch crowd, but there is a lone diner in the front booth, and he looks like he works there. Hmm.

there’s the number 8 chicken tikka masala

We sit down in of the booths, which look more confortable than the table and chair sets that you can get for $60 in the furniture ghetto of Koreatown. The server drops off a couple of menus and sets down a pitcher of water and two empty glasses for us. Not much in the way of service, I thought. I ignore the regular menu and look at the printed lunch specials that are slipped in between the glasstop and the tablecloth. There it is! The number 8 chicken tikka masala. At only $5.95, including rice and naan, no wonder all my co-workers order it.
The server wasn’t able to help much on the menu other than, “Yes, people like that.” Maybe I needed to worry that it appeared he had never actually eaten any of the food here. In fact, though he had fairly dark skin, I wondered if he was even Indian or Pakistani. Nope – he and the man who had been eating alone when we first walked in and now donned an apron, jabbered away in spanish. I was really beginning to wonder about this place.

haleem – ground beef and lentil stew

seekh kebab with chaam masala

Interested in trying something new, I asked about the nehari or haleem. Our server doesn’t eat beef, so he couldn’t offer an opinion. I took a risk and ordered the haleem. Both the haleem and the seekh kebab came out before the samosa appetizer, which we had to default to beef, because they were out of the others. Ooooo…k.

thick, sticky, pasty porridge, haleem

Haleem is a caramel colored stew of beef and ground lentils. Though the flavor was tasty, I wasn’t too fond of the texture. It is thick and sticky, like a pasty, gluey porridge. With the consistency of peanut butter, it worked better as a spread on the naan rather than as something eaten out of a bowl with a spoon. So I guess I didn’t really like it that much.

ordinary naan

The last time I had eaten Indian food, I had decided that I needed to find the puffy naan that once I had tried long ago. When I inquired about it with an Indian co-worker, he mentioned that perhaps I try Pakistani and Afghani naan, which is traditionally thicker than Indian naan. He had even mentioned to me that the naan at Asian Kitchen was more like Pakistani naan than Indian. The naan here wasn’t bad, but I admit that I was somewhat disappointed, as I had been expecting it to be quite thick and fluffy, and it was pretty much the same as every other place. I guess now i must try Afghani.

The seekh kebab came with chaam masala, chickpeas the same color as the haleem. With a sprinkling of chopped coriander, the plate looked pretty, but the meat itself tasted dry, almost as if it had been made the day before and re-heated.

sparse spicy beef samosa

The samosas were good, but very different from what I was used to. Perhaps that’s the Pakistani angle coming in, or maybe Asian Kitchen just does samosas differently. The pastry was thin and crispy, like an eggroll wrapper, and the spicy ground beef filling was sparse. The samosas came with a light green chutney, which actually helped make the rather dry seekh kebabs palatable. The samosas, the se
ekh kebabs, and the haleem weren’t conspicuously spicy in taste, but I noticed that my forehead developed a faintly visible glisten. I was starting to sweat. Were the red peppers in the samosa beef filling that surreptitiously spicy? Perhaps the haleem had a covert chili that kicked in later. I kept dipping everything in the light green chutney, to cool myself down, but I kept sweating.

I wasn’t sweating from the seekh kebab or the haleem, it turns out. In fact, it wasn’t even the red pepper in the samosas. The cool, refreshing green chutney in which I had been generously dunking everything to counteract the heat, was actually made of green chilies, extremely spicy, but in a sneaky way. I had unknowingly been doing the exact opposite of what I intended by dousing everything with it. As I poured myself a third glass of water, I was now thankful that the server had plunked down an entire pitcher from the get-go. The chutney tasted good. And yet, it was so bad. Later in the afternoon, I had a very bad case of, well, let’s just be delicate about it here. ;)

The food at Asian Kitchen wasn’t horrible, but I probably won’t order haleem again. In fact, given all the little *hmm*s throughout the meal (and the big *hmm* after), I doubt I’d go back there on my own. Hopefully, the employee exodus at my office is slowing down. My workload can’t handle the loss of manpower, and well, my stomach couldn’t handle “doing number 8.”

Asian Kitchen
10406 Venice Blvd (@Motor)
Culver City, CA 90232

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  • Mel CH

    Well, you probably shouldn’t go back there if you got sick, although if the rest of your co-workers do okay when you all go there, maybe you were just unlucky?

  • dwg

    i used to frequent a london indian called al-sharaq (sp?) that was across from the launderette where i did my laundry. half the time it went fine. the other half, i ended up feeling like you describe here. the rub though, was that al-sharaq’s food was really, really good, and incredibly cheap (hmm…i wonder why). so i kept going back. doesn’t sound like a.k. is worth the risk in the same way.

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