Archive for the ‘Passage to India’ Category

Naan other like it.

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

It is not often that I am truly and thoroughly surprised. A lovely gift from my brother and sister-in-law landed us a $25 gift certificate for Passage to India. We toured the ravaged pre-apocalyptic road of Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway (or 192, or Vine Street) seeking the restaurant. The sign was cleverly hidden behind the biggest gaudiest yellow truck I’ve ever layed eyes upon. It talked a big game about timeshare sales or some bull$#!t. It was hideous. As a former timeshare employee, this truck held a special place in my heart- the kind with jagged edges and tiny demons with spears poking it in the genitals for all eternety.

All cynicsm aside, the place was hard to find. We pulled into the small parking lot and walked into the front door. At the sound of the door a man, small of stature and soft spoken, emerged from around the corner. He gently guided us to a table with kind words of welcome. We were all smiles from the beginning. The walls were gaudy with classic peices of Indian art blended with posters and printed giclees. The whole menagerie somehow made the restaurant feel more at home–like the long-accumulated knick-knacks of your immigrant grandmother. The atmosphere was pleasant with wind¬†instruments¬†on the stereo.

We were happy to discover that our host was also our waiter. He brought us water the moment our rears hit the benches. Since we were rolling in the proverbial dough, we decided to order specialty drinks. Kel ordered something mango, and I ordered something else mango – a mango juice. The juice was more like a smoothie than a drink. It was thick and sweet, but not too sweet. I was glad to have the water on hand.

We have a new rule here at Feed The Freaks. If a water/server/member of waitstaff mentions or suggests something, at least one of us has to order it. I’m not talking about a glassy-eyed server rattling off the names of the restaurant “specials”, I mean an enthusiastic endorsement of a specific dish.
I was the lucky one this time. Our waiter described many things that we asked about on the menu – Indian food requires some explanation, and he was fully prepared for this. When I asked of his favorite dish, without hesitation, he suggested the Lamb Palak. I took the bait, and ordered it “Medium”, which to us Americans is supposed to be pretty spicy.

Before we decided on an entree, we already ordered an appetizer. We unfortunately did not consult our menu assistant, as we were less than impressed. The core flavors were very good, earthy although a little lacking in salt. The dipping sauces were delicious, which made up for the Paneer Pakora (fried cheese to you and I.) But the Paneer itself was not very hot, and the fried portions were less than crisp. I can imagine that they were fried earlier and served too late. But don’t lose heart yet…it gets better.
The Lamb arrived at my table, and I inhaled a spicy, rich aroma that made my brain tingle in all the right places. The rice was flecked with jasmine and so aromatic I could taste the air. I dipped some Palak (or, spinach) with thick chunks of juicy lamb into the rice bowl and took a huge mouthful, breathing in slowly as my whole head filled with earthly delights. It was hot, moist and slow cooked (as evident by the buttery texture.) My various gods- it was incredible.

Something needs to be spoken of the Naan we ordered along with our dinner. Naan, for the uninformed, is a crispy flat bread, often smothered in spices or sauces that compliments most Indian Cuisine. We ordered the garlic, at our waiter’s suggstion. Again, it was the right move. It was smothered in freshly crushed garlic that nearly knocked me off my feet. Some people cannot handle a lot of garlic–I am not one of these people. It paired well with the Palak.

We ate as much as we possibly could, and then were persuaded to order dessert. As I said, we were rich today – thanks to our gift certificate, and indugled. Since our waiter had not yet steered us into disaster, we once again took his word and ordered the Galoob Jamin. He warned us of the rich sweetness of this dessert, and we accepted the challenge.

Dessert arrived in a small bowl. Two small balls of dough, soaked in honey and rose water. The scent was warm and alluring. I cut into the ball with my spoon and it gave away easily, not unlike a matzo ball. The bite was complex. The flowery aroma, sweetened with honey had the power of baklava but the gentleness of crembrulee. It was simply delightful.

Thank you, Mr. Waiter -I apologize for not getting your name. I hope that you continue to provide such excellent service to all patrons, including freaks like us.

Like a moth to a bug-zapper.

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Upon arrival I was completely blinded by the building next door.

TICKETS!!! GET YOUR TICKETS HERE!!! LOOK AT THIS GIANT GLOWING SIGN THAT CAN BE SEEN FROM SPACE!!! AHHHHH!!!!

That’s more or less what the sign was telling us. It made me concerned that the restaurant would be as hokey and touristy as the building next door. Moments later I found that it was an unfair conclusion to draw. Entering the Passage to India (at the risk of sounding cliche) I felt as if the door I had entered was, The passage to India.

The aroma’s of mingled spices strikes you in the nose. Authentic music drifts lightly over the over your ears. The dim mood-setting lights play over the room. The room is set with many shelves set up over every booth against the walls and on every surface sits a piece Indian artwork. Small sculptures, most of which seemed to have some religious significance. Hanging from the walls were paintings hung in frames depicting various scenes.

Our host, who was also our server, poured our glasses of water. Which was a nice change of pace. He offered us several different options between soda’s and juices. When he said ‘Mango Lassi’ I immediately had to try it. Namely because I had no idea what it was. Come to find out it was a drink made with yogurt mixed with milk or water and spices. In my case mixed with mango! This drink was designed for eating spicy food. It was sweet, tangy and cooled the fires the upcoming meal had started. (totally worth the five bucks)

We started off with an appetizer, it was close, but we went with Paneer Pakora. Paneer refers to a home made cheese and pakora being the method it was prepared (breaded and fried.) It was served with a spicy mint sauce and a sweet Tamarind sauce. Over all I was underwhelmed. It felt like they had prepared it earlier and heated it briefly. The flavor of the cheese was too mild for my tastes. The sauces were both quite tasty.

For dinner I ordered Chicken Tandori. Tandori, being a reference for how the chicken was prepared (with the Tandoor oven which is super, super hot.) There were two choices with the chicken, I went with the one I felt was more authentic. Half a chicken serving both thigh and breast. The other option being chicken breast. My food was set on a place, chicken on top of onions and peppers all seasoned in a delightfully red color. Next to that was a bowl containing rice. It wasn’t until our food was brought to the table that I realized my mistake.

In my rush to be authentic, I neglected to think of the bones. While they add flavor and some would say moisture, to the chicken. They prevented me from tearing into dinner as fast as I wanted to. Having been thwarted by the bones I began the task of removing the tasty bits and adding to the rice. The taste was phenomenal. Under normal circumstances I dislike onions and bell peppers. However, when it comes with a meal that is traditional, I simply have to put that to the side and enjoy. Which is exactly what I did.

The server had warned us of the hot nature of Indian food. I have the feeling he automatically underestimates the American palate (With good reason, I’ve met literally hundreds of people who refuse to eat anything “spicy”). I had ordered the ‘medium heat’ but it was what i would consider to be just under medium. After a while the heat began to build and I was once again singing the praises of my mango lassi.

Having never been to an Indian restaurant there was some excitement when it came to ordering dessert. What did Indian people eat for dessert? We settled on splitting the Goolab Jamin.

Imagine doughnut holes made from milk powder and flour. It was served in a syrup of cardamom and rose water. It was very dense and sweet. I probably couldn’t eat more than one or two total. The flavor was totally unique to any pastry I’ve had.

All in all, the whole experience was great. Thanks in part to our very knowledgeable and friendly server.

As a post script, I would like to mention, as you leave they have a small bowl of fennel seeds, not Mukhwas but fennel seeds. I was instructed that it was to freshen your breath and it made me think . . .

Yo dog I heard you like spices so we give you spices as you leave so your breath doesn’t smell like spices while you chew on your spices.