My first plate
On my first visit, after just one bite, I was ready to proclaim this restaurant to be the best Indian food in LA. I took a second bite, of a different dish, just to be sure, and then made my proclamation out loud to my friend. On my second visit, I wasn't as enthralled. The food was still very good, it just wasn't mind-blowing. Maybe I just wasn't as hungry. Maybe I've been eating so much Indian food lately that it takes more to impress me. Who knows. I'm no longer sure I want to call it the very best, but maybe I just want an excuse to try more restaurants!
I went for the lunch buffet--why have just one dish when you can have 20? They have a lunch buffet daily (but are closed Mondays) for a mere $7 on weekdays and $10 on weekends, and this price includes a drink. You're probably thinking what I was--free coke, big deal. That doesn't even go with my meal. But by free drink, they mean a real drink! I had a mango lassi. It was the best mango lassi I've ever had. Sweet and tangy but not too much of eithier. Other lassis I've tried have been too yogurty, too sweet, going bad, made from a powdered mix, or drenched in food coloring. (Don't ever have a lassi at Akbar, because those last 4 descriptions apply to their mango lassis.)
I didn't really need the lassi though, in the sense that the food was not that spicy (as in hot). This is probably good in a buffet so that it accomodates as many people as possible. The food was richly spiced, so the lack of heat didn't even occur to me until later and I can't say I particular missed it. However, I do like to get my mouth nice and fiery once in a while.
I spent a good hour and a half savoring my food, and I probably could have taken longer if I didn't feel bad for my friend. Unfortunately, I did not write down the names of what I ate, and the menu and catering menu don't seem to have all the items that were on the buffet (which is kind of exciting, really). They had a number of items I had never tried before, including two things that I would classify as soup. They had plain basmati rice, vegetable biryani, naan, those crunchy flat round things, those colored crunchy things (and they actually tasted like something, for once), various curries (none of which are on the menu--no mattar paneer, palak paneer, chana masala, etc), salad, lemon/carrot pickle, 2 kinds of dessert, plain yogurt, raita, dal, and more. I didn't care for the dal, but I never do. I love lentils, but maybe I don't like yellow lentils, or maybe the primary flavor of this dish is always turmeric. I haven't figured out turmeric yet. I know it's a big deal in Indian food, but I don't think it tastes like anything, unless it's the only spice, in which case it tastes bad. Other than that, I don't really feel compelled to describe the flavors to you in detail. They were amazing. Go taste them for yourself. Also, you can check out their regular menu and catering menu on the website.
My second plate
As you may have noticed, mint and tamarind chutneys are conspicuously absent from my photographs. Unfortunately, this restaurant does not seem to have them. That is my only complaint. These are two of my favorite things, and they weren't on the buffet or the menu anywhere. Maybe they aren't south Indian items. I really have no idea. The only flavor of chutney they serve is coconut, which I think is a little narrow-minded. I also would have liked to see samosas on the buffet. It will be interesting to go back and see if they have a rotating buffet. I am a fan of rotating buffets, since I always like to try new things, even though it sometimes means I don't get to eat an old favorite.
The restaurant is very casual. Although the food is excellent and would certainly impress a foodie date, if you want to wine and dine your sweetie, this is not the place. The tables are kind of arranged in rows, there are no table cloths, the floor is tile (nice tile, but tile nonetheless), the workers wear matching green polo shirts, the chairs are made out of that metal tubing stuff, there's nothing exciting about the lighting, there's a TV screen on the wall, and it's in a strip mall. It's not as bad as the description suggests, but it's not ambient by any means. So I guess this is my other complaint. At my favorite Indian restaurant in St. Louis, India's Rasoi, they have an excellent, equally inexpensive lunch buffet, yet the restaurant has ambience and is date-perfect: table cloths, flowers, staggered tables, booths, low lighting at night, and always well-dressed and very attentive service. The service at Annapurna was attentive--they were good about getting rid of my old plates and refilling water. I did not find them to be excessively or frighteningly friendly, as I had read on Chowhound. The hostess was quite smiley, but the rest of the staff seemed fairly subdued. They were very unintrusive and quick to turn around the check.
I want to order one of those big aluminum catering things and keep it in my fridge so I can eat this stuff every day! And they're not too pricey, so I'd actually consider this. Better than eating those grocery store sorry excuse for Indian tv dinners. I will definitely return to this restaurant, hopefully with frequency, and that's not something I say often.
10200 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Phone: (310) 204-5500
Fax: (310) 204-3363