Restaurant Review #25: Nawab of India, Santa Monica


You look like you're lot's of fun. . .

Last night I realized that I have really been missing out. I prematurely judged Nawab of India on my first and second visits based on what now appear to be small flaws. On the first visit, I was so upset by the tamarind chutney that I ruled out the restaurant, because no way could it replace my favorite St. Louis Indian place, India's Rasoi. And since I had to find a replacement, well, I didn't want to go back. I had to move on. And I did return once anyway for the buffet, but was so disappointed that it wasn't as large as the buffet at India's Rasoi that I dissed Nawab that time, too.

However, last night, on my third visit, and after doing a great deal of Indian restaurant research last month and tasting many a mediocre samosa, I was just thrilled. The tamarind chutney was still uselessly watery, but I can overlook that. But only because everything else was superb, especially the samosas and the pickles.

I have noticed that when I write food reviews, I put off writing specifically about the food until last. (I don't compose my blog entries from beginning to end the way you, dear reader, read them.) I have a tendency to just want to say, "It was good! Go eat it yourself!" Here are my thoughts on the food itself, though.

I've got to have my way now baby . . .

Mint chutney, tamarind chutney, carrot and garlic pickles, and those flat crispy round things were on the table for us when we arrived. The waiter let us pick our own table, which I always appreciate. The pickles were very flavorful and not too spicy. They were very seedy and actually made it worth consuming carrots, which I am generally not a fan of at all. Trying to swallow nasty, dry, mouth-massacred mini-chunks of raw carrot makes me nearly gag, and cooked carrots don't do much more for me, but I ate lots of pickles. I didn't try the garlic pickles, though I would have liked to had I been going straight home after dinner. Since I was going to be interacting with people for the next 4 hours and wasn't sure what I'd be getting myself into if I bit into a whole clove of garlic, I decided against it. Ok, maybe I should have tried it anyway, but you never know when Mr. Right might tap you on the shoulder and then reject you because of your garlic breath. How 50's of me. Anyway, I kind of think pickles should test my food intensity tolerance, and carrot pickles don't. I wish they served lemon pickles, though it now occurs to me that perhaps I should have requested them. Perhaps they have them available for more adventerous diners who request them specifically. I am never a fan of those crispy wafer things, and this was no exception, but I don't blame Nawab for this.

I ordered lentil samosas as an appetizer, and lucky me, they first brought me the wrong dish, so I got to try both the potato and pea samosas and the lentil samosas. Both made me very happy. Three samosas come on a grease-absorbing doily on a small plate. They were a smaller size than usual, which made for a nice ratio of filling to crust, and also gave the samosas a perky come-out-and-play look, rather than the slightly dark and threatening vibe that large samosas give off. Wow, now I am imposing personalities onto my food! Owing to their perfect size, there were no unwanted bites of just filling in these samosas. The potato filling was smooth and moist, not starchy and dry, and the outside was a bit chewy and doughy where it should be, and fried to a nice crisp with just a bit of extra grease. The lentil samosas were bursting with the essence of the goodness that is Indian food. I think I could eat these every day with relish and abandon. Or rather, without relish--I didn't need any chutney to make the samosas more moist or more exciting. Finally, a samosa that can speak for itself.

The naan was glorious in its chewiness. Oh, joy. Not just another dried-out flimsy puffy thing, this naan had real heft to it. Yum.

Lamb. Baaaaaa.

Like a rabbit baby. . .

On a previous visit, I really enjoyed the bhindi masala (okra, tomato, and onion curry), but I wanted to try something different. I almost ordered meat, but wasn't sure I wanted a whole plate of it, so I ordered the mushroom mutter, a vegetarian dish of mushrooms and peas, and my friend ordered lamb with onions. The lamb dish was quite tasty-lamb has an interesting texture that I am unaccustomed to, since I feel guilty about eating it and refuse to order it (like veal). It was fully spiced and pretty moist, though it was a tad dry (but only a tad), compelling me to moisten it it in the scant bit of liquid swimming amidst the tumeric-tinged onions on the silver serving plate. The lamb was truly a carnivore's dish, since there was really nothing there to eat except big lamb-ball-shaped chunks of lamb and onions. If I were Jonathan Gold, would I have called it gamy? Perhaps, as I have noticed he has a propensity for that word, but having never eaten game, I don't understand what it means.

As for the mushroom mutter, it wasn't as good as the curries that drive me wild at Annapurna, but it was still top of the line. And why the dual language title? Why not call it goochi mutter? Or mutter goochi? It sounds so cool. I think I am getting tired of the vegetarian entrees at Indian restaurants. Last night, I was having a hard time ordering, because so many of the descriptions on the menu were not complete enough (i.e., I didn't know if a sauce would be creamy in a coconut cream way or a cow cream way) or they said that the dish was mildly spiced. If I'm eating Indian, I want heavily spiced, intense, mouth-electrifying craziness. Also, I don't like paneer much, or rather, I like it, but I don't want it in my curry, and so many dishes have it. How would I like my paneer? Plain, perhaps, served warm as an appetizer, dipped by me in pickley stuff. So to order, say, shahi paneer, the first Indian dish I loved, would basically be to order a plate of sauce, and that's not very exciting.

Mushroom mutter. But what is it saying?

Rice run baby rice run. . .

Ok, that's not how the song goes, but that's what I used to think it said. But now I know they're singing about records, not rabbits and rice. Losing your innocence is so hard sometimes. So the rice wasn't that exciting, but I didn't order the saffron rice, and probably should have. I don't know if it was the lack of saffron or a flaw in the rice but it didn't seem as fragrant and mouth-filling as basmati should be. And it really burns my hot little culo that Indian places in LA all want to charge me for rice. Please! We all know that rice is just about the world's cheapest food and not exactly difficult to prepare (unless you are me, and have never cooked a completely successful batch of rice).

Nawab of India's setup for some reason strikes me as very odd. Most of the tables are in one room, and the room just seems unusually open and not like a restaurant somehow. Also, 2 out of the 3 times I have eaten here, the restaurant has been so quiet that I have felt self-conscious about talking at a normal volume for fear that other diners and the restaurant staff would be able to listen to every word of my conversations. I like that I don't have to yell, but something in between would be nice. Maybe it's the green carpet that makes it feel wierd? Maybe it is. My dentist's office is also unusually quiet and carpeted in the same shade and texture.

Watch out here I come. . .

Nawab actually is a replacement for India's Rasoi, after all. They have my table cloths and booths--it's date-worthy. The menu is extensive, offering a variety of rices, breads, samosas, desserts, vegetarian entrees, meat entrees, and even seafood entrees. The prices are higher than other Indian restaurants--vegetarian entrees are around $12 and meat entrees are around $15, and the portions are smaller, and rice is not included. So that kind of bums me out. But at least I can get 15% off with my KCRW card. The Indian staff is unobtrusive, discreet, friendly, fast, and interested in whether you are enjoying your meal.

If you were wondering who Nawab is, he is "a commanding figure who led Sikhs through this dark period" and the founder of Dal Khalsa. Do I have any clue what this means? No. "By his bold example and his wise leadership, welded the Sikhs into a strong fighting force and implanted in their minds the vision of political sovereignty. He was a true embodiment of Sikh character forged by the alchemy of a fiery ordeal and enjoyed unique esteem for his courage, sacrifice and religious devotion." So I guess he was a cool enough dude to have a restaurant named after him. Several, actually. There are unrelated Nawab restaurants elsewhere in the country. Aren't you feeling enlightened?

This was truly one of the best meals I've had in months. It seems that the combination of good atmosphere, good food, and good service has become rare, but here, you can have it all--with a side of kick-ass samosas.

Nawab of India
1621 Wilshire Blvd.Santa Monica, 90403
(310) 829-1106
Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-10:30pm
Sat 12pm-3pm, 5:30pm-10:30pm
Sun 12pm-3pm, 5pm-10pm

Buffet available during lunch hours.

1 comment:

Dylan McDonald said...

I really like the use of song lyrics in the review (makes your site a little different from other food blogs). I'd like to see more of this--maybe not for every review, but occasionally (and when you can kind of make it fit, like you did here).