For the most part, the only way to get Indian food in Van Nuys is to have it delivered through a special restaurant delivery service that charges an arm and a leg in extra fees and minimum orders. Thankfully, there is an alternative: Passage to India on Burbank at Hazeltine. With decor that hasn't been updated since the '70s and a location in a tacky strip mall containing a falafel joint and a key duplication shop, the restaurant isn't much to look at. Nor is the food particularly outstanding despite the menu's claims that its chefs were top chefs in Bangladesh, England, and Saudia Arabia. But in a neighborhood with no other Indian options and with Chinese and pizza as the only other affordable delivery places, even merely passable Indian food is a much-welcomed option.
Juicy, tender chicken and buttery potatoes bathe in a tame sauce with long strips of fresh ginger. This dish would be good if it came from a crock pot in Iowa, but it's too tame to call itself Indian.
At the opposite end of the spectrum lies the mattar paneer. The most flavorful dish by far, the sauce has a hint of smokiness and a touch of sweetness the envelopes the tender, perfectly-cooked peas.
Another of Passage to India's better dishes is the aloo gobi, fork-tender cauliflower with potatoes and sauce. Although no Indian restaurant does this, cutting the potatoes into smaller chunks would make them more flavorful.
Chicken Tikka Masala
The chicken tikka masala is creamy and flavorful, but it's hard to get past the alarmingly artificial-looking color. If you're particularly coordinated, perhaps you can eat it with your eyes closed.
The curry chicken doesn't live up to its name--it's surprisingly bland. Don't bother with this dish.
The lemon pickles have a pungent, sour smell and an intense heat that sneaks up on you. As good as they are, there's a decent chance you could pick up an identical product in a jar in Artesia (for the same price as this tiny $3 cup--but a little goes a long way).
The gulab jamun are not very flavorful, not very soft, and have a few hard, unpleasant bits of cardamom seeds.
This review isn't exactly a rave, but when you don't feel like getting in your car and that jar of simmer sauce from Trader Joe's just isn't going to cut it, Passage to India still makes for a pretty satisfying meal if you order well. The menu has a pleasing number of options, including beef dishes and lots of shrimp dishes. Rice is not included, so make sure to order some. The naan is good if you like yours soft and chewy (but you'll have to pay extra for chutney). Prices are typical Indian restaurant prices: $6.95 to $7.95 for vegetarian dishes, and $9.95 to $12.95 for chicken, lamb, and beef dishes. All dishes can be ordered mild, medium, hot, or "phall hot". Medium spice seems to be pretty mild, but hot may be a little too hot.
For takeout, calling in your order is a better idea than just stopping by. The food seems to be at least partly made to order given the time it takes to prepare and the aromas that emanate from the kitchen only after you place your order, so you'll wait a while if you just walk in. Delivery arrives in a blessedly reasonable amount of time even on a Saturday night (also unlike the multiple restaurant delivery service, which takes at least an hour).
Passage to India
14062 Burbank Blvd.
Van Nuys, CA 91401
Lunch buffet 11:30-2:30 daily
Free delivery within two miles
Onion soup gratinee
On Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, La Frite occupies a blessedly quiet and relatively large space, but the dining room is poorly decorated and has too much incandescent yellow lighting. On a Monday night, finding free street parking was a snap and we didn't need a reservation, as there were plenty of empty tables - perhaps too many, in retrospect. Most of the other patrons were from the Sherman Oaks retiree set and/or primarily there for a drink at the bar. We had no problems with the service, but restaurant review sites like Citysearch and Menupages websites report some troubling rudeness.
The menu is long and varied, but tries too hard to please. What self-respecting French restaurant serves Chinese chicken salad with mandarin oranges, rice noodles, and fried wontons, or "Pizza South Western" with chicken, red onion, avocado, and cilantro? With items like those being offered alongside basic French cuisine, I was awfully wary of trying the restaurant's more traditional dishes, like escargot or duck pate.
The prices are scary, too, for food of a Marie Callender's caliber. Chicken Cordon Bleu comes in at a whopping $17.75, while the aforementioned gourmet snails are only $16 for a dozen. Snails, like sushi, are no place to cut costs.
The quiche Lorraine with ham, bacon, and swiss cheese was unmemorable, but the dressing with lettuce (err, side salad) was a rare sight to Angeleno eyes. I thought I'd simultaneously been transported to another decade and another part of the country - another part of the U.S., unfortunately, not France.
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Named after the famous French culinary school, chicken Cordon Bleu is a classic dish of chicken rolled around ham and swiss cheese. The chicken was moist and flavorful, but not spectacular. The green beans tasted fine, but looked a little sickly, like someone forgot to blanch them.
Ham, cheese, and mushroom crepe
The best dish was probably the ham, cheese, and mushroom crepe, which was warm, tasty and filling. The menu offers several varieties of crepes, such as spinach, tomato, sausage, and cheese or ratatouille. I'm not sure how I feel about putting ratatouille in a crepe, but it makes for a decent vegetarian option. The menu is somewhat meaty, but there are an above-average number of vegetarian choices, including several varieties of pasta, a vegetarian quiche, several salads, a homemade veggie burger, and a mushroom burger.
Grand Marnier souffle
Dessert options include most of the usual suspects: cheesecake, ice cream, bread pudding, and creme brulee; a few particularly dull additions: ice cream sundae, banana split, carrot cake; and several more unique options: taratuffo cake, chocolate pecan honey tart, crepes, and the liquor souffle of your choice. Trying to opt for something more interesting while also going with an old standby, we ordered two souffles--chocolate and liquor. The liquor souffle of your choice can be made with Grand Marnier, Kahlua, amaretto, Bailey's, or whatever you want.
The souffles arrived steaming hot and had a very airy texture, making this dessert a good choice if you're already quite full from dinner. However, both were surprisingly lacking in flavor except for tasting too strongly of egg. Even the accompanying sauces couldn't redeem them.
La Frite is an acceptable but fairly outdated and uninteresting restaurant. Even in parts of the country with less inspired dining options, La Frite would be a disappointment to most. A regular clientele may sustain this restaurant for a while longer, but all signs indicate that it's on its way out (and doesn't seem to care).
15013 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 9143
La Frite Menu