Friday, January 28, 2011

LA and Tanzore (aka Gaylords) on La Cienega (

Fat Boy Raul with his name crossed out on wall graffiti, lights shining on lights, reflecting off the hoods of bimmers, bouncing off the sidewalks, then settling, cradled like pools on the road; a cool waft of LA breeze that blows in from the oceans, floral prints in January--I am there--a one time resident, flying in after a numb fingered tire change on a bitterly cold night, in a pothole puncture, off Van Wyck near Kennedy. 

Gaylords in the eighties was one of the legendary Indian restaurants in LA, in the heydays of Westwood when the warm weekend nights around UCLA would be alit with the gaiety of a street fair, and thick crowds would meander through the night, with Lebanese falafel, shawarma, and the international flavors of this city.  Gaylords was the restaurant of the well heeled older Indians—we as graduate students frequented the now burnt down India’s Oven. Our first Gaylords meal was tentative--there to celebrate a graduation, we picked at the menu sparingly, sensitive to its prices.  I remember curries in stainless steel katodis, we were convinced that it had to be good, the four of us in their twenties, in a 1984 Civic.

Many things change in a city, never the quality of the light, never the smell of its undefinable feel, so too for LA after 22 years.  Gaylords changed its name, changed it back again, then renaming it now to Tanzore with the Gaylords brand name still hovering somewhere in its description.  Rebuilt and expanded at the same location, we enter a huge tasteful space and lounge, and for me a first in the men’s room--little television screens right above the WC’s, tuned to a TV channel.  This was LA, you never knew what to expect. 

It was not all about the food that night.  It was the memories of a youth, felt by feeling the embroideries of the past.  The Civic now long gone, after years in Minnesota—packed off in farewell with a tow truck.

Gaylords has a dim restaurant ambiance with big boxy lights from the ceiling, sleek with a woody Nordic feel, but a deep Indian tone and shine.  The food remains deserving of an elite restaurant.  The tandoori lamb chops are a specialty, and the dish survived the transition to the new restaurant. We had them medium rare, and they were perfect, of the “closed eye in enjoyment” variety.  If you seek tenderness, lamb chops marinated with Indian spices and a bit of yogurt impart dollops of it (I suspect they had yogurt but I cannot be sure—they may have had some papaya as well, which is a fantastic meat tenderizer). Indian recipes overcook vegetables,  but if you are willing to overlook this, the Baingan Bharta, where the eggplants blended pastelike so that it formed a thick, viscous consistency with the rest of the condiments, went well with naans.  A vodka-citrus scallop salad with pomegranate seeds, hearts of palm  and avocado was a pleasant surprise, a non-Indian dish to me, not that it mattered—it felt light and breezy.  I hate to use the word “pairings”, firstly because we are talking about more than two items, and secondly because it is a hackneyed cliché, but the pomegranate, hearts of palm and avocado went well with one another—the first two familiar to Indian palates though never together, the avocado traditionally unknown within India. 

For dessert I have been on a kulfi binge lately--Tanzore makes its own kulfi, and this is always reason to try.  There are typically two types of kulfi’s served in Indian restaurants—one that has a creamy, consistent and smooth texture that starts out rock solid, but turns smooth once it has had a bit of time to warm up in your mouth.  The other offers a more brittle texture at first bite giving away its store bought mass pedigree, the granularity coming from small amounts of melting and refreezing as it sits around.  It is a small, but discernable difference.  This in my mind is a decent yardstick of the quality of a Indian restaurant—I usually ask the waiter whether the kulfi was created on the premises.  Tanzore’s kulfi was good, the respectable product that one expects from a restaurant of its stature.  I had hoped that it would be served with the traditional vermicelli, but we were told that customers apparently did not like this.

We drive across the city at night.  Apart from a few new high rises in downtown, its profile has remained the same: low and flat, like a droplet of water spreading unchecked, forming a thin film on a surface it has completely wetted.  A good meal, a once familiar city, the glow of the city bouncing around in its smog, and palm trees whizzing by a freeway that the night has now unclogged.
Tanzore on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 21, 2011

Shiva's Indian Restaurant, Mountain View CA

Nice, nice, not thrilling, but nice”, is what Mel Brooks’ character said in the History of the World Part I, and this just about summed up my assessment of Shiva’s.  Eight out of a scale of ten, two missing.  Shiva’s makes a buttery smooth Seafood Curry, with prawns and sea bass, in a mellow sauce of coconut milk and curry leaves, a “Madras” curry kind of concoction.  It makes a decent Rogan Josh, that if you tasted it, you would know was made in a good Indian restaurant in the United States-- you would keep grabbing the chunks of meat by their throats with pieces of soft naan and pop them into your mouth.  Glance through the menu and there are the usual suspects, the lifers—Dum chicken biryani, vindaloo, tikka masala.  Come on!  In Mountain View, California?  Even Westchester county has bolder Indian restaurants, that are experimenting with new things. This is the place where, driving from San Jose to SFO circa 1994, I saw my first billboard ad with a web address pasted across it.  The valley where things of the future are meant to take place now.  The food was well made, no doubt about it.  The place has ambiance, great service, even Kingfisher on draft.  It is the well trodden path that I am tired of. 

We thumb through the menu, halting at an interesting dish named Gangtok Chicken, and I asked the waiter whether this was, indeed, a Sikkimese dish as the name suggested.  He did not vouch for it.  Gangtok’ey gondogol.  We move on.

We started off with appetizers—Manchurian Gobi, increasingly popular and the only Indo-Chinese dish on the menu.  Crisp, colorful Papri Chat. Rich and creamy kulfi.  Masala chai that could have had a bit more punch to it.  A polished restaurant in a polished town, you cannot find much fault with the food.  Yet it lacked that bit of eccentricity, that twist in the food, maybe the slightly off-kilter chef like the one at Mana Thai in Mt. Kisco, or Sushi Nanase, that would make it worth remembering for the long haul.
Shiva's Indian Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Mana-Thai Cuisine

360 N Bedford Rd , Mt Kisco, NY (914) 244-8588

Years ago, if you wanted decent Thai food in Upper Westchester, you had to make a trip to Reka’s in White Plains.  There was a Thai place in Thornwood but the food wasn’t too good.  Then, 2 years ago, a couple of new Thai places sprung up—in Mohegan Lake and Mount Kisco; and now there is yet another new Thai restaurant—Mana Thai, in Mt. Kisco in the strip of stores that contain CVS and Blockbuster on Bedford Road, in place of the earlier Myong eatery.

We landed at Mana-Thai on a cold, cold night, the day after a heavy snowstorm.  It is a small place with a few tables and a large professional kitchen with lots of stainless steel.  There was a single cook/manager and a helper, and as the piped music played through the ceiling speakers, he would abruptly join in every once in a while, striking sharp, somewhat discordant notes with the music.  I like that in a cook.

The atmosphere was laid back.  He came by in a few minutes and took our order, chatted with us.  And then proceeded to whip it up on the huge, professional gas burners behind the counter.  The soups—Tom Kh Gai and Tom Yum Gum—were good, not great.  The fried calamari appetizer was wonderful, crisp and fresh.  A Singha beer while we waited for the main entrees.  Pad Kimao, Pad Thai, and Thai fried rice with its characteristic aromatic spiciness—well made and honest. 

It was the atmosphere that was endearing, perhaps it was the snowbound coldness of that night, the somewhat unconventional layout and service, the good hot food that was eminently affordable—we will be back.  A welcome new addition!

Note added Aug 21, 2011
We have visited Mana Thai a few more times, and it is a unique, small restaurant!  Go there a bit late in the evening.  There is only one chef (and owner) who cooks for you, so the dishes arrive in sequence.  If you are willing to overlook this slight logistical hiccup, you will be rewarded by fresh, wonderfully tasting food, cooked from scratch.  It is as simple as that.  The tofu soup that we had yesterday was silky with the taste of the vegetables deep in its broth. The  Larb, ground chicken salad had the classic tang of Thai salads and the staple of Thai dishes here--the Pad Thai, was a reliable war horse of a dish that takes its rider through yet another journey--solid and reliable.
Mana-Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon