Gujarti chowdown - Sultan restaurant July 11th (long)
First of all: an apology to my fellow chowhounds. I had to leave in a rush last night and not sure if I said goodbye. Jerry was double-parked after getting the car out of the garage which closed at 9:30, and very anxious to get home. He drove like it too: Taylor St. to our front door in Reno in three hours flat. One stop in Auburn to refuel driver with coffee and car with gas. Gotta be a record.
Also, I feel badly because price came out higher than estimated. Part of the problem may be because of the complicated subterfuge we had gone through to keep the owners from knowing it was a chowdown event. As a result, we had several people making reservations and discussing menus. I got one menu at one price, and then sister Susan called for the second reservation and added items to the menu (at my instruction; I admit: I couldn't choose between the cabbage and the eggplant and the corn vadas and the potatoe fritters!). It never occured to either one of us that the added items would mean added cost. duuuhhh.... As further proof of my contrition, I am making a nice donation to chowhound "goodwill" today to cover any of you who might not have felt like adding more money to the chowhound cause after paying the bill......
Now on to the good news: Jerry and I both thought the food was excellent!! It was served in true Gujarti style: on the thali with servers coming around and offering more of the items that folks wanted (basically all you could eat, and we did eat a lot!). As I told someone at the table, the meal we had last night was identical with one we might have been served as important guests in a Gujarti home. A typical family meal would have been similar, just fewer dishes.
Here was the menu:
Corn vada (fritters)
Bataka (potatoe) fritters
puri (bread -- deep fried chapatis, basically)
mint and mango chutneys
cabbage sak (cabbage "curry" - curry is an anglocized word for a stew or vegetable presentation. "sak" or as its sometimes written "shak" is the Gujarti word).
eggplant-pea sak (see above)
dry potatoe sak
Chunna (black garbanzo beans)
kadhi (yogurt sauce for rice and dahl)
fruit custard desert
I particularly liked the cabbage; this is one of my favorite Gujarti dishes. The cabbage is stir fried with tumeric, black mustard seeds, and a few other spices. Someone described it as "Gujarti slaw" It almost is, but the cabbage is cooked (although it is still a little crunchy...). The eggplant-peas were also delicious, and I don't even like eggplant. Okra was excellent as well: I am always amazed at how Gujarti cooks manage to cook okra without making it slimy.
The food was appropriately spiced. Gujarti food is not usually "picante" as much as it is spiced with a variety of aromatic spices (coriander, cumin, tumeric, ginger, cloves, etc). Some cooks make it more "picante" than others...this was about a medium level.
Jerry and I both look forward to future Sunday visits to Sultan for Gujarti food. Its the next best thing to visiting one of my sister-in-laws! I'm looking forward to hearing all of your reactions....
sigh....and I was stuck in traffic after some big Laguna Seca race coming back from Monterey at about the time you all were eating! (no, I wasn't at the race, just stuck in a nasty traffic jam after a much longer than expected day of scuba)... I did call to make sure that Janet knew that if there was a charge for no-shows that she should cover me and I would reimburse her, but there apparently wasn't. Still, it was a last minute drop-out so I hope anyone on a waiting list forgives me before I forgive myself!
oh well, it doesn't take me nearly as long to get to Sultan as it does for Janet, so now I know where to take her next time she comes to town...for that matter, it only takes a bit of arm twisting to get Jerry (a pretty darn good Gujarti cook himself) or Janet's in-laws to cook for me anytime (better yet, they are great about sharing recipes and I've actually learned via Janet and Jerry to make one or two Gujarati recipes myself).
I'll never forget the time we stop by one of the sisters-in-law for what was advertised as 'just a little snack'! I didn't eat the rest of the day :-)
I, too, really enjoyed the meal. I loved the pan-fried okra - I haven't had okra in ages and it was perfectly cooked. My other favories were the cabbage sak, chunna & kadhi. I will absolutely put Sultan in my restaurant rotation.
I have to say that as much as I loved the food, the Gujarti-style service of providing seconds and thirds and even more was a little too generous for me. In general, I try to eat reasonable portions so I tend to avoid the all-you-can-eat format and last night having three servers coming around every few minutes pushing more food was more than I could handle - it reminded me of numerous family events where Gramma, Auntie or Mom isn't satisfied until you have to unbutton your pants and your eyes glaze over. Can you believe that a chowhound would make such a complaint? I'm ashamed of myself.
Yes, the idea is to stuff you; just like grandma would. If they didn't do so, it wouldn't be an authentic Gujarti meal.....
BTW, as I told some of the people sitting near me, a good Gujarti word to know is "bas" (pronounced "baus", sort of....almost like "bus" but a bit more of an "a" sound. Accompany the word with a hand held out flat over your plate. That means "enough", and if accompanied by a grateful smile is usually not considered an insult to the cook......
The evening started with Janet explaining the basics of how a Gujarti dinner is served in somebody's home: all-dishes-at-once thali and the host would serve more of any dishes you wanted. Moments later, our waitress explained that she would serve the meal the same way. That was a beautiful moment.
I too very much enjoyed my meal here. All of the dishes were good and I took seconds of everything but the rice and dessert, only because I was getting full by then. The dishes that I found extra good were the two fritters, cabbage sak, okra, eggplant and pea sak, and the final rice-dal-raita (many thanks to Jerry for telling us to mix them).
The waitress told Erika--after the fourth or fifth time she told her how much she loved the eggplant sak--that it could be ordered any time even though it's not on the menu. We didn't ask about any of the other dishes, but it couldn't hurt to ask if you could get any of these dishes even if you're not there on a Sunday night.
There were some things that were imperfect. I found that most of the dishes were better when we got seconds, not so much because it was hot but because other textures were better. For example, the dal wasn't as starchy-firm and the garbanzos weren't so hard on the second time around. I found the puri a little to greasy and doughy, although I must admit I still ate 3 or 4 of them. Finally, we waited a very long time for our wine glasses to arrive, and I ended up opening my own bottle of wine a few minutes later. Corkage was $8. (If anyone is interested, the wine I brought was a St. Clair Gewurztraminer 2002 from New Mexico (!), rather sweet and by no means a great wine, but otherwise enjoyable).
But those were minor faults. On the whole, it was an excellent meal and a good value at $20 for all you can eat.
Thanks to Alex for the initial tip, Janet (and anyone else) for organizing, Ruth and whomever brought the GV, and to everyone for the company.
Thanks all for these reports. I'm jealous. Before moving away from S.F. I would occasionally bug Suleman and Mariam, whose mom is the chef, about putting Gujarati food on the menu. (The family has roots in Gujarat, and passed through Mumbai on the way here.)
When Sultan opened, Gujarati food wasn't where they wanted to go. The owners couldn't have been encouraged by the fate of Haveli on Sixth St., which started out as a steam-table Gujarati place, then faltered and eventually changed hands (and menu). Now they seem to be going that way, at least on weekends, so I guess my timing was poor. Story of my life.
Nick -- a question to a fellow chilehead: As Janet and others have noted, Gujarati food doesn't necessarily emphasize that kind of heat. I'm wondering how "medium" heat, as Janet described it, went over with you.
Well, we all miss having you at the table with us, too. What Gujarati food might lack in heat is more than compensated by the complexity of its seasonings. The okra was dry fried and excellent; the cabbage with black mustard seeds, meltingly sweet; and the chuna was my favorite dish of the feast - but I liked it all. I could eat this Gujarati cookery every day of the week - Mariam says that these dishes are typical of home-cooking.
well, now that a few more have posted I'll add a few comments on the food.
I agree that the puri weren't perfect. Of course, as I think I explained to Nick during dinner, that would be almost too much to ask of a restaurant. Puri are at their best when eaten just after removal from the frying pan; when they are puffy and crispy. I'm sure that millions of Gujarati children would attest to that one.
I too enjoyed the dal more the second time around. It is one dish that really tastes better hot.
And the dry potato sak was kind of bland. (Note: the term "dry" is not meant to be demeaning; I use it to distinguish the type of potatoe sak that was served from a "wet" sak; ie potatoes in a soupy broth.....)
OK, that's about all the fault I could find with the meal. Susan, you missed it!
No need to apologize! It was a fabulous meal, and it was great that you stepped up to organize it and use your knowledge to put together such a wonderful menu.
What struck me about the food was that there was a wide variety of distinct flavors, which is not always true of an Indian meal. I particularly liked the two dishes Mariam described as having lemon: the eggplant and pea sak and the "stupid good" Bataka (calling it a potato fritter does not begin to do justice to the complex flavors). The heat level was about right for me: enough to build up a pleasant glow, but not enought to be uncomfortable.
The restaurant is beautiful and comfortable, and the staff is all charming. Considering that the regular menu is only slightly more expensive than the minimal-service dives in the Tandoorloin, I think Sultan can qualify as a real chowhound find.
re: Ruth Lafler
Re: your comment on food at most Indian restaurants "all tasting alike": Now you know why I much prefer eating in relatives' homes than in Indian Restaurants.....once you've had Gujarti cooking you are spoiled for life, and it so unusual to find in restaurants. I think that there is a fear to serve food that is so different from the usual US "meat and potatoes" type meal...
Hey, anytime you guys want to go for a repeat chowdown, just call. Jerry and I will gladly make the drive from Reno anytime.....
the meal was stupid good. well worth wiggling my way out of work for, as i'd anticipated it would be.
it was one of the most, if not THE most, fantastic group dinners i've been to. every dish was absurdly delicious, and i couldn't resist shoveling back refill after refill.
pardon my fawning. perhaps i'll have something a little more trenchant to say later, but for the moment, i'm all about the unadulterated praise.
I, too, really enjoyed the food and also found that the quality improved with 2d and 3rd portions. I especially liked the potato fritter, which seemed to have some sort of caramelized finish.
Anyway, I was feeling so good about Sultan that I went back for lunch today!
The latest news: in a couple of weeks, they're hoping to adopt a chaat/vegetarian menu at lunchtime. It's still very much in the preliminary phases (they're looking for a masala guru to man the kitchen), but when the transformation is made, we should hit it for a lunchtime chowdown.