Inaugural Silicon Valley Chowdown lunch: Annapurna Snacks, Sunnyvale
Well, all right, calling it a chowdown stretches the concept when the group comprises 3 and everyone has exactly the same thing, but in any case, the Silicon Valley Chowdown mailing list/Yahoo group had its inaugural get together today with an impromptu lunch suggested by Melanie Wong.
Melanie suggested a get together at Annapurna Snacks, a small restaurant, catering, and snack operation located just off of Lawrence Expressway on Elko Drive. You would be hard pressed to notice the place if you didn't expect a restaurant to be there, because the one-story building is otherwise occupied by a variety of tech tenants and is pretty nondescript.
Annapurna has about six 4-tops in it and serves lunch from 11 - 2:30 Monday through Friday. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the cuisine is Gujarati. Tuesday and Thursday, south Indian is served. There's no ordering of food here as far as I can tell. One thali is available each day, take it or leave it. I'll apologize in advance that I don't know the proper names of most of the items we were served, but we only managed to get a description of the items from the server/cashier/owner(?).
Today's meal included 4 puri, pickled cauliflower, potatoes, peas and eggplant, a small cup of soup, rice, fried crisps, sweetened carrot dessert, and a yoghurt drink.
The puri were pleasantly flaky, about 5 inches in diameter, and served warm. Well, maybe a little too flaky -- you have to be careful when scooping things with them, lest they disintegrate into small pieces. I found using a spoon and putting the vegetables on top of the puri worked better for me.
The peas and eggplant were a nice combination, cooked to the point that the peas still had some give to them, but the eggplant was soft and not at all "eggplanty" (a term I use to describe the way undercooked or underprepared eggplant tastes and feels).
The potatoes had a pleasant spice to them, and were mixed with one of cumin, fennel, or celery seeds -- we couldn't tell and the server didn't know which one they had used today. Also in the potato mix were small black seeds whose name escapes, despite Mark Seiden (our 3rd dining companion) telling me what they were.
The pickles were served in a red oil that hinted of more than just brining. Unfortunately, my plate came with just an oort of pickle sitting forlornly in its pocket in the plastic thali tray. Fortunately, Annapurna Snacks is actually generous with the food, bringing bowls of various items out to reload our thalis. Two thumbs up for that move!
The soup was an orange with a few small pieces of vegetable hiding under the surface. My general ignorance of Indian food is exposed in that I can't begin to list the spices and flavors found in it, but it was tasty. The serving potion was probably on the order of a 1/4 cup, however, so don't go in there with a great hankering for soup.
The crisps were akin to Chinese shrimp chips, but neither so smooth or dense. White in color, I wasn't sure how they went with the meal, so I just ate them in turn as a source of texture and palate cleansing.
The carrot dessert was made of shredded carrot bits that were cooked down sweetened slightly. Good for relieving some of the minor burn from the spicing of the soup and potatoes.
The yoghurt drink was thin and white, and after discussion with Mark, we decided that it was probably too thin to be equated with the typical lassi found in so many Indian restaurants. It was also salted, not sweet.
Anyhow, the whole thing was $8.95 per person plus tax and tip. Not bad at all and certainly worth looking into if you're in the area. Parking is tight -- there are 4 regular and 1 handicap spots in front of the restaurant, but street parking is otherwise off of Elko (which is a no-parking zone on both sides of the street).
1112 Elko Drive
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Peter, thanks for reporting and joining us for lunch. I believe Ruth Lafler and I once asked ourselves what the quorum was for a chowdown. We thought three was a minimum --- two people to have opposing opinions and one as a swing vote. (g)
Image of Gujarati lunch thali -
I picked Annapurna for this curry dive, expecting it to be more "divey". Instead, I found freshly painted walls and a tidy interior, plus nice wood-topped tables. When I saw the posted price for the lunch thali as $8.95, I was a bit taken aback. But now I have to say that it's totally worth it. Many different flavors, freshly prepared, interesting and diverse textures, all delicious, and as much as you can eat. There wasn't a single weak item on the plate and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
The one bit of specific information that we pried out of the proprietor was that the eggplant and pea dish was made with "pigeon peas". I found this interesting as these peas were so different from the pigeon peas I've had in Jamaican rice and peas. Maybe these were canned instead of dried? Anyway, I loved this dish, the texture of the eggplant hit that perfect velvety softness without being mushy as you described and tasted so fresh.
The pickle was especially good with firm cauliflower florets and many interesting flavors. And, it didn't have the icky drain cleaner aroma that mars too many versions of achar served around here.
The puffy crisps were like something I've been served in a South Indian restaurant, but I don't know the name either. There were also some broken shards of papads in the crunchy mix.
The lentil soup (which I poured over my rice) was in between a soupy daal and sambhar. I really liked the brightness of the flavors, again very fresh tasting, and the balance of heat with a touch of sweetness.
The potato curry was similar to the filling in dosas, but done very well here. Firm cubes of potato for some heft and some more mashed, all infused with curry leaf, whole spices and yellow-staining turmeric.
The carrot halwa was dryer than other versions I've had. What I particularly liked here was that it wasn't as candy sweet and more of the natural carrot flavor and sweetness came through.
I hope someone can tell us if the South Indian thali served on Tuesdays and Thursdays is equally good.
I have been to buffets that offer more choices, but very few that have been as satisfactory as this, and usually I feel ripped off at buffets by the poor quality of the food and so much "filler". And, this is a traditional thali, meaning that you are offered extra helpings. The one limitation that was posted is just one extra puri or roti beyond the four on the plate.
Krishna in Fremont has a Gujarathi lunch thali. It's quite inexpensive, but I don't know if refills are available. None was offered the one time I tried it and I was satisfied with my helping and didn't inquire. Sultan in SF has had a Gujarati thali in the past and by special arrangement, but no one has reported on this aspect for a while. Best to call ahead, and please let us know what you learn.