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Recs for Khana Peena ... not the buffet or CTM

rworange Sep 24, 2006 07:06 PM

Even tho I’m not a fan, for the most part, of Indian food, a local joint I tried has me curious about the differences between the restaurants in the area. I’m focusing first on the most common in this area ... Northern Indian.

Yes, Ajanta is high up on my list, but I’m also curious about Khana Peenha. I’ll probably go to the Solano location.

I don’t think buffet is any way to judge an Indian restaurant, or really any restaurant. And I can’t face another steam table of like-tasting soupy curries with little difference other than the color and the protein floating around in it.

Unless it is Chicken Tiki Masala (CTM) from the beyond ... the version of CTM that is the definition of the dish, I see no point. This isn’t really even a real Indian dish ... the Chinese chicken salad of Indian food, so to speak.

So I’m asking that awful question ... what should I order at this restaurant?

My limited Indian food experience requires it and I am watching calories so I need to select the best of the best. What have you tried for dinner that was the best. What should be skipped?

I’ve got a bug about Khana Peena because the menu intrigues me and it was voted the most romantic restaurant of 2002 by the East Bay Express ... private booths with cushions, I hear.

What interests me on the menu:

- papadam : I know papadam and am curious if it is any good here.
- Mah Dhal: black lentil cooked in cream sauce with Indian masala ... not a dal fan, but haven’t had black lentils
- Keema Nan: bread stuffed with grounded lamb and baked in clay oven (a big contender because the other place had a great version)
- Makai Roti: corn flour bread cooked on skillet (what dish to order this with?)
- Indian Tomato Soup tamatar (tomato) soup with special Indian masala (never heard of Indian tomato soup)
- Khana Peena Chicken Soup: delicately spiced chicken soup cooked with vegetables (I’m into this non-dal Indian soup thing)
- Ginger Chicken: chicken breast stir fried with pyaz (onion) and adarak (ginger) in Indian dry sauce
- Ginger Lamb: lamb cubes stir fried with adark (ginger), pyaz (onion) and Indian dry sauce
- Gajarrale: grated carrot cake made with milk and sugar

My understanding from reading the old newspaper reviews linked below is to skip the tandoori here and go for the curries and stewed dishes. True?

I did learn Khana Peena means "food and drink".

The East Bay Express writes:

“There are several good Indian beers and interesting wines to pick from, owing in large part to the fact that the owners have a background in the liquor business. They have some good nonalcoholic drinks, too. A bottle of Thumbs Up soda ($2.50) is worth it for the name and for the spicy cola bite. And a mango lassi here ($3) might define the genre.”

Is the mango lassi still good?

The Chronicle wrote:

“Patrons have a choice of seating arrangements. They can dine at one of the formal, linen-topped tables near the entrance. They can keep an eye on the open kitchen, shiny and percolating with activity, from a perch at the curvy copper bar. Or they can recline on colorful cushions around low tables in one of the three private rooms open to parties of four or more.”

I’m going alone so that and my bum knee rules out the cushions. Any preferred seating?

I’m open to anything, but if you tried any of the above, I’d be grateful for your opinion.

Website:
http://www.gokhanapeena.com/L1/RegulerMenu.aspx

The only Chowhound report I could find that didn’t focus on the buffet.

http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/21689

East Bay Express Review
http://www.eastbayexpress.com/issues/2001-08-22/food_full.html

Older Chronicle review
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

  1. k
    katya Sep 29, 2006 12:49 AM

    Here's my review of the buffet. I know you're looking for what to order off the regular menu, and it seems I liked the vegetarian stuff the most.

    Khana Peena in Berkeley: A Scientific Analysis of an Indian Lunch Buffet
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

    1. The Dive Sep 25, 2006 04:10 PM

      The Khana Peena on College is the closest Indian place to us and so we get take-out there pretty frequently. So far, we've liked the samosas (lamb) and mixed tandori the best. I found the dal and the paneer too bland (even after asking for "Indian Spicy" as directed). The cashew and raisin stuffed naan was interesting, but I prefer the garlic.

      1. JasmineG Sep 25, 2006 01:14 AM

        I have some Khana Peena recs: I really enjoyed one of their special tandoori fish dishes the last time I had it, I can't remember specifically what it's called on the menu because I think they have a few, but check for that.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JasmineG
          rworange Sep 25, 2006 01:29 AM

          Thanks. That long ago newspaper review didn't like the tandoori fish. Good to get a positive update.

        2. Kitchen Imp Sep 24, 2006 10:39 PM

          I know this isn't an answer to your question, but I must say that I was totally underwhelmed by Khana Peena on Solano. I went once and never went back. There's nothing really wrong with it, it's just ordinary Indian food. I've eaten at many, many Indian restaurants over the years and I guess I have pretty high standards. Ajanta is a lot higher on my list. With so many great Indian restaurants in the Bay Area, why go to a place that's just not that good?

          Also, I wouldn't write off all Indian buffets. They can be a great way to sample a lot of different dishes. For example, the lunch buffet at Namaste in Concord is fantastic. The food is refreshed regularly, so it never has time to get soupy or stale, and the curries don't taste remotely like one another. There's tremendous variety there. It sounds like you've just encountered really low-quality buffets in the past.

          If you want an introduction to outstanding Indian food, I'd head to Namaste and have the buffet or order from the entree menu. They have dishes from both north & south India. For me, it's well worth the drive.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Kitchen Imp
            Morton the Mousse Sep 24, 2006 11:45 PM

            I agree with you 100% about Khana Peena vs. Ajanta.

            1. re: Morton the Mousse
              rworange Sep 24, 2006 11:58 PM

              No, trust me, Morton, I have been finally inspired to try Indian food, probably by a crappy Indian restaurant ... but still. I have my list based on your recs on what to order at Ajanta ... and being contrary will of course order something not mentioned also ... because it is there and no one had mentioned it.

              The thing is that Khana Peena has a menu very smiliar to this other joint, which is another thing that interests me. I can do a one-on-one taste off to get a better feel for the food.

              What have you tried at Khana Peena? I guess my question is that maybe like Ajanta there are those dishes that shine.

              However, other than newspaper reviews, I can't find anything on the web that anyone's tried beside the CTM or the buffet.

              1. re: rworange
                Morton the Mousse Sep 25, 2006 12:17 AM

                It's been about three years since I ate at Khana Peena, so perhaps my opinions are outdated. I honestly can't remember details, except the conclusion that Ajanta is a better restaurant. This has been confirmed by numerous friends who have been to both over the years.

                1. re: rworange
                  Kitchen Imp Sep 25, 2006 01:05 AM

                  Khana Peena and Ajanta aren't in the same ballpark. There's just no comparison.

                  1. re: Kitchen Imp
                    rworange Sep 25, 2006 01:10 AM

                    Guys, I know this. The question isn't what the best Indian restuarant is. The question is what Khana Peena might do well ... or specifically what to avoid.

                    Morton, you gotta have some sympathy with all the flack you recieved on the board about Ajanta until the recommended dishes were tried.

                    And it also goes back to my query on the General Board about looking for something different on menus.

                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                    Everybody goes to Indian restaurants and orders CTM, tandoori, etc. Maybe this dishes suck at KP, but there are others that shine. The EBE had suggestions for side-stepping land mines.

                    I am going to Ajanta. But I also am going to Khana Peena. If I have to wing it, so be it. I was just hoping for some specifics. When I do report back at least it will be a little info about KP outside of the norm ... whatever that might be ... good or bad.

                    Not that jumping in with a favorite other restaurant isn't welcome. That Concord rec seems golden.

                    1. re: rworange
                      Kitchen Imp Sep 25, 2006 01:33 AM

                      Ok! Just trying to keep you from coming to the conclusion that you really, really don't like Indian food, when it can be such a wonderful thing!

                      I wish I could give you more specifics about Khana Peena, but it was a few years ago, so really all I can recall is that I had a chicken curry that *wasn't* Chicken Tikka Masala (I think it was the Karahi Chicken) and my companion was equally unenthused about his Chana Masala. They weren't bad, just sort of one-note -- and when done right, this is a gloriously complex cuisine that can really sing.

                      My advice, assuming the cooking hasn't changed since then, is to avoid the curries, because I distinctly remember both of our dishes as being overwhelmed by sauces with one dominant flavor. The usual spices ended up getting lost. (Perhaps someone who's eaten there more recently can comment on whether this has changed.)

                      Given that, dry spiced dishes like the ginger chicken and lamb sound like a good bet. I'm looking forward to hearing how they are. Who knows, you might discover a new treat... and prove naysayers like me wrong!

                      1. re: Kitchen Imp
                        rworange Sep 25, 2006 01:41 AM

                        Given my Indian food experience, discovering a new treat seems doomed. I do want to try a dry spiced dish someone mentioned in another post. Yeah, I don't like curries with overwhelming sauce. If nothing else, it will give me yet another example of what a bad Indian dish is. I haven't really paid attention in the past just being overwhelmed by the sameness of it all. Gaylord in SF was, long ago, unfortuantely my intro to Indian food ... at the buffet ... like that old Peggy Lee song all I could think "Is that all there is" to this cuisine.

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