Ajanta - Berkeley report
I had not been to Ajanta in ages since a mediocre birthday party dinner there several years ago but while walking around looking for a place to eat during my lunch break I decided to give it a try again. And I'm glad that I did.
At first glance I noticed a few things had changed since the last time I was there. Namely a modest remodel of the main room, the addition of the front hosting counter and new tables and chairs that were pretty comfortable, or at least more comfortable than the last time.
Service was decent. Everyone seemed like they were happy to help, though not exactly excited to be there nor offered any suggestions.
For my lunch, since it'd been awhile since I had been there I ordered a bit more than my normal lunch quantity. I started off with the Tandoori Chicken Chaat, a very meaty chicken salad, with shredded marinated grilled chicken, tossed with oil, lime juice, red onions, cilantro, ginger and spices, served over a very small bed of organic greens. You could really taste the bite from the diced ginger which was very good, the acidic tartness from the lime, but it was light and a good way to start the meal. Very different from most of my other indian experiences.
For my main I had Tandoori Chicken Tikka, which came with a plate of 3 balls of rice surrounding a scoop of what looked like potato spinach curry and an order of Keema Naan (ground curried chicken stuffed naan). I only started to realize how chicken-centric my meal was after I had finished putting it in. Oh well. this Tikka was very good, the sauce not over powering, nicely herbed and spiced and went well with the rice and potatoes. The chicken was not overcooked and still tender. The menu said it was all breast meat, but I swear the slipped in some dark meat in my order, not that I mind dark meat, but fair warning to everyone else.
And while the Keema Naan was good, I think the meal would've been easier with a non-stuffed naan that is easier to grab, soak-up, clean my plate of chicken, sauce and rice with.
Overall a good return experience and looking forward to going back for the lamb (sourced from Niman Ranch as stated on their menus) and more chaat. Total bill after tax and tip was $20.
I still like this restaurant better than any other indian place I've ever eaten at. Lachu is a master. I brought him a box of wild hedgehog mushrooms and he went nuts. He had them cooked up with lotus root and veggies and we had a great meal together. No more expensive than other restaurants but 10x as good. Go Ajanta!
Great that so many people are rediscovering Ajanta, but it seems that everone is missing the best part. The regional dishes.
Lachu really goes out of his way to put some non northern dishes on the menu and they do them well. India is a big country with many distinct styles of cooking. I would suggest skipping the popular classics not that they are not good but so common. The whole first part of the "dinners" section has dishes from the south,east and western areas of India as well as a few northern dishes. Chicken tikka masala and murg korma are good but how many times have you eaten it? Branch out, support restaurateurs who take a chance and bring you unusual dishes!
Also as breads go, stuffed breads are usually eaten as snacks while unstuffed parathas, roti and nan are used for scooping up food and sauces. Oh and speaking of sauces Ajanta's are very refined beautiful balance and very smooth.
I definitely love Ajanta. Last time there a few weeks ago we ordered the Tandoori scallops appetizer which was just amazing. I would have loved it as a main course. My one complaint about this place is that, as has already been mentioned, the lamb can be dry and the chicken dishes are all made with breast meat (I much prefer dark meat).
I love Ajanta and eat there as often as I can. We get the email newsletter with the menu every month so we can see what's new and plan our next visit. In season, the Tandoori Asparagus is soooo good we usually get two orders. : ) I like the decor and the fact that I can have a "date night" dinner that's good quality, tasty and won't break the bank. We can sometimes get out of there for $50 or so for food, drinks, tax & tip.
I had the unfortunate experience recently of being stuck at the other Indian place across the street for a birthday dinner. While the food was OK but really enough, the service was terrible and I couldn't help thinking of all the yumminess I was missing just across the way. My brother wanted to save a little money, but boy did we pay for it in other ways. Next time we'll either go to Ajanta or make meals from their cookbook at my Mom's house. The Ajanta spice box I got her in' 06 has really come handy. ; )
I have got to get to Ajanta.
A few previous significant Ajanta posts
Mar 09, 2006
Best Indian food in Berkeley
Jun 18, 2004
GewürztramIndian -- Wine Tasting and Dinner at Ajanta Restaurant
Dec 04, 2005
Dec 22, 2005
Indian spice box to go with the Ajanta cookbook. Great idea!
Aug 26, 2004
Berkeley/Oakland Indian restaurants
May 18, 2003
Best Indian food in Berkeley/Oakland?
Jul 23, 2005
Aug 03, 2005
Sep 12, 2005
Dec 14, 2005
Morton, I couldn't find your great first report on Ajanta. I fear it might have been one of those reports that didn't make it over with the switch to the new software.
1888 Solano Ave, Berkeley, CA 94707
Great report. I love that tandoori chaat.
I eat at Ajanta about once a month. I've found that their strengths are in chicken, korma dishes, murg dishes, and spinach-based veg dishes. Other dishes can be good, but these are consistently the best (at least to my taste). The lamb can be dry.
Next time, try the tandoori portabello mushrooms for an app. You will be impressed, I promise.
re: Morton the Mousse
re: Morton the Mousse
I'll second that rec for the tandoori portabellos...they are just de-licious! Globalization has its rewards.
I ate at Ajanta a couple of months ago for the first time in a decade. I loved the lamb biryani, and even my companion's chicken tikka masala -- which I thought a most unimaginative choice -- was quite yummy. But the mushrooms made the meal special.
If only the dining room were not so crowded...taking out a couple of tables would make the place even more elegant, and certainly more comfortable. But then I guess they would have to raise their prices.