I figure I had better set out to write this immediately before my impressions get tainted by time. I bumped into Sandra W. at Standard Sweets and Snacks. I ordered a fried chile stuffed with potato and the lady behind the counter kept telling me she had to fry it, it was only half fried and she doesn't care if I'm taking it home and that I can put it in the toaster oven. Sandra came in and started pointing at one of everything and was told, "Half ply, you want again?" which even I thought was, "Half price, do you want another?" Finally, we realized her stuff had to be refried too and she said she would fry it at home.
As I was peering in the windows at Shan waiting for the rest of our group to arrive, a well dressed Indian man came out and sternly warned me not to eat at Shan. I thought he was being facetious, but he insisted that he was serious and even asked his daughters to verify how bad the food was as they came out. They kept directing us to eat at Ashoka (65% health department rating!) across the street. Sandra noticed Kriss Reed and Stephanie Pao inside and we wandered in despite the vehement warnings. Very quickly Elisha, LBQT and her guest, Peter, came in and we decided to take his warning with a grain of salt and stick it out.
We pretty much winged it on the ordering and it worked out that we got a nice variety of dishes. So I don't put words in anyone's mouth I will give my impressions of each dish. Some descriptions are from the menu:
Mutton Boti Kabab-slices of lamb marinated in yogurt, spices and herbs cooked in a clay oven.
This came on a sizzling platter along with Chicken 65. I thought it was a little tough, but I liked the seasonings.
Chicken 65-boneless pieces of chicken cooked with spices.
Spicy, had jalapenos, tender. I liked this one a lot.
Chicken Tikka Masala-boneless pieces of chicken barbequed and mixed with yogurt curry.
Sweeter than usual, very creamy and rich. A nice contrast to the highly seasoned dishes.
Chicken Briyani-basmati rice steamed with chicken curry.
Not much meat, but the meat that was there was delicately flavored.
Fish Fry-marinated whole fish.
I though this was dry and didn't eat the skin so really I missed the marinade.
Palak Lamb-lamb cooked with spinach and spices.
Spiciest dish, very good scooped into Naan and eaten together. The lamb in the dish was very good.
Bhagare Baigan-braised eggplant with spices.
Runny but tasty. I was getting pretty full at this point.
Naan-plain, garlic and ginger.
Gajar Ka Halwa-minced carrot with pistachio and rosewater (dessert).
Super-sweet, I didn't appreciate any aspect of this dessert, but I don't like really sweet stuff.
Gulab Jamun-fried milk balls in suryp.
These were better than you normally get. Not the best I have had in my life, but finer and meltier than the usual.
I was really disappointed with this. It was rock hard and crystalline like it had thawed and refrozen, I think there was a lot of this left over. Kriss called himself a "kulfi-whore" and was eating a lot more of this than anyone else. He truly is indiscriminate when it comes to kulfi as this was pretty bad IMHO.
Double ka Meetha-fried bread dessert.
Chewy, greasy, had a tainted flavor. Not good.
I didn't have any, the group seemed to think it wasn't
Mango Lassi-yogurt and mango drink.
I always order Mango Lassi, this was typical. Takes the bite out of spicy dishes.
Kriss Reed brought a dry Alsacian Gewurtzraminer that was a big hit.
It was really nice to put faces to names and chit chat about restaurants all over the southland real-time.
Thank you to all who came and those who wanted to make it but couldn't.
Sandra suggested the next meeting take place in Little Saigon.
Now please, all of you post and put in your two cents.
Never in recent memory have I uttered words I regretted more than "kulfi whore" :^) Anyhow, big props to you, Heather, for organizing this venture. I guess Elisha and I got the better part of the fish. Speaking for myself, at least, I liked the delicacy of the spices and marinade, but it wasn't culinary art in any case. I think I'm with you in putting the chicken 65 at or near the top of the list. The mutton boti kabab clearly demonstrated the textural advantages of young lamb over mature mutton, as this was indeed tougher than I would have liked. The Palak lamb was tender and well-spiced without being too warm for tender tongues.
As for the now-infamous kulfi, it was in the okay-to-good range, but for my kulfi shopping needs I'll stick to Ambhala a couple of blocks north. The pista kulfi sjake I had before dinner was yummers. I'm glad the gewurz was a hit, and I'll certainly be buying that one again. I echo your sentiments about meeting new 'hounds in person, as well as reacquainting with those I met at the BBQ Chowdown. Thanks, and Sandra and I should be able to drum up something soon in Little Saigon.
re: Kriss Reed
Actually when LBQT and I were scouting the area for places to have the get-together we ate at Ambala and had a really great meal. They offered us a variety of homemade kulfi, but we were stuffed. Too bad. (Is pista kulfi = pistachio?)
Ambala did have really good mango lassi and the Ludhiana chicken was something to get there for! This is the green spice crusted chicken--yummy.
Unfortunately Ambala is much too small for any group over 4 people unless you order take out.
You can count on me for Little Saigon, sounds great! And wasn't it you, Kriss, who mentioned a progressive dinner? I bet we could do something really creative with that.
18413 S. Pioneer Blvd., Artesia
Sounds like you guys had fun! Sigh, I feel terrible that I missed out on such an occasion.
Anyhow, I'm suprised the sliced Mutton kebab wasn't that popular. Was it at the end of the "Specials" list BTW? I tried that dish at Shan 2 weeks ago, and enjoyed it very much, nor did it seem particularly tough either IMHO.
I also had the Chicken Tikka Massala, the vegetable biryani, Onion kulcha naan, and a mango lassi. From my impression, the Chicken TM was good but nothing exeptional either. I enjoyed vegetable biryani, and I concur with Sandra's opinion on the Biyrani. Onion Naan was Ok, nothing special. Their lassi was good, and thicker than the usual lassi's.
Overall, I think Shan is a pretty good Indian restaurant, and I'm sure there are other worthwhile dishes that I should give a shot at, such as avante-guarde sounding 'Chicken 65', the lamb w/ spinach, and some other desserts. I will definetly go back.
I've also been to Ambla 3 or 4 times in the past. I do think they have better Chicken TM, and some of the Goat/Lamb curries are quite nice. But otherwise, I feel that they're really not the best value around. The curries and meat dishes are rather small, and can cost somewhere around $6-$9, or at least I felt the portion sizes were slightly better at Shah. The Green Tandori Chicken was nice, but the portions were tiny, and I didn't feel comfortable with the fact they also charged a premium for white meat.
On a side note, I think it's a very decent value if you order one of Ambla's biryanis, which are suprisingly large, tasty, and filling. If I were to go back to Ambla's, I would just order a Mutton Biryani, a Chicken TM, and an order of their pista kulfi, which I also like.
Once again, I wish to state that I'm a college student with a limited budget, so naturally I'm a bit of a cheapskate, so YMMV when it comes to opinion about value.
A progressive dinner is when diners proceed en masse from house to house (or in this case, restaurant to restaurant) for each course.
Growing up in a cul-de-sac, my parents and the neighbors would do this annually with themes (Japanese, Italian, etc). Kids weren't invited. I wonder if this is just a 70's thing.
They can be fun, but also stressful for the host to not be home to prep their portion of the meal with a lot of time to spare.
I participated in one a few years ago at 3 homes: the salad home, the entree home and the dessert home.
This could be a lot of fun at restaurants but having to pay for parking at 3-4 different ones, well.....but I do think it's a great idea!
Fear not, M, parking is free at the strip malls and shopping centers where we'll likely find our places . Sometimes crowded as hell, but free! The challenge will be getting several venues to sign on to the concept. That will take some delicate negotiating and scheduling. Sandra and I will get cracking on it.
I didn't realize the progressive dinner and Little Saigon were mentioned in the same breath. That's what I get for trying to participate in three conversations at once!
Anyway, I'm all for walking--it would seem silly to us to pile into cars and roll down the block (how very "LA Story"!).
In Little India, it seems somewhat feasible because so many of those places are stand-in-line-and-order. It would be very informal, but we could all have a great time.
I wouldn't be the one to ask about Little Saigon, though.
I would be willing to do this on a Saturday or Sunday so we can do it right. The Shan get-together was a lot more rushed than I would have liked. I had to go home first and that didn't leave any time for shopping.
First of all, I'd like to say, the way we ordered the food worked out perfectly. Everyone ordered a dish they'd like to try -- keeping in mind the various sections of the menu. (Vegetarians would not have been pleased.) Then we passed every dish around, and there was enough for a taste and even a second taste if we wanted. It worked out great!
Both the Boti Kabab and Chicken 65 were spiced differently from the usual tandoori favor. I can't say I liked it any more or less. The mutton was tough, and the chicken was only hot if you got a piece that was resting against a chili. However, Heather swore she had a fantastic GREEN tandoori chicken at Ambala, and I intend to check it out.
I really liked the chicken briyani -- it tasted like food that had been cooked together, and not mixed together, like some briyani's I've had. I tend to like gravies and wet curries, but this was really good.
The Lamb palak was spicy, and I liked the flavor, but there wasn't enough spinach/gravy for all that meat.
Bhagare Baigan, personally I thought the eggplant was disappointing.
As for the desserts, I am NOT a kulfi whore (that distinction belongs to you-know-who), but I really liked the Gajar Ka Halwa. The rosewater flavor reminded me of Pakastani desserts I used to eat when I was a tadpole.
BTW, Han advertises itself as an Indian/Pakistani restaurant.
re: Sandra W.
An addendum... I did some grocery shopping at the market while I was there in Artesia, and bought an assortment of pappadum. THey had more varities then I'm used to seeing. I love pappad, but they can be oily. Saw a cooking show where they don't fry them in oil, but put them directly over the stove flame. I've been cooking them that way and they're great! Green chile pappadum, yummy!
Heather, you did a great job organizing this dinner - good food and a good time were had by all. Many thanks.
I particularly liked the palak lamb and the eggplant. The mutton boti kebab was, as you said, well seasoned but extremely tough. I did find a piece of chicken in the delicious biryani, but it was mostly bones. All in all, the dinner choices were good, and gave us a good sampling.
The desserts, however, are best left to one of the nearby sweets shops. The rosewater undertaste in the carrot halwa and the fried bread (too greasy in any case) ruined them both for me. The kulfi was flavored with saffron, unlike kulfi I've had in other places. The gulab jamun, though, were fresh and hot, and the coating was not as tough as others I've tasted.
We picked up some sweets from Bombay Sweets and Spices in the next block and across the street from Shan. They were disappointing, many tasting kind of tired and/or stale. The goodies Heather and I got at Ambala Sweets Shop a few weeks ago were much better.
Looking forward to the Little Saigon Adventure, Kriss and Sandra! Thanks for volunteering.
Heather - Thank you for all your work in organizing the
dinner! it was wonderful food and even better company.
Hope to see you all again soon. :)
As for my comments, I loved the chicken
biryani, mutton (tough but seasoned well), the
chicken tikka masala (extremely creamy), and the
chicken 65. Out of the desserts, the gulab jamun
stood out from the pack with light, fresh texture
and not as heavy on the sugar as normal. Typically,
I give this dish a wide berth, but luckily I gave
it another try at Shan and found out how its
supposed to taste.
Unfortunately, like LBQT, I got my sweets from
Bombay Sweets and Spices. I'll be sure to try
Ambala or other stores next time.
(BTW, if anyone is looking for Halloween masquerade
ideas, this whole street is ideal for finding
beautiful saris and interesting jewelry.)