Indian Spices and Sweets /Los Feliz -- (review, sort of)
I am a reasonable sort of fellow. I am. And one thing that many of my friends know about me is that I am a lover of Indian food. Love the stuff. I've been known to brave evening traffic to Artesia on a whim, and for someone from Echo Park who's not especially fond of the freeways, that's saying something. So when I heard about India Spices and Sweets opening in Los Feliz, it was like Christmas-come-early.
Well. There is alot going on there. There is a grocery store, a non-food goods store, a video store and a food cafe. Maybe more, but that's what I saw. There seemed to be only one cashier at a central "paying station", which is also where you order. The menu is posted on a reader board above him and nothing is explained. Meaning, you need to have a fairly solid knowledge of north and south Indian food before ordering. The couple ahead of me said they were very hungry and the gentleman wrote down their order, choosing for them. I like that kind of advising personally although I know my Indian food, I'm guessing, more than the general public.
After ordering, you take your receipt across the room to the steam table counter, separated by a glass, where the food is clearly visible and where you will be served. There seemed to be a group of customers hovering while on the other side of the glass, there was NOBODY serving food. There was no sense of who had been there first, who had receipts and didn't, etc. The food looked like it had been sitting awhile. Often, Indian food can look pretty cold-stewy but then taste fine. But this food looked especially unappetizing in that sitting-for-hours kind of way. I saw one woman bringing out a masala dosa from the back where a kitchen must exist and hold it up for this group (of which I was part of). Three people raised their hands, and she handed it to the first person nearest to her, although I think one of the quiet guys further back had been there longer. It was madness. Seriously, there were twenty people waiting, not to mention the others mindlessly ordering at the register. Plus there were several people buying large bags of rice and renting videos and asking whether the chapati were fresh. And from what I could tell, in the entire place, there were two people working. And the place is VAST.
After a half-hour with not even a glance in my direction(and with me an the SO, there were TWO of us!), we left. When we approached the cashier, he shrugged and handed us back our money in that nonchalant way that said we weren't the first people to have done this.
For me to walk away from Indian food, it was terrible. Maybe they will improve the service part of the place. Perhaps early in the day when there are fewer people and fresher food, this might be a great place.
If anyone had a great experience, I'd love to hear about it.
So: Silverlake Los Feliz Indian food lovers:
Is anyone on a friendly basis with the owner yet? Anyone clued him in about Chowhound, and all the free publicity he's getting? If somebody is already, and giving him copies of the raves, could you slip in copies of the pans as well?
These folks seem to WANT to do a good job, but the staff's restaurant management skills are, to be diplomatic,lacking (don't know if they're family members, or how they were selected...) The food's pretty good, and they could do a LOT of business, if they got their act together. On the other hand, service is now so spotty that the Cam-man found it worthy of commetn on our second trip there...
re: Rich Gould-Saltman
Once I was working at an event at Tantra and tried to make a similar type of suggestion -- 100 people were expected for a reception all at once, and only one person was working the bar. Suffice it to say I was ignored. And last time at ISS (the time I was faint with hunger by the time I got out) the cashier clearly looked right past me and tried to take the order of the Indian fellow directly behind me. So I guess I'm not feeling optimistic about this...I'll just try to go at off hours. But it sounds like useful idea, in theory.
I am of Indian origin. I go to the ISS in Duarte, mainly to buy our Indian groceries. When we are there, and if we are hungry, then we consider food to consume there - but we would NEVER eat from their buffet (there is a great small Indian restaurant called Nirvana, close by that would be our preference). The only thing we would order is their dosais and the freshly fried samosas. ISS will NEVER be a destination Indian restaurant for us.
Most other Indian grocery stores just sell groceries, and rent Bollywood movies, and sell Indian show tickets. ISS somehow got into the restaurant business and found the margins are better than groceries. They built a franchise, and share some of the cooks/food (I think). As a result, their grocery operation tends to get neglected. The last owner of the Duarte ISS completely ran the grocery business to the ground because he was chasing the catering and in-store restaurant parts. We stopped going, even though he was a personal friend. We only started going back after a new owner came in.
Bottom line: ISS is not a destination Indian restaurant for most Indians. If you know exactly what to get, it is convenient to go.
I don't think that the huzzahs from the Atwater 'hood were based on a belief that we had gained a "destination" restaurant, but on the thought that we'd gotten a friendly neighborhood place, with tasty food at low prices, pleasant owners, and so little ambiance that if you brought an imperfectly behaved 2-yr. old, nobody would much notice.
Is the food brilliant? Probably not, but it's been pretty good. (I'm pretty gringo myself, so I really can't judge "authenticity") I really want this place to succeed.
On the other hand, if they're having to give back customers' money because they can't produce the order, they've got a BIG problem.
I have been obsessively patronizing ISS since it opened, systematically eating through their menu (since the items don't have descriptions, I feel like I have to approach this systemically.) I love their dosas, especially their Rava Masala Dosa (a big delicate crepe with bits of vegetables, served with a pile of curried potatoes and a coconut chutney). I have found their service to be consistently polite and warm but-- for sure-- distracted.
Things have gotten a little overwhelming for them, I think, since they opened the grocery part of their store. In time, however, they will probably (??!!!) get separate cashiers for the grocery and the snack counter can concentrate on just that. Meanwhile, go when you aren't in a time crunch, order your food and then browse in the market while you wait for your order, and then enjoy a very modestly priced delicious meal.
I had a similar experience at the ISS on Sherman Way in Canoga Park. Total lack of service, attitude is very lax. I was trying to order food for a catering gig I did, the owner wrote it down on a slip of paper, no receipt for me, etc. When I came to pick up order, no one knew anything about it so I had to wait while they put together the order and the food was leaden and unappetizing. They seemed to cater more to the Indian clientele, I was basically ignored for at least 15 minutes by the staff. I agree that they are too split between the grocery and the food stuffs and they are short-handed, so apparently this is characteristic of most of this chain. I will say, though, that while it is small, the store on Venice Blvd. in Culver City is friendly and moves along quicker. And the food is a great deal!
if you thought things were disorganized out front you should peek in the kitchen which i did, on my way to the restroom, last saturday night. had i seen it before i ate i would have left.