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Aug 10, 2010 09:58 PM

Curry Dive Chowdown Report: Viva Goa in San Francisco

Last week three friends shared the dinner table with me at the month-old Viva Go on Lombard Street. I enjoyed it so much, the Curry Dive series of South Asian-themed chowdowns was reincarnated to invite the ‘hounds to check it out. Our plan was to return for the lunch buffet (11-3, M-F, $8.99) on Monday. However, the day’s buffet line included but two Goan dishes (lamb xacuti and stir-fry fish chef’s special) leading us to opt for ala carte ordering instead.

Here’s what we ordered with menu descriptions and prices:

Fish Cutlets appetizer, $5.99 - Minced fish marinated in herbs, spices and shallow fried.

Malabar Jinga appetizer, $7.99 - Shrimp sauteed in garlic, mustard and curry leaves in a tangy sauce.

Goan Lamb Masala, $10.99 - Lamb with onions, tomato, ginger, garlic and variety of spices.
Pork Vindaloo, $10.99 - "Carne de vinda d'ahos", ginger, garlic and potatoes in sauce made with cardamom, fenugreek, cinnamon, black peppercorns, dry chiles and vinegar.

Fish Curry, $11.99 - Traditional Goan fish cooked with fresh coconut and herbs and spices.
Chicken 65, $9.99 - Chicken cooked with curry leaves, bell pepper, onion, garlic, ginger and Goan spices.

Beef assado, $12.99 - Slices of beef marinated in palm vinegar with Goan masala and roasted, served with mashed potatoes and boiled seasonal vegetables.

Naan, $1.99 – White flour bread
Rice, $1.99 – Long grain Basmati rice, flavored with saffron and herbs
Mango lassi, $2.50 – Blended yogurt drink with mango
Indian tea (chai), $2.00 – Spiced Indian tea with milk

As we ordered, I explained to Mr. Alvares, one of the co-owners, that while I had tasted the lamb xacuti my previous visit, my dining companions had not. I asked him if they could have a little sample of the lamb xacuti from the buffet table. We scored not just the lamb xacuti (“Traditional curry of Goa, cooked with fresh coconut and spices, white poppy seeds and red dried chiles”) but also a taste of the stir-fried fish chef's special! Shown here, the red food coloring makes the chunks of fish with onions and bell peppers look remarkably like a plate of sweet and sour pork.

Here’s my lunch plate with a little serving of everything. Clockwise starting at 12:00 position - Beef assado with mashed potatoes and vegetables; Pork vindaloo; Goan lamb masala; Basmati rice; Fish curry; Fish stir-fry special; Chicken 65; Naan; and in the center, Lamb xacuti.

When we tried to order dessert, we were comped this sampler. Here are the menu prices - Bebinca, $3.99; pineapple ice cream, $2.99; pistachio kulfi, $2.99; and mango kulfi, $2.99.

And a closer look at the desserts on my plate.

Tasting Table’s review was released just before noon on Monday and it was fun to be able to inform the owners and point them to their restaurant’s first review.

Mr. Alvares said that they are holding off on a grand opening for a few more weeks, letting the business grow slowly by word of mouth before they start to advertise. He’s interested in getting feedback and is generous with comps now. “sfbing” asked if the menu would include sorpotel, a heavily spiced dish of various pork innards (, and he said that it would make an appearance is the next few weeks.

Our tab came to $22 each, including tax and tip, and there was enough food to feed one more person. We had chipped in a little more to cover the comps, and Mr. Alvares tried to return some of the cash saying it was too much. As the last to leave, I insisted that he keep it all. He relented, but added a couple of kulfi to go to the bag of leftovers that are in my freezer to be shared at a future chowhound gathering.

I ask my dining companions to report back on their impressions of the food, favorites, dislikes, etc. Please weigh in.

Viva Goa
2420 Lombard St, San Francisco, CA 94123

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  1. Sounds great! I can't think of any other Goan specialists in the area, though a few places have a few Goan dishes on the menu. Thanks for the report.


    1 Reply
    1. re: mdg

      Two Goan dishes that Alvares recommended that i haven't tried yet are the chicken lollipops appetizer and the grilled pork chop platter. i think that the house specialty platters (a section of the menu) might be some of the more interesting things because they are so close to Western-style Portuguese food and seem more unique at an Indian restaurant.

    2. Were you able to get an impression of the quality of the food in the lunch buffet?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Mick Ruthven

        I tried the buffet recently at lunch, but was thoroughly unimpressed. The vegetable dishes were watery, and the various other dishes seemed really bland, without much heat or punch from the spices. However, it was better than the buffets of the previous two Indian/Nepalese places. The pictures of those a la carte items look much better than what I saw at the buffet (which is generally expected), but the dropoff was more than what I expected. I'd probably try it again a la carte, but would rather go elsewhere for the buffet.

      2. Thank you, Melanie, for organizing this delicious chowdown. I had been passing this restaurant and wondering about it, so it was a great opportunity to try a good sampling of the menu.
        I thought the fish curry was the best dish that we tried, with a good heat level approaching spicy. Surprisingly, the pork vindiloo was not packing much heat at all, even after requesting it hot.
        The chicken 65 reminded me of a Manchurian dish (which I loved), combining a sweet ketchup flavor with garlic and a nice fried crunchy component. I know, junk food, but satisfying.
        One surprise for me was the roast beef with mashed potatoes and vegetables. The sliced beef was very well seasoned and the potatoes were creamy an buttery. Not what you would find in a typical SF Indian restaurant.
        The naan was light and airy, and served hot from the kitchen.
        Overall a nice meal, and I would return to try some of the other Goan dishes.

        1. I loved two of the fish items, both the fish curry (which was spicy without overwhelming the fish) and the fish patty appetizers (use the green sauce). The naan was good and judging from the lamb xacuti, the buffet appears to pretty high quality. Not swimming in grease was a big plus for me.

          To my surprise, I preferred the lamb masala and the lamb xacuti to the pork vindaloo. The pork vindaloo needed more oomph, I thought, although Melanie tried to stress that she wanted it spicy. It was oddly one of the least spicy dishes on the table. I would also recommend that they use a fattier cut of pork, as the meat was a touch dry.

          The fish special of the day and the chicken 65 were odd for me, because they reminded me strongly of Chinese-American sweet and sour dishes with more spice and tang. Not my thing exactly, but it was interesting.

          The beef assado was quite tasty and definitely more on the portuguese side of things. The vinegar just perked things up, so don't worry that it is going to be some sort of pickled beef dish. The carne makes me think that this might be a nice place to take people who are wary of Indian food. You can chowdown on the curries, and they can have a nice meat and potatoes plate.

          I liked the bebinca as well, which had a chewy caramelized toffee thing going on. It is kind of reminiscent of an Indonesian spice cake but more like mochi than cake, if that makes any sense. I had tried this before in a London Goan restaurant and at the time thought it was some sort of weird Indian English fusion pudding, but it is apparently a Portuguese-Indian thing.

          Overall, Viva Goa's spicing is subtly different from the more common North Indian in SF. The vinegar and tamarind seem to give it a tangier profile, with the coconut rounding things out. I definitely want to explore some of the other Goan dishes on the menu. And with Sultan gone, I've also been missing a nice buffet and this should fit the bill nicely.

          And thanks to Melanie for organizing--and also thanks to my fellow dining companions who provided multiple tips for new and exciting places to eat!

          Viva Goa
          2420 Lombard St, San Francisco, CA 94123

          1. Melanie, Thanks for organizing. What I most remember about the lunch were the seafood dishes and the general flavor profile of goan dishes.

            I agree with the positive comments on the fish curry. Our other dish of fish cutlets had a crispy exterior and a salted fish flavor that reminded me of salt cod (bacalao) cakes -- definitely a dish showing Portuguese influence (or perhaps just a universal foodway for coastal peoples). I also like the Malabar jinga, it had good sized shrimp and a bright tangy sauce with the curry leaves adding a bit of interest.

            Among the meaty dishes, I preferred the xacuti to the lamb masala because the flavors were rounded out by the curry sauce. Melanie requested a high degree of spice for the vindaloo, all the dishes had a low to medium level of heat, instead they had plenty of peppery spice flavor. Both the lamb masala and pork vindaloo packed a concentrated punch of goan spice that overwhelmed my palate, so the flavors started to run together. The beef asado distinguished itself as a goan interpretation of roast beef with mashed potatoes and vegetables, I liked the pepper, palm sugar and vinegar flavors of the beef.

            Our goal was to focus on the goan specialties, so a few of the dishes had similar spices. The menu is a mix of goan and more ubiquitous Indian dishes. On my next visit, I would mix in some curry dishes with coconut or other flavors to balance out the meal.