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Gajalee - the real deal for Goan food [SF Bay Area board]

Decided to check this place out tonight with some friends, one of whom has eaten extensively throughout India.

This is a project from the Udupi Palace team, taking over the former Maharaja restaurant on Valencia and 16th, a place that always looked dark and uninviting.

Given that Goan food focuses on seafood, I ordered the mussels thali and my friend ordered the "fish" thali - we couldn't understand the waiter when we asked repeatedly what type of fish it was, but we figured we would trust them.

The curries were spot on - my friend concluded that this is indeed what Goan food is supposed to taste like - tasting mussels in an Indian dish was a completely new and unique experience for me - not to mention the sides the thali came with were all excellent (the kheer was a little runny, but still tasted great). Was surprised at how tame "spicy" was, but it still had a nice kick.

I have yet to go to Viva Goa, and one stark difference in menus I've already noted is that Viva Goa has a wide selection of pork, of which Gajalee has none.

Regardless, it's great to have another delicious Indian option in the Mission besides the usual South Indian or North Indian fare

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  1. upon further research, it seems like they acutally technically specialize in konkani food rather than goan food, hence the lack of pork

    1 Reply
    1. My husband and I also had a very enjoyable meal at Gajalee. We both got thali, which was easily up to Udupi Palace quality (if not better). The paratha was excellent, flaky, light, tender and buttery. We will no longer be trekking across town for the paratha at Lime Tree. Really interesting, varied menu with a lot of dishes I haven't seen before. So excited to have a good Indian place closer to our end of the Mission.

      1. >we couldn't understand the waiter when we asked repeatedly what type of fish it was
        I was there last weekend with Urmi and South Indian non-CH person. I believe Urmi asked "what fish" and it was Basa. Although we didnt get thalis.

        I recommend trying the SOL KADI drink. New item to me, and it goes well with the food.

        Kheer can cover a lot of ground, so I wouldnt necessarily say "running is wrong" ... esp if it "tasted great". We were in a hurry so didnt get a dessert. Although I like gulub jam, I feel physical pain to pay >$1 for one. Kheer might be a future option there but I was hoping they would have some exotic/regional dessert option.

        I didnt think the shrimp appetizer was great, but liked all the other items we had.


        10 Replies
        1. re: psb

          i only had the kheer because it came with teh thali.

          and yes, i forgot to mention the sol kadi drink. very different from anything i've had - definitely takes some getting used to. the rose lassi was initially good, but a bit too syrupy. was also disappointed they can't make a salted lassi (this is an off-the-menu item at nearly every indian restaurant i've been to).

          also on a technical note - what they serve with the thalis is not paratha, but rather komdivade

          1. re: vulber

            If that comment is meant to address my comment about the paratha, we actually ordered a separate side of paratha, which we preferred to the bread that came with the thali.

            1. re: possumspice

              Inspired by this thread, I met a friend for lunch there today. We both got the thali plate, me with mussels, he with fish, and we were in total agreement. Everything but the mussels and fish was excellent--worth a return trip. But the seafood was days old.

              You can't open a seafood restaurant in San Francisco and expect to get by serving seafood that isn't fresh. I can understand how hard it would be to throw away food that you already bought, but seafood is totally unforgiving. I just love the concept behind the restaurant. Hope they get their act together before they go out of business.

              1. re: TopoTail

                It will be interesting to see the negative/positive breakdown on this place with respect to the day of the week people visit it. Why do I have a feeling they get their big seafood deliveries on Thursday or Friday mornings?

                1. re: bigwheel042

                  There is a Gajalee in Mumbai specializing in coastal seafood.Anyone know if this restaurant has a connection to the Bombay location?

                    1. re: casalbore spirit

                      That was the exact thing I was thinking about. The one in Mumbai used to be super good.

                      1. re: nk123

                        I have not been to the one in SF.Was wonderingi if this was an offshoot of the Gajelee in Mumbai known for it's coastal seafood.My favorites for coastal seafood are Melting Pot in Juhu and Trishna in Fort!

                        1. re: casalbore spirit

                          I asked them when I went with PSB et al., and they said (though not with too much conviction) that the chef used to cook at the original Vile Parle Gajalee. Note that they did not claim any official link.

                          1. re: jhinky

                            i know that this is owned by the udupi palace team, so i'd be surprised

          2. This post was featured in this week's SF Bay Area Digest. Thanks to everyone who contributed!


              1. re: jason carey

                could you be a bit more specific?

              2. Been there twice since they opened and the food has all been good with several dishes being pretty perfect replicas of dishes I used to eat in Kerala especially the Meen Pollichathu. The spice level is higher than many Indian places in the Bay so folks not use to the food might want to get things mild. It's nice to see Sol Kadi on the menu and it's a pretty good version of it and all the breads were really well made. The Fish Xacuti which is a Goan dish didn't have as strong a tamarind flavour as ones I've had in India.

                I like that the menu has a really nice mix of Goan, Keralan and konkani food as well as some veggie dishes that people are familar with.

                We haven't noticed any issues with the quality of the seafood yet, we went on a Wednesday and a Saturday and the level of the food was the same.

                The only issue is that they have always been almost completely full usually with more than half South Indians folks and there was only one gentleman taking all the orders. So there are delays with ordering and getting the check but the food came out on time.

                3 Replies
                1. re: tjinsf

                  Wow, what in particular was spicy? My husband and I have really been enjoying the food there, but it was all mild enough to feed to our 14-month old baby (she is able to eat slightly spicy food). And we asked for it to be prepared spicy.

                  1. re: possumspice

                    note that s/he said "higher than many Indian places in the Bay", which is a pretty low bar. that being said, when we went, we ordered a variety of thalis with the same spice level, but the veggie ones were spicier than the fish ones.

                    the service also is a bit awkward, with them not really knowing how to use the iphone ordering system that they use.

                    1. re: possumspice

                      I didn't find anything that was too spicy to my palate but the American friends I was eating with who ordered medium heat on their vegetarian dishes and on one of mussel dishes found to be too spicy for them and yes compared to northern Indian places here it was spicier. Like vulber mentioned it's a pretty low bar here but some people may have that expectation.

                  2. We went yesterday with the kids and tried the fish and clam thalis. We particularly liked the clams. We also had the curry leaf calamari appetizer, which was calamari fried with spices. I would have this again. Next time would maybe order one thali and one main dish and appetizer. Would like to try more of the menu next time. We had a mango drink which was thicker than a lassi - I don't remember what it was called, but I liked this too.

                    I know Chowhound frowns on nostalgia, but it is in the same space where Cafe Istanbul used to be - this was one of my favorite spots in the city.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Martin Strell

                      what happened to cafe istanbul? my only memories of that space are the awful, creepy, uninviting maharaja restaurant

                    2. Finally made it to Gajalee last week, and overall thought it was very good. The seafood itself wasn't that amazing (didn't taste unfresh, but wasn't amazingly fresh either), but sauces and flavors in all of the dishes were really good.

                      Fried calamari appetizer had a nice spicy coating, but the calamari were on the chewy side. My dining companions liked this more than I did, but it wasn't bad.

                      Fish cooked in banana leaf was nice, but nothing super special.

                      The thali was the best item we tried....we ordered it with the shrimp curry, which I liked. Spicy, and if I remember correctly, coconutty. But the best part of the thali were the various side dishes, all of which were great: lentils, some greens, another veg dish that I don't remember. Also came with a sweet, but it wasn't until I had eaten half of it with my rice that I realized it was meant to be dessert, since it had the texture of red lentils. Lots of flavors going on, and served with puffy bread and rice.

                      Paratha was good, though nothing too special, and I preferred the puffy bread that came with the thali. Unfortunately I don't remember the name of this bread.

                      Kal appam was great - sort of like a cross between uttapam and injera, and I used this to eat some of the veg dishes in the thali.

                      There were lots of sauces and condiments on the table, and I don't recall what came with what. The condiment tray came with spicy mint chutney, onion chutney, and a spicy coconut powder. We also had raita which was excellent.

                      The menus I'm seeing on their website and on menupages don't match what i saw at dinner at the restaurant, hence my inability to name some of the things we ate. But I'd definitely return....even if the seafood isn't perfect, the preparations are great. If they manage to get great seafood too, they might be one of the best additions to Valencia Street in some time!

                      Dave MP

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Dave MP

                        Nice report.The puffy bread is puri.So delicious when it's first prepared.

                        1. re: casalbore spirit

                          I don't think it was puri. Maybe a variation on it, but it wasn't quite that puffy or flaky.

                          1. re: Dave MP

                            Upthread vulber says it is komdivade
                            (rice flour,gram flour,fenugreek seed,cumin,red chill)

                            Though googling for this seems to indicate that a more common spelling is Kombdi vade, a rice and lentil based puffed bread usually served with a chicken curry (and the name can refer to the curry+bread together).

                            I'm also intrigued reading the original Gajalee chain of restaurants in Bombay (and Singapore) menus here:
                            They list
                            Kombdi Vade:
                            This non-vegetarian dish is quite popular in Maharashtra. The dish consists of the traditional Malvani chicken curry (including chicken pieces with bones), vade (also known as puri, which is a fluffy, fried bread of wheat, jowari and corn).

                            1. re: ...tm...

                              saw a report somewhere that said while this is not related to that chain, one of the current chefs used to work there

                      2. I had a chance to check it out on a Sunday night in August with a couple friends and have a few thoughts to add to this thread.

                        The curry leaf calamari made a strong start to our dinner. Fragrant, crunchy batter, exotic spicing, and tender squid. This would turn out to be my favorite of the night and the one bright light of this meal.

                        We had fun playing around with the colorful and intensely flavored chutneys and podi.

                        I especially liked the tomato chutney.

                        Clams (listed as mussels on the menu) were a big letdown. Not gone bad yet, but far from fresh with little flavor other than the muddy saucing. Likewise, the lamb xaccuti fell flat, needing more acidity and tamarind. Ordering it “hot” yielded a tepid spice level.

                        The fish thali was okay. I was disappointed to be served basmati rice with it rather than a softer short-grain type. Our server could not answer questions about what the various dishes were when I asked him for the regional names for the curry dishes. First answer was “vegetable”, then when queried again, “cauliflower” or “dal”, whereas I expected to hear kuzhambu, kootu, etc.

                        Surprisingly, the other dish that turned out to be more than acceptable was palak paneer. My friend asked me apologetically, “I know it’s not a South Indian dish, but I love it, can we order the palak paneer?” Rather heavy on the fenugreek to the point of bitterness, but made with whole leaf, fresh spinach whipped up to near fluffiness.

                        This was much more of a mixed bag than I expected. I did adore the calamari dish, and it would be nice to find something else that can match that height.

                        1. Walked in at 8pm on Friday, place was pretty full but there were a few tables, got seated immediately.

                          According to the menu it's Malvani cuisine.

                          Never had any of the dishes before except the chapati ($3 for two), which looked like white flour and were the one thing that wasn't great.

                          Chicken 65 appetizer ($7) was fantastic. Reminded me a bit of rendang.

                          Calamari with curry leaf ($7) was very good.

                          Komdivade ($3 for 2) were fun and different.

                          Meen pollichathu ($13), some kind of fish cooked in banana leaf, excellent. Best Indian fish dish I've had.

                          Fish Malvani masala ($13), also really good, chunks of some kind of fish in a complex sauce.

                          They asked if we wanted mild, medium, or spicy, we said spicy, the spice level was I thought perfect, assertive but not out of balance. Someone who didn't eat a lot of spicy food would have been in pain.

                          The sol kadi ($3) was fun to try once. Never tasted anything like that. Sour from kokum, salty, an earthy note from maybe fenugreek? The Indian customers who were the majority in the place were all drinking it up.

                          Service was a bit scattered but everything was served promptly and we never ran out of anything. Definitely not short-handed.

                          Great meal, different food, so far as I can tell not Americanized and no reason to with so many Indian customers.