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Jan 8, 2013 09:52 AM

Badami Murgh dish at Ajanta - Berkeley

I had been missing going to Ajanta lately so I went in late last night and had the most wonderful meal. Lachu Moorjani introduces new entrees once a month and the addition this month was out of this world. The dish is from Mumbai and incorporates almonds, many spices, and boneless chicken thighs. Visually, the dish is sort of beige, but one forkful and you'll be seeing colors. Truly one of the best dishes I've ever eaten at Ajanta. The accompanying sides include a fantastic baby basmati rice (Kalijira?) that is very delicate with a small piece of fried onion on top. The apricot chutney goes especially well with this dish but I wouldn't recommend teasing it up with any achar (spiced pickles), the flavor is mild and needs very little to accent.

As usual the service at Ajanta was exceptional, and I never had to ask for water refills. I skipped the appetizers this time but their tandoor portobello and the new crab cakes are always excellent. A fine masala chai topped off the meal.

So if the winter's chill is getting to your bones, head over to Solano and treat yourself to one of the best restaurants in the whole bay area. It may be a few rupees more than your average curry house, but the quality and preparation are off the charts. I view it as the Chez Panisse of indian restaurants.

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  1. I've gone to Ajanta at least 8-10 times over a period of 12 years. I have to say, I've never understood the appeal! I've really never found that "ahh ha" dish as you seem to describe here. It just never impresses me on any level. Except, perhaps the service. Oddly, the last "ahh ha" dish I've had in an Indian restaurant was in a tiny place in the back of an Indian grocery in Austin, Texas where I was served Hara Bara Murgh, an incredible chicken dish with a cilantro-based sauce! Amazing. I've managed to recreate it at home (thanks to some tips I got from the cook, thought that, in itself, was a chore! He was afraid of revealing secrets to the competition.)

    So, does anyplace in the Bay Area have such a dish: tender chunks of chicken simmered in a cilantro/chile/ginger sauce, no coconut milk??? Maybe south of SF???

    1. I've only been to Ajanta a few times, and while everything always seemed fresh and better prepared than cheaper places, the potency of the spicing seems to vary enough to affect the enjoyability of the meal. It's not so much that the spices aren't fragrant, it's more that there's not enough of them to affect the dish.

      Andrew H, at what spice level did you order the Badami Murgh? They offer their dishes "very mild, mild/low medium, medium, high medium and hot," and we ordered the Badami Murgh recently as high medium. It was a thoroughly enjoyable dish, but the level of spicing was subtle and had a tough time cutting through the coconut milk. I have no idea how this dish is typically prepared, but I would request this dish "hot." As you mentioned, the achar's flavor doesn't jibe with it, but did help flavor our (underspiced but "high medium") ghosht khada masala.

      Their mango lassi and those sides (including some carrots) are all fantastic.

      I'll have to get the tandoor portobello next time. We got the crab cakes, and they were disappointing. The crab inside was great, and the batter was also great. But eaten together, the batter overwhelmed the crab. Nice dipping sauce for the batter too.

      3 Replies
      1. re: hyperbowler

        Lachu recommended low medium, which I found to be just right. The dish is subtley spiced and too much heat will overpower the flavor.

        1. re: Andrew H

          Yes, not every dish has to be flaming hot. There are plenty of spices that provide complex flavors without being hot.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Very true, Ruth. I was thinking that when you request something hot at an Indian place, they increase both heat and to some degree (other) "spicing," but on second thought that's probably not the case.

            As for the Badami Murgh, the dish I was served needed a higher volume of non-heat spicing to balance out the coconut milk. The heat level itself I suppose is not crucial. It would be helpful for servers to clarify, on a dish by dish level, what an appropriate level of heat would be. There's no point in asking a customer what level of heat they want in general when (a) the chef will veto the customers request since the addition of heat can unbalance a dish (as sounds like the case in Badami Murgh) or (b) when they fail to match the customers's request (as was the case in our ghosht khada masala, which had a good flavor, but a mild heat level).

      2. I'm a huge fan of Ajanta, tho I don't find myself in that part of the East Bay too often.

        I especially enjoy lunch meetings there - a wonderful selection of dishes from diverse regions of India that are prepared with very fresh and often organic ingredients. And I think the use of spices is quite sophisticated.

        1. I love Ajanta. The food tastes very authentic to me. The menu is always changing so you always get to try new and unique regional dishes with different combinations of spices and ingredients. This is not a generic curry place and maybe some people are disappointed that the curries don’t all taste like the standard chicken curries at most Indian restaurants. But that’s the point and that’s what makes this place such a treasure. We always order high medium which is perfect for us.

          We went last weekend and it was amazing.

          We ate:

          Crab cakes- The ratio of fresh crab meat to other ingredients was high so you could really enjoy the flavor and texture of crab. Outstanding.

          TANDOORI SCALLOPS: We always order this. 4 delicious well prepared scallops.

          With both the crab and scallop the flavor and essence of the main ingredients are not lost but enhanced by the wonderful spices and preparation. My kind of food.

          BADAMI MURG: Excellent and addicting chicken curry.

          GREEN FISH CURRY: very tasty

          3 Replies
          1. re: Ridge

            My comments were not clear, perhaps. In my 10 or so visits, I've never experienced the flavors y'all are relating here. Everything has seemed so ordinary. And I'm searching for the out-of-the-ordinary. As I cited in my earlier post about that cilantro chicken dish I stumbled upon in Austin. Have never seen that anywhere else....I'm just not having the luck at Ajanta others seem to have I suppose....

            1. re: sambamaster

              Give it another try. Maybe you hit it on off nights. Maybe ask them to make the spice level high. And order the new this month main courses. One thing, the flavors can be more subtle and nuanced than other Indian places, if you go in with that expectation you might appreciate it more.

              1. re: Ridge

                I have been cooking Indian food since about 1975, studied with an Indian woman even... so my awareness of "spice levels" is fairly well-tuned. I just have not been very impressed with what I've had there. My opinion only. Obviously others like it. I've been feasting on Sri Lankan food lately which is far less, in my opinion, spiced than general...and I love it. It can be fiery hot, but that is not spice, in my opinion, that is heat. I can make the distinction. Listen, Ajanta may be the best thing going, it just hasn't been impressive TO 10 visits. 10 Off Nights? Maybe! I'll make my hara bara murgh at home and be very very happy!