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The Beach Gourmet: Tandoor India: Casual Indian Dining

India is a country with a population second only to China, with many languages and numerous states (28 in total), each with its own traditions, and most importantly, its own food. The common thread running through all Indian cuisine is the creative use of spices to create unique flavors and aromas.

Tandoor India in Santa Monica specializes in North Indian cuisine, a very popular style with a good variety of recipes to stir the imagination and tantalize the palate. The chefs at this mid-sized restaurant certainly know a thing or two about how to prepare authentic Northern Indian classics such as Chicken Tikka Masala (boneless chicken pieces cooked in the tandoor and prepared in yogurt and a creamy curry sauce, $8.95), Shrimp Karahi (prawns with fresh garlic, ginger, onions, tomatoes and selected Indian spices cooked in a wok, $10.95) and Vegetable Korma (seasonal greens cooked in a creamy curry sauce with cashew nuts, $6.95).

I have dined at this restaurant on a few occasions, and have always been impressed with their flavorful and authentic home-style Northern Indian cooking. Most recently I visited with a friend and enjoyed a feast of Vegetable Samosa (turnovers stuffed with spiced boiled peas and potatoes, deep fried and served with onion and lemon, $1.95), Shrimp Vindaloo (tiger prawns cooked with potatoes in curry sauce, $9.50), Vegetable Biryani (vegetables cooked with basmati rice, cashew nuts, raisins and a special blend of spices, $4.95), Aloo Gobi (potatoes and cauliflower cooked with ginger and tomatoes, $5.95), accompanied by Naan bread (white flour leavened bread, baked in the tandoor, $1.50), cucumber Raita (fresh homemade yogurt with shredded cucumber, tomatoes and selected spices, $1.95) and the traditional Indian dessert of Gulab Jamun (lightly browned cheesecake spheres cooked in a lightly flavored syrup, $2.50).

The samosas arrived hot and crispy, with an aromatic puree of peas and potatoes wrapped in browned pastry and served with mint sauce. These delicate wraps make for a good snack as well as a starter.

The main dish was quite simply a complete and delicious feast, with the Shrimp Vindaloo being superb; succulent prawns and generous chunks of potato, swimming in a thick, spicy gravy – perfectly complimented by the fresh and fluffy vegetable Biryani rice. It made for a hot and heady excursion into the best that Northern Indian food has to offer. When things got a little Hades-like, I simply added a touch of Raita and that created a whole new experience altogether, a subtle, creamy transition that exemplified the complex interaction that these ingredients can create.

The side dish of Aloo Gobi was excellent, with a balanced split between the perfectly prepared cauliflower and potatoes, adding yet anther dimension to an already stimulating fusion of flavors.

I put this meal to bed with the Gulab Jamun, soft and tantalizing cake balls in a sweet syrup that perfectly provides that “destination reached” feeling that every meal of this kind demands.

If you are looking for good, tasty and hearty Northern Indian Cuisine, take a trip to 26th and Pico and enjoy!

Tandoor India, 2622 Pico Blvd., 310.581.9964.

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