There I was last Monday, driving east on Washington Boulevard about 1:30 p.m. when the pangs of hunger rang out like the pealing of church bells calling the faithful to their needs.
Heading towards Lincoln Boulevard, I had one of those moments when a thousand thoughts collided in my mind as to what shall I eat? Where shall I go?
I stopped in traffic, looked to my right, and there it was, a perfect parking space next to a row of eateries. How fortuitous. As I exited my vehicle, I was almost right outside Akbar Indian Cuisine.
I entered, and was immediately greeted by a gentleman who exuded a calm, warm and sincere aura that had all of my immediate modern life stresses just floating away like feathers on a breeze.
The atmosphere here was decidedly serene, and enhanced by a flowery aroma of spices, adding an even more Zen-like quality to the room.
I sat at a table next to the window and was handed the lunch specials menu by an equally respectful server who delivered my requested iced tea within seconds.
The menu is small but balanced, and included a nifty Chili Meter at the top that graded the spiciness of the dishes from one to five.
The Vegetarian Akbar looked tempting (a variety of vegetables prepared in mild sauce flavored with mace, a nutmeg-like essence, and cardamom, $6.95) as did the Chicken Aamras (chicken cooked in a mango sauce, $7.25), but on this occasion I desired something hot, something spicy and something bold.
Although Akbar predominantly specializes in Northern Indian cuisine, the lunch specials incorporate a Southern Indian dish in the form of Prawn Madras (chili hot shrimp curry with an accent of coconut, $8.50).
The south Indian style of cooking is often more spice-oriented, and as this dish rated a four on their chili meter, I ordered it, relaxed and waited while it was prepared.
The wait period was a good 10 to 15 minutes, and it gave me time to ponder and drink in the décor and ambience of the restaurant.
With deep red and mustard yellow walls, combined with subtle lighting, the climate here is painted on a canvas that is more evening than day, and with sparing but elegant adornments the restaurant exudes a cushy feeling that is a perfect contrast to the rush of the working day. I always find that this kind of atmosphere allows me to clear the clutter and create some much-needed headspace.
When my plate arrived, it was delicately placed upon my table. My iced tea was replenished and I began to savor the dish and the moment.
My lunch special was a sensible portion consisting of the Prawn Madras, a strip of soft and fluffy pilau rice, dahl (a mild lentil curry), nan bread and Katchumber salad.
The sauce of the Madras was of a robust constitution, hot but not harsh, with a rather unique smoky quality that I have rarely experienced in Indian restaurants in California. I asked a very pleasant gentleman called Atul, whom I presumed to be the manager, how this was achieved, and he informed me that with this particular dish the sauce is prepared and then baked instead of using the stovetop. This allows the juices from the chili peppers and black peppercorns to be slowly exuded, creating a different flavor than the ones created by heating from below. The fresh white Mexican prawns are then added at the last minute and the dish is served, allowing the prawns to retain their juices and natural flavor, creating a more satisfying dish.
And satisfying it was indeed, with juicy prawns swimming in the aforementioned sauce, a mild dahl, refreshing chopped Katchumber salad, rice, a large nan bread and some fresh Indian condiments that included a delicious mint, cilantro and scallion relish.
I spoiled myself and also tasted the chef’s dessert special, a very light mango cheesecake that almost blew away in the wind, and at just $5.00 was well worth the moment of self love.
With a quality of service that left me feeling pampered, I left with just a little more peace and serenity than I’d had when I arrived.
3115 Washington Boulevard, Marina del Rey, 310.574.0666.