In Santa Monica and on the Westside in general there are numerous Indian restaurants and these fall into two distinct categories; traditional Southern- or Northern-style Indian, or an expanding group of restaurants that are more fusion oriented – that is, Indian dishes from all areas of the Indian sub-continent, but with a nod towards local sensibilities in their style and flavor. The Bombay Café slots firmly into the latter of these descriptions.
This past weekend a guest and myself strolled down West Pico in a distinctly languid Ghandi-esque fashion, and visited The Bombay Café for an early evening dinner, and a mixed bag it certainly was to be.
The décor and furnishing is more bistro than curry house, with tidy tables, a broad bar and dark wood abounding, with just sporadic examples of Indian art to remind the eye of the nature of this restaurant. The staff was cosmopolitan, hinting at the melting pot identity of the menu, with Hispanic, Anglo, and Indian members performing all of the tasks required to run a busy café. And busy it was – arriving at about 7:30pm on a Saturday without a reservation necessitated a 15-minute wait at the aforementioned bar, where I discovered that a cold ginger beer makes for a perfect liquid companion to Indian cuisine.
Our server, a delightful girl of unknown origin, although juggling a host of tables, arrived in good time and presented us with menus that although average in the quantity of dishes, boasted plenty of scope, with a variety of southern, northern, and central Indian recipes, as well as some other dishes that appear unique to The Bombay Café, at least as far as Los Angeles is concerned.
The menu boasts a good quantity of appetizers and savories, including Bhel Puris, described as “street food at it’s most irresistible” (puffed rice, onion, potatoes, cilantro and crushed puris, tossed together with three chutneys and black salt, $7.00), the ubiquitous Samosa (vegetarian turnovers served with tamarind chutney, $8.00), and a rather tempting-sounding Shrimp Uttapam (a semolina griddle cake topped with shrimp, mushrooms, onion, green chili, and cilantro and served with coconut chutney).
The complimentary appetizer is a puffed rice-style papadom that has more in common with a Japanese creation than an Indian one and is served with what to all intents and purposes is an Indian variation of a Mexican salsa. The “salsa” was very tasty with a mild bite, but we did order a couple more traditional lentil-based papadoms in order to enjoy a more authentic appetizing experience.
For the main course, my partner chose one of the tandoor selections, namely the ever popular Chicken Tikka (boneless pieces of chicken marinated with ginger, cilantro, garlic, and green chili, $14.95), while I scanned the menu for a dish that I had not tasted before and so settled on the Sindhi Chicken (a half chicken, first poached with onions, ginger, and green chilies, and then sautéed with dried mango powder, coriander, and cayenne, $14.95). Given that none of these dishes come with rice, I also ordered a Palak Aloo (potatoes in a sauce of pureed spinach leaves flavored with cumin, ginger, and garlic, $9.95) and a plain naan bread ($3.50).
The dishes arrived promptly and we dug in. The Chicken Tikka, although aromatic, was a little schizophrenic, with some of the six or so pieces being drier than an Englishman’s humor whilst others were moist and tasty. On the whole this dish was about as memorable as last Wednesday afternoon (not much happened, as I recall).
The Sindhi Chicken on the other hand was a different kettle of foul, with the spices producing a distinctly smoky flavor while still retaining the juices of the chicken. The one thing that both of these dishes did have in common, though, was the plain presentation. Some would say minimalist; I would say about as colorful as the first half of the movie Pleasantville.
The Palak Aloo was certainly a saving grace as far as my partner’s experience was concerned, being fresh, tasty, and mildly spiced.
All in all, The Bombay Café appears to have carved a niche for itself and was very busy on our visit, but with prices at the higher end of the scale for an “Indian” restaurant and the variable quality control, I have to report that it was slightly more “bomb” than “bay” for us.
12021 West Pico Blvd.