CARDAMOM INDIAN RESTAURANT -Los Angeles
Articles by gerry furth-sides
Cardamom Indian Restaurant – Review- When “New and Improved” is Actually New and Improved
Cardamom Indian Restaurant is not one but two bright Los Angeles stories. The first is of a popular neighborhood cafe (India’s Oven) smoothly taken over with continuity and also updated. It is when “new and improved” is new and improved.
For the neighborhood it is walking distance and delivery service by Clorder is also available. To introduce the public to the new fare, an express set lunch ($11.95) is served with onion piaza, popadom, chutney, vegetable of the day, saffrom pilau, naan, raita and choice of entrée.
The service is impeccable and effortless. And well it should be. Not only has Cardamom partner and wine expert, Nasir Syed, had years of experience at Gordon Ramsey’s chic table restaurant here in Hollywood, but he started his restaurant career at Indian’s Oven as a server when he first arrived in the United States from Bangladesh in 2000. Nasir told us the story of how the owners of the 33 years old establishment approached him to manage the original when they recently planned to reture, and how how he and partner/brother-in-law, Badrul Chowdhury, eventually took over completely.
The second story is that the completely updated restaurant has roots in London, a la Mr. Chows’, with all of the sophisticated UK experience put to good use. Nasir and Badrul decided to expand upon the original 33 year-old establishment menu by including dishes from all regions of India. The name itself, Cardamom,honors the spice grown in the fertile mountain region of Kerala, Indian which is used in the dishes, along with others of this famous area. Next they enlisted Badrul’s uncle, Chef Manju Choudhury, a successful a London restaurateur who operated 32 locations at one point. After spending months creating the new menu and training the kitchen staff, uncle turned the kitchen over to Chef du Cuisine Badrul, and makes periodic visits.
The double storefront features a brand new look from floor to ceiling, contemporary, colorful and upbeat even though it sports snowy white tablecloths. Brightly painted party-orange steel girders punctuate the open, high ceilings. It is the vision of international artist and restaurant designer, Arshad Chouhan, who even painted the large wall art pieces. The entrance leads to a bar area and small number of tables on one side and a white tablecloth dining room on the other (total about 60).
After showing us around, we were seated at the table and offered a trio of trio of Tamarind Chutney, Mango and Onion Chutney and Mint Yogurt. It was served with papadum fresh out of the oven, extraordinary because of its weightlessness and intense flavors at the same time.
Nasir came out with a bottle of Brédif Vouvray Classic 2012 he presented to the table. As with all his suggestions for wine pairings throughout the meal, he offered a description of the wine and an explanation of how he thought it might bring out the dish. The Bredif Vouvary has the reputation of being very much in demand because it is so “perfectly balanced it can be served now or in 50 years to come.
With the Singara appetizer plate came a choice of Domaine Michel Girault Sancerre La Silicieuse 2012(less sweet, higher minerality), which actually worked best with the dish deep with flavors and the fried foods, such as the Punjabi style veggie packets, served with a date and tamarind chutney. Nasir explained that the little parcels were smaller than standard so they didn’t fill you up with dough. It worked.
The table’s all around favorite, Jhinga Koliwada, crunchy flash-butterflied, flash-fried prawns with just enough heat to linger, turns out to be a wildly popular Mumbai favorite. It is marinated in ginger, garlic and spiced flour paste.
Pappadum is only the preview of Cardamom’s intense, delicate breads, an indication of the care and refinement that goes into the food. If the bread tastes richer and smokier, it is because the tandoor oven atCardamom is powered by charcoal, not gas. No less than eight naans, with some filled, have to be described as crisp and yet dewy moist at the same time, including the Peshwari Naan (coconut, sultanas, dates and nuts), which brings out the best in spicy meats. It was perfect with the Kayberi Gosht Bhuna,lamb tempered with ginger and coriander prepared in a tomato, onion, garlic sauce.
It also worked with poultry, here in a typical southern Indian dish with coconut sauce, Chetinad Murgh,known as the classic Chicken tikka.
Jhinga Patia, tiger prawns presented in a showy spiced red sauce, also heat without that spiky pepper effect. Again, Nasir presented two wines from which to choose, the light, acidic French red, Chanson Le Bourgongne Pinot Noir 2011, that on its own tasted a little thin, and yet paired better with the dish than the fuller bodied Malbec, Salentein Reserve 2013.
Zafran Pilar is one of the six rice on the menu, a fluffy basmati rice cooked with colorful saffron. It complemented without overpowering the other dishes.
Gajar (carrot) ka Halwa, a warm grated carrot confection comes with silky, rich ice cream and a reminder of the suble sweetness of carrots. The Gulab Jamun includes balls of Malai ice cream – milk ice cream- so rich and creamy in and of itself that it requires no additional flavorings. I’m ready to stock a truck and get rolling in the streets or at the beach with the desserts alone.