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(Gerry Furth-Sides) When the owner is the chef you know the food will be as it gets, and Chef Sonni of Karma, Valencia proves the point. The front of the house is exuberantly well-attended by Alfred Godinho (Goa) and Dustin Pausha (Bombay) who are as adept and excited about their new list of spirits as they are with the food on the menu. You really feel they are happy you have arrived.
Chef Sonni honed his skills in Los Angeles’ finest Indian restaurants before he purchased Karma from the Singh family owners, who earned every dining award in the area. Elegant, sumptuous Karma is very much in fashion in a well-planned shopping center in Valencia, the tony suburb only 45 minutes outside of Los Angeles. Rich burgundy, chocolate, pounded metal and wood provide a sophisticated yet organic feel to the room, which has high ceilings for an airy feeling and well-spaced banquets and tables to make it interesting.
I must confess that as elegant and refined as the sit-down menu promised to be, the long buffet is just as enticing. As we entered the door just before the restaurant opened, servers were carefully putting their finishing touch on the long buffet on one wall, smells wafting from the kitchen with all the fresh ingredients prepped right behind it.
I took in the fragrance of food and had to sample the tempting potato wedges (pretty much prepared for the kids and non-adventurous eater customers) not the buffet. Evenly seasoned, tender inside and with just the hint of crunch on the outside, I could have finished the pan.
Every single dish in this restaurant proved to be as inviting with layered, refined flavors and a subtle heat that lingered just long enough.
Dustin is one of the life-long dedicated hospitality mavens. We laughed when he told us that the lassi (one sweet and one with fresh mango pulp) were in tinted glasses – fun and still sophisticated.
The assorted Appetizer Plate started the meal off with taste and visual appeal. The platter includes piping hot Shrimp Pakora Fresh, sweet, good-sized prawns are almost the size of the poultry, in their coat of fried chickpea flour. A squeeze of lemon brings out the flavors on the proteins. Paneer (spinach) pakora proved even crunchier and more tender than the potatoes, mildly spiced batter and are enhanced by a dip in one of the chutneys provided.
The classic Mint, Mango, Tamarind Chutneys plus yogurt based Raita were served in the most elegantly folded napkins. At this tasting lunch, it was very tempting to finish every dish that came out.
Garlic, Sesame and Olive Naans served not only fresh out of the oven but steps away defined Naans, being crispy and chewy at the same time. A thin layer of minced green olives and spices became the Olive Naan spread. This new version is topped with a thin layer of minced green olives and spices.
We watched the chef with with the 800 degree tandoor oven. He pulled at the elastic dough to shape it, then slapped onto the side of the side of the oven,
wearing a thick glove on one hand and using a folded towel for protection in the other.
Tandoori fish, , lamb and goat, along with chicken, are skillfully skewered onto strong, metal rods and placed in the tandoor to smoke and cook, seared for a crispy skin.
One way to sample each one is for the Mixed Grill, which included chicken, shrimp, lamb in the form of tikka (small pieces) and kebabs (skewers), the method that originated in India and was carried to the world by way of Persian invaders.
Classic dishes to try include the Aloo Gobi, Roasted cauliflower and potato, Lamb curry, lamb shish kabobs, and the classic desserts.
The Peacock symbolizes beauty and serenity in the Indian culture, and this is exactly the feeling of Karma in Valencia. At the same time, Chef Sonni, Alred and Dustin have creating the most enveloping energy buzz. One minute the dining room is just about empty and when you look up there is a full room of families with young kids, long tables of young workers and a few retirees seated around you, all having a good time. We’ve been to the restaurant in scorching heat, and the first cool day of autumn where the rows of trees circling the center are still fire-red, and Karma is the same oasis, a local favorite that is the calibre of destination dining.
Karma Indian Cuisine & Bar, 23460 Cinema Drive, Valencia, CA 91355, 661-288-0080 , www.karmavalencia.com
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