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(Gerry Furth-Sides) In his mission to mainstream authentic Indian food to American customers, trained Radhika Modern Indian chef owner Karan Raina has also achieved recognition as one of the best Indian restaurants in Los Angeles. Always on site at the restaurant, Raina was raised in the Punjab area in India, known for exporting innately knowledgeable restaurateurs, and Karen has shown he is one of the best.
The unique dishes are distinguished by refined, authentic regional flavors as their base. White Gaspacho on the summer menu is a perfect example. The Gazpacho of cultured yogurt, made in-house, parsley and mint is an echo of a refreshing salt lassi. Raina explains that a lot of care is taken with the spices, including the roasted cumin, Persian cucumbers (pressed into the liquid), tomato, lime juice salt and pepper and summery dill. “Each dish is built around one herb or spice,” he says, with dill honored in the Gazpacho. A surprisingly delicious, if subtle, starter with buttermilk tartness, it also makes it an excellent palate cleanser.
As tantalizing as bread from the oven can be, the Bread Basket at Radhika offers original and herb-flavored naans, a bit oversized with flavor to match. Prantha, stuffed whole wheat bread cooked in the Tandoor, is also available.
A slight variation on the ever-popular Saag Paneer or Cheese Spinach, Radhika Spicy Paneer with assorted vegetables, introduces the ability of the kitchen to infuse a dish with heat, rather than an assaultive spikiness. Raina described it as Indo-Chinese, a “kind of Manchurian dish,” with soy, sweet and sour chilies, and the sweetness of tomato, a fruit after all. Textures and color from the peppers add interest. And in this dish, basil is the main herb honored. So tomato and basil, for sweet and sour, all elements familiar to the universal palate are the base of the dish.
Malai Kofta, a sort of handmade ball of squash, veggies and cottage cheese, simmered in Almond and Cashew Broth, is a perfect vegetarian dish that also satisfies carnivores as an entrée or side dish because it has hearty protein and is also slightly sweet. This is from the mid-section of the Indian map, and “Gujarati style is always, always sweet,” laughs Raina. “They put sugar on everything.”
Cilantro is the herb featured in the tender, juicy, Tandoori Chicken, marinated and cooked in the Tandoor oven. It is a contemporary color palate with the grilled crusty yellow gold chicken on a bed of garden green Persian cukes, white cabbage and lime punctuated with red onion. The Raina demonstrated more of the full array of what Radhika kitchen can do with chicken by bringing out Chicken Tikka Masala, the mainstay with which every restaurant can be measured and a fun appetizer, Chicken Pikkora, infused with cayenne yet coated with the lightest batter reminiscent of tempura. A slightly sweet tamarind relish brings out even more of the flavors by contrasting with the cayenne pepper.
The chat masala, the spice blend that is the base of all sauces, is what makes the difference between a good Indian dish and a superb one.It is even used to flavor the pakora batter. Raina imports his spices and uses only the freshest.
Smoky flavor is what lingers from the Salmon Kabab, fresh salmon marinated with herbs and spices and cooked in the Tandoor. Fresh, highest quality marks the powered coriander, the very fine cumin and the mustard oil marinade. Pan fried vegetables accompany the salmon, including cauliflower, peas, zucchini and translucent mini-onion slabs. As with the Naan, this dish is meant to be eaten hot since the salmon continues to cook on the plate.
Radhika Lamb Shank, that most beloved dish of diners, is here accompanied by a side dish of the lightest, long grain Kasmiri Rice. The cherry on top signified the fruit and other exotic touches influenced by the regal Persian occupiers of the area.
Imported cinnamon, coriander and cloves, made into a yogurt sauce with the classic tomato, ginger, garlic and onion, seep into the lamb as it cooks. “We go through 12 lamb shanks a day.
Named after his mother, Radhika (also a prominent spirit in Indian mythology). Karen’s father was born in Kashmir, and his mother is Punjabi, the best of all culinary worlds.
Radhika is on a corner of one of the most inviting, if not the most inviting, streets anywhere. The feeling of history permeates the quaint neighborhood, with wonderful, over-sized windows peering out of two-story buildings that are only found in areas over a century old. Radhika is a handsome, intimate corner restaurant with a separate smaller wine room and lounge.
Radhika’s label as “gourmet,” is that of a connoisseur of fine food and drink rather than one meaning “high priced.” It pertains to a dish setting a standard in its visual appeal. It sets the standard in taste with fresh ingredients, balanced and seasoned perfectly and also maintaining the integrity of the original dish. And here the label falls under the category of a “gourmet” kitchen elaborately equipped for the preparation of fancy, specialize or exotic meals.
Radhika Modern Indian, 966 Million Street, S. Pasadena, CA 91030, (626)799-2200, (www.radhikarestaurat.com)
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