Akbar – Curry not so Hurry

Restaurant: Akbar

Location: 2627 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, Ca 90403. 310-586-7469

Date: January 21 and May 22, 2011

Cuisine: Indian

Rating: My favorite CTM (Chicken Tikka Masala).


For 13 or so years Akbar has been one of my favorite Indian restaurants. Too many Indian places focus on low cost buffets of very over cooked food, but Akbar cooks everything to order — even baking their own Naan when you place the order. They are more focused on the cuisine of the Punjab (Northern India), with very good curries and kormas. You can get anything from extremely mild to blow the top of your head off. Once I had the “pepper lamb” on 5 (max heat) and my scalp sweat for hours.

The Menu can be found here.

Today they have us these spoonfuls of mushroom creme soup as an “amuse.” Much like any mushroom creme soup, but with a hint of spice — and spices.

Spinach soup, a similar but slightly different amuse on a different day.

As I was still hung over from the previous night’s massive Truffle Fest (SEE HERE), I had only a mango lassi. I love these, basically mango ice creme without the ice.

Riesling always goes well with Indian.

“Samosas. Crisp potato patty stuffed with spiced peas, served with Tamarind chutney.” These are stuffed with potato, peas, onion, flavored with curry and turmeric.  As always the sauce makes the dish — sweet and sour.

“Chicken Kati Roll. Whole wheat roti stuffed with highly spiced  diced chicken , onions and tomatoes.” These little burrito-like fellows are actually from a different meal (lunch on January 28), but I put them in because they’re damn good. Stuffed with something akin to the Chicken Tikka Masala (see below), and then coated in sweet mango sauce and a bit of Coriandrum (Latin for Cilantro) they have a sweet/spicy/tangy vibe that I love.

Akbar has an array of “pickles/chutneys” that come free. Coconut, mint, tangy, and the back one — my favorite — the pickled succotash in deadly hot oil.  I love the stuff, so much that if I ate as much as I would like, I’d feel the burn for days.

“Bhartha, tandoor roasted eggplant sautéed with tomatoes and peas.” This  is like an eggplant korma or something. It’s salty savory, with a very pleasant texture.

Cauliflower sauteed with onions and spices.

This is why I come here, and why for years we made at least one pilgrimage per week. The ”
Chicken Tikka Masala.” Chunks of tandoor grilled chicken breast in butter tomato curry. This is the best CTM I’ve had — and I’ve certainly had plenty. Not every time you come, it’s always good, but sometimes it’s great. You can tell the spices have been fresh ground, and often big chunks of cinnamon can be found. Tonight we had it mild, but I would have liked it up a notch or two.

Basmati rice, Aromatic rice infused with saffron.

“Chilean Sea bass marinated in herbs and grilled in the tandoor.” This is a relatively unusual dish, and delicious. The fish is buttery soft, and pleasantly spiced without being spicy.

Classic Naan, baked to order. Perfect to dip in the CTM sauce, or to slather with the spicy pickles.

I’ll be back.

Quick Eats: La Serenata

Restaurant: La Serenata

Location: 1416 Fourth Street Santa Monica, CA 90401. 310-656-7017

Date: Jan 8, 2011

Cuisine: Mexican


When I first started going 15-16 years ago, La Serenata was fairly eye opening — coming as I did from the world of tex-mex=Mexican. LA has so many different kinds of south of the border food. This place has always felt at least a little less Americanized and farther from street food. Plus, it’s right behind the promenade and perfect for a quick “before the movies” bite. The menu can be found here.

Cadillac Margarita, blended, no salt. Pretty good, although not in the same league as the ones I make myself at home. I take my home Margarita’s VERY serious, as seriously as I do my Ultimate Pizza. Any of the legions who have attended my 4th of July parties where I go through 7-10 gallons will attest! When it comes back in season I will blog in detail about my blend.

La Serenata always serves a soup with the meal. They vary by the day, but usually consist of some form of vegetable combined with cream and blended. This is mushroom. I’m partial myself to this kind of soup because cream is well… good.

The chipotle sauce. Can we say blood-red?

A round of the simple cheese only quesadillas. Popular with the two year-old set. And adults.

La Serenata offers several fishes every night, each of which can be paired with an assortment of half a dozen sauces. This is salmon in “La Salsa Serenata,” a cream and mushroom sauce.

Vegetables, beans, and homemade corn tortillas.

“Carne Deshebrada en chile Colorado,” shredded beef in a red chile sauce with onions and potatoes. You’d be hard pressed to find a more American dish — and I don’t mean the USA, I mean the continent. This is tasty stuff tucked into the tortillas.

The place has a festive “fake Mexican village” decor, but the food is very tasty, and doesn’t have that blah feel that too many generic Mexican places have. All very tasty. Plus, once you pound down three Cadilac Margaritas, you’d be hard pressed to tell.

Quick Eats: Tofu Ya

Restaurant: Tofu Ya

Location: 2021 Sawtelle Blvd. Los Angeles, Ca 90025. 310-473-2627.

Date: Jan 06, 2011

Cuisine: Korean BBQ & Tofu Soup


Some friends of mine wanted Korean for lunch so I found this Westside place on Zagat (it was the best rated west of the 405 at 23 for food). Boy, is this place a great value! And good to boot. I’m not nearly as experienced a Korean eater as I am at Japanese, but this was certainly very tasty.

The tiny little Sawtelle shop front. Random Thursday afternoon at 12:30 and there was a 20 minute wait. An excellent sign.

The simple menu. Besides the ubiquitous BBQ meats this place seems to specialize in “soft tofu.” I didn’t know it exactly by this name, but this is my favorite kind of tofu. I’ve often gotten this in Japan. Served differently, but the same tofu. We’ll see some of it in a bit.

Not a big joint. Smells like BBQ meat. Yum!

The usual spread of small Korean dishes. Kimchi, sprouts, noodles, spicy marinated cucumbers, marinated tofu, eggs, etc.

The spicy tofu soup. I should have gotten a picture after the bubbles settled down. The soup is filled with lots of “soft tofu,” beef, and various seafood. I ordered it medium spicy and it wasn’t very hot by my standards, pleasant though. The soft tofu is that kind of medium-firm off-white tofu that has a luscious smooth texture.

It comes out sizzling. Click on this picture above to see a video of it going nuts.

Steamed rice.

Bibimbap. I’ve always liked this dish. Various veggies and meats. You jump the above steamed rice in.

Then add korean red sauce and stir.

Looks like this. Tastes good.

Galbi. Beef ribs, marinated to perfection and BBQed.

Bulgogi. More or less the same thing, but with no bones, and onions. After awhile the onions caramelized. Beef and cooked onions always goes well together. Full as I was, I could have eaten two plates of this stuff.

Teriyaki Chicken.

The tiny prep area.

The New American – Gjelina

Restaurant: Gjelina [1, 2, 3]

Location: 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd, CA 90291. (310) 250-1429

Date: December 16, 2010

Cuisine: New Californian

Rating: Everything just tastes great!


My parents flew into town but their flight was four hours late so we needed to find dinner after 10pm. This can actually be a problem on the westside, but it turns out that Gjelina serves until midnight! Now Gjelina has gotten lots of rave reviews, and for good reason. It’s also one of our favorite lunch spots. They serve fairly casual fare, American with all sorts of influences, and most things are farmer’s market driven. The kitchen is just really good — so everything tastes great. The menu changes constantly.

“Squash-Farro-Kale Soup with Grilled Bread.”

“Charred Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Dates & Vinegar.” One of the things about Gjelina is that they can make even vegetables incredibly delicious — yes I’m a bit of a carnivore. These brussel sprouts aren’t bitter at all, and the thick chunks of smokey bacon (more pancetta really) are incredible.

“Lamb Sausage, Confit Tomato, Rapini, Pecorino & Asiago Pizza.” They make great pizzas too. These are very thin neo-neo Neapolitan pizzas baked very fast in a wood wire oven. The crust is very crispy, and there is a strong charcoal grill taste. This one has a nice cheesy, herby flavor offset with the very yummy lamb sausage.

“Wood Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic, Chili & Vinegar.” Another example of the unusually yummy vegetables. This cauliflower has a nice double tang, vinegar and chili. Crunch Zing!

“Grilled Radicchio, Bacon, Fontina & Tomato Confit Pizza.” Another great pizza. The bacon makes it of course.

“Potato Gnocchi with a Short Rib Ragout & Pecorino.” Melt in your mouth.

“Charred Niman Hanger Steak with Watercress-Horseradish Pesto, Red Onion & Piquillo.”

Inside they have both regular and communal tables, and outside they have a fantastic patio. It was pretty crowded at 11pm, with down tempo blaring on the speakers. Even on a chilly December LA night (roughly 50 degrees) the fire pit and heat lamp made me take off my jacket. Serious LA ambiance — and food!