When Akasha Richmond opened Sambar last year, the Indian concept seemed continents away from her eponymous California-style restaurant, Akasha — despite the fact that they're just doors from one another in downtown Culver City.
Both spots offer nourishing plates of food inspired by local farmers, but Sambar is particularly informed by Richmond's two travels to India — and she's planning another visit this year. "You could spend a lifetime studying this cuisine and never learn it all," says the Miami native.
While the restaurant has found its stride since opening, Richmond's growth continues to be reflected in the menu, which has undergone various tweaks and expanded its options to further embrace both the international cuisine and the local neighborhood.
One of those additions to the menu is the new "quick-serve" lunch offerings, which include a tasty, crispy Bombay falafel (which they refrained from calling Flavor-Bomb-ay but really could have), fried chicken and a lamb kebab.
There's no denying Los Angeles is home to some superior, traditional Indian cuisine, and the food on offer here is that, but slightly different. It is, as Richmond terms it, "new wave," combining a hint of Southern California with the history of Indian cooking. Billed as multi-regional Indian, the dishes are peppered with thoughtful twists.
The airy, crackly poppadoms (thin wafers typically made from lentils or chickpeas) and uttapam (quinoa griddle cakes) come with a vibrant hemp-seed chutney; a salad of black chickpeas is served with crispy lentils and a creamy tahini dressing.
It is classic home cooking, elevated — if home is somewhere on the subcontinent. But this being L.A.'s Westside, many dishes are vegan-friendly and gluten-free; the waitstaff is happy to make suggestions based on other dietary restrictions.
The tropical Indian state of Kerala, known as the "spice garden of India," is represented at Sambar with a dish of sea bass in coconut curry broth, enlivened with bright cherry tomatoes. The rich, balanced meal is a nice ode to the Cochin (Jewish) people of the region and to Richmond's own cultural roots.
The standout menu item is the truck-stop goat curry. If you're familiar with goat, the dish will touch on something comforting. If you aren't familiar with goat, this is the perfect introduction. It's tender with a complex bouquet of spices, including lots of lemony cumin.
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Dishes that utilize Richmond's knack for making jams, chutneys and pickles are more prominently featured on the menu now than when Sambar first opened. Pack a burst of flavor into any dish with the addition of her punchy lemon pickle or well-rounded Malabar hot sauce, both of which are available as sides.
The bar program, created by manager Clare Ward, is a chic complement to the menu, day or night. While the default pairing in many people's mind is beer, Ward has put together intriguing beverages that combine high-end liqueurs with fruits, spices, yogurt, tea and vegetables — challenging any preconception about pairing hard alcohol with spicy food.
9531 Culver Blvd., Culver City; (310) 558-8800, sambarcc.com. Tues-Thur 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sat 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m., Sun 5:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.