Curry With the Singe on Top
Japanese curry tastes more like the sort of "African" gravies you find in the Portuguese colony Macao than like anything you might run across in Britain -- or, for that matter, India. At the same time, it's characteristically Japanese: sweet, thick, homogenized, and powered by a multilayered pepper heat that somehow comes together as a single note. Curry House curry is a sticky, dense vegetarian goo, dark as a Louisiana roux, copious enough to ease down several pounds of rice. You can order it at several levels of spiciness, ranging from supermild to 'cue-sauce hot, have it garnished with breaded, fried cutlets of beef, pork or chicken, or have it with seafood or vegetables. 163 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 854-4959. Also at 123 S. Onizuka St., downtown; (213) 620-0855. Both locations open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $16$23. Beer and wine. Takeout. Validated/valet parking. AE, MC, V. â
The Indonesian cooking here, sort of an intelligently gentrified, Muslim-accented greatest-hits version of pan-Indonesian cuisine, is hands down the best on the entire Westside. Tamarind soup is hotly spiced, tart and luscious, filled with bits of squash, green long beans and sliced corncobs, an intricate bowl of broth; mellow Javanese-style chicken soup is slightly soured with lemon grass, thick with slippery glass noodles, garnished with handfuls of musky-tasting toasted betel-nut chips. Martabak telur, a scramble of meat, eggs and herbs folded into something like filo dough and fried, is a terrific sort of Indonesian borek, an exotically spiced version of something you'd expect to find at a North African restaurant. And Indo Café may be the only Southland restaurant to serve the fried, stuffed mashed-potato fritter called perkedel, crisp-edged and fine, that is pretty good on its own, but which almost explodes with flavor when you daub it with a bit of one of Indo Café's fiery chile condiments. 10824Þ W. National Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 815-1290. Open Tues.Sun. for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $16$22. No alcohol. Takeout and delivery. Street parking. Disc., MC, V.
Dasaprakash is vegetarian, but you can eat there a dozen times without seeing an actual vegetable. The intricately spiced cashew fritters called pakodas have the crumbly texture of Pecan Sandies; the fried-bean patties called medhu vadai look like Donut Gems but taste of cumin and clean oil (try the version served floating in a spicy lentil purée); the crisp, lacy pancakes called rava dosai, made of the Indian equivalent of Cream of Wheat, seem like the sort of thing a Madras grandmother might make to nibble on at teatime. Pessret, a giant lentil-flour pancake as big around as a living-room carpet, encloses a sour, sharply spicy mixture of green chiles, minced raw onions and bracingly fresh ginger. After the fritters and pancakes, you should probably get uppuma, a dramatic mound of steamed semolina flavored with sweet onions -- a teacupful of the stuff serves about six. 12217 Santa Monica Blvd., No. 201, West L.A.; (310) 820-9477. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $16$20. Takeout. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Disc., MC, V.
As in most great Thai places, finding Palm Thai's actual specialties requires a bit of persistence. Non-Thai customers are routinely brought a roster of the familiar cooking of suburban Thai restaurants -- or you can request a second menu, which includes most of Palm Thai's best main dishes, fiery salads and elaborate soups. Try the red curry of wild boar, quite hot but tempered with coconut milk and flavored with lime leaves and unripe green peppercorns still on the branch. Or maybe, just maybe, the pepper-garlic frog, crunchy fried bits of the amphibian set on a layer of fried minced garlic so thick that it looks at first like a plateful of granola -- as much garlic as even a Thai person could want. 5273 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 462-5073. Open daily 10 a.m.2 a.m. Dinner for two, food only, $18$40. Beer and wine. Takeout. Guarded lot parking. MC, V.
Romantic Steak House
At Romantic Steak House, rice fried with vegetables and bits of Chinese sausage has the smokiness that comes from brief cooking in a very hot wok; its rice grains are perfectly separate, with a high top note of garlic and a burnished sweetness from the sausage. Mohhinga is a catfish chowder with transparent vermicelli, and Romantic Steak House serves a near-classic version of the soup, almost gritty with rice flour, shot through with an elusive many-leveled sourness, with a dozen or so flavors unfolding one by one: fermented fish, citrus, ginger, blackened onions, turmeric, the earthiness of catfish. The chicken curry here is quite different from both Indian and Thai conceptions of the dish, stained yellow and flavored more with onion, garlic and chile than with exotic spice, and without any creamy fat to temper the spiciness of this sharply delicious dish. 119 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 307-5558. Open Wed. Mon. for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $15$25. Beer and wine. Takeout. MC, V.
Shahnawaz Halal Tandoori Restaurant
Every time I've gone to Shahnawaz, I've ordered mirch ka salan -- a thick, tan stew heady with the scents of garlic and ginger, bound with a pungent, grainy mortar of ground spice. There's also nehari, a spicy beef stew flavored sharply with ginger; haleem, a gentle mash of pounded meat cooked with grain; and paya, a rich, clove-scented stew of beef and ox tendon cooked to a melting tenderness. On weekends, there's a very nice biryani, basmati rice cooked with butter and sweet spices and tossed with chunks of lamb. And consider the tandoori-mix plate: a rare lamb chop, subtly smoky, crisp at the edges; a few pieces of bright-red marinated chicken tikka that spurt juice like chicken Kiev; a ruddy whole chicken leg; several inches' worth of clove-scented minced-lamb kebab; a tart pile of yogurt-marinated roasted beef -- all for about $7.95. 12225 E. Centralia St., Lakewood; (562) 402-7443. Open Tues.Sun. for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $10$14. No alcohol. Takeout and catering. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V.
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