Lawrence of India: Lizardfish + The Cuisine of Goa
Lawrence of India
With the exception of the Kerala-style dishes at Mayura, most of the Indian restaurants clustered along Culver City's Venice Boulevard focus on the same vegetarian-centric, vaguely Southern Indian style of cooking. This is far from a bad thing -- can one ever have too many choices for jackfruit curry, potato dosas or bowls of samosa chaat?
But If you were looking for something more esoteric, the last place you would guess to go would be Lawrence of India, a garish-looking building lit with strings of lights and crowned with miniature Indian flags stuck in a strip-mall sandwich between a Thai BBQ and one of the neighborhood's older trattorias.
It turns out that chef Lourence Monteiro, cooked with Paul Bhalla throughout the '90s, specializes in the cuisine of his home state of Goa, a tiny tropical region located on the lower half of India's west coast. Goan restaurants are almost nonexistent in the U.S., perhaps due to the fact that the region enjoys such a resort-town popularity in India that few of its chefs would ever imagine emigrating from their bustling hotel kitchen posts.
Hidden in the back section of Lawrence of India's menu are a dozen or so items listed under the heading "chef's specials." On certain nights there is chouriço, a platter of rough smoked sausages heavily lashed with vinegar and ground chiles (a product of Portugal's 450-year colonial rule over Goa), and sorpotel, a thick hellfire gravy tinted dark purple and stocked with fried bits of cured pork. The shakuti is pretty good, too, a chicken curry concocted from a blend of macerated coconut, white poppy seeds and a gamut of ground peppers. If your waitress asks, insist on the spiciest level; the layered heat of Goan food isn't as intense as you'd imagine it to be, and lower heat levels often leave the curries tasting dull and flat.
You probably should try the oddly compelling "Bombay duck," too, which isn't really duck at all -- thank the British bastardization of Hindi for that -- but actually a kind of lizardfish called bombil. It's as pounded thin as steak Milanese, breaded and flash-fried until it becomes an addictive, crispy fish jerky that you slather with a red chile chutney.
At the end of the meal, the kitchen will give you a petite metal dish of pineapple kheer, a creamy pudding punctuated by bits of fruit and dusted with ground pistachio. It might be a good idea to spend a few extra minutes soothing your inflamed taste buds and watching a few Bollywood scenes play out on the windscreens -- even through it's food, you can already tell Goa is a pretty intense place.
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