The word "buffet" alone likely conjures up thoughts of national chains or, at best, an Americanized-Chinese version with accompanying mental images of steam trays full of lukewarm, oily food ranging from the mundane to the mediocre. Fortunately, the Greater Los Angeles area has a few buffets that shatter these sad perceptions, starting with Apey Kade in Tarzana — a casual Sri Lankan joint in a strip mall that has a lunch buffet far from run-of-the-mill.
Apey Kade (pronounced ah-pay kuh-day) is one of only four Sri Lankan restaurants in Los Angeles County. But what exactly is Sri Lankan food? We delved into that a little bit last time we introduced you to this restaurant, but if you’re familiar with Southern Indian cuisine — particularly that from the state of Kerala — it will be somewhat recognizable. However, the food from the large island off the southeast coast of India is distinctively its own. Use of spices, coconut, curries, rice and rice flour are all staples. Being an island, fish and seafood are also popular. The intensely spicy curries use coconut milk, yet they’re unique and unlike coconut curries you might be familiar with from Thai, Burmese or Malaysian cuisines.
To describe the food as bursting with flavor seems clichéd, but is wholly appropriate.
Available Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the $8 lunch buffet will typically feature a couple of rices, including a biryani of some sort, three vegetable curries and three meat curries. The wide variety and range of the selections means the buffet holds up to repeated visits. The daily veggie curry selections could include potatoes, cabbage, eggplant or bitter melon — its tartness tempered with coconut milk – among others. They could even be curries using fruits such as apple or young jackfruit.
Chicken, beef, goat, shrimp or fish could be among the meat dishes, with the fish being king mackerel, a meaty, dense fish (with some bones), that if you didn’t know any better, you’d swear was some type of poultry. Pickled vegetables, spicy sambols and papadum – crisp, light crackers usually made from gram flour – sit countertop to go with your lunch.
Sundays, the buffet price goes up to $11, but features some special items, like (coconut) milk rice. Maybe you’ll hit the proverbial jackpot and they’ll be serving their Devilled Chicken, one of our favorite spicy dishes. On holidays and special occasions, like the Sunday after Valentine’s Day, Apey Kade features a special menu, all for $1 more and including live music.
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We can’t think of a better way to sample and learn about a cuisine than a buffet, particularly when it’s a cuisine as spectacular and uncommon as Sri Lankan.
Apey Kade: 19662 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana 91356; (818) 609-7683.