While not as densely concentrated as Little India in Artesia, Culver City has become our go-to grounds for better Indian cooking in L.A. With two spectacular locations of Samosa House, the re-emergence of Lawrence of India, and a perfunctory version of Sweets and Spices, Culver comes with more than a few reliable options. But it’s the following small pocket of Venice Blvd. that provides the best trio of Indian restaurants in the neighborhood, two specializing in the dishes of Southern Indian’s tropical climes and one catering to the ideas of a bold vegetarian visionary. Check out three fantastic Culver City spots to get complete Subcontinental satisfaction in this week’s strip search.
Whereas most Indian restaurants adhere to regional cooking, Bawarchi is a chef-driven concept unlike anything we’ve seen in Indian eats. This is probably because Chef Sabherwal happens to be a mad genius of a recipe creator, as seen in his daily chef’s creations that creep into his buffet, often made in the low-heat dum pukht style that sort of resembles an old-school form of sous vide. All vegetarian with some vegan dishes, Bawarchi has the clean set-up and cute logo to make it look like it wants to be the Indian Chipotle (a notion embraced by Saffron) and while very accommodating to the masses, it’s a revelation for fans of Indian dining by bringing something new to the table every time. Taking the fast-casual, rice combo set-up that’s rampant from India to London to New York to L.A., Sabherwal, who comes from the similarly impressive Samosa House chain, offers a buffet of curries, from which a diner chooses three to top saffron or basmati pilau rice with a side of bread for eight bucks. The curries, rooted in a Northern Indian foundation, are striking in their rich colors and mind-blowing in their preparations. Instead of strictly adhering to the norm, Sabherwal comes up with many of his own recipes and uses a lot of fresh vegetables rarely seen in Stateside curries.
A typical peek finds the chef offering steamed lotus root and jackfruit, a curry of mustard greens, fiery jalapeno curry, soy tikka masala, chana masala, malai kofta with cashew sauce, 24-hour lentils, a black garbanzo curry, cumin potatoes, and dishes of fake fish and . We knew he was on another tip when we reached into our chicken curry and pulled out a tiny chicken leg, with skin, attached to a bone. It turned out to be the most deceptive, delicious piece of soy meat on a bamboo stick we’ve ever been fooled by.
The chef also offers a fixed menu of specials like pani puri, vada pav, kebab, and pav bhaaji, but we can’t resist the bright hues and freshness of his combo buffet, along with a fresh coconut and a paneer pakora from the cases, where vegan avocado cheesecake sits beside traditional desserts like kheer, gulab jamun, kulfi, and barfi. So healthy and clean-tasting are Bawarchi’s dishes that we long ago forgave them for moving in on Mayura’s turf.
Bawarchi, 10408 Venice Blvd. Culver City. 310-826-8525.
Mayura is an atmospheric, friendly corner serving many of the Indian dishes you’ve come to expect, like bhel puri, aloo gobi, and chicken korma, with vegetarian food prepared in a separate space from the carnivorous choices. The restaurant’s specialty, however, is the cooking of The Subcontinent’s tropical southern state of Kerala, meaning you’ll find a huge and soulfully-crafted spread of dosas and uthappam, whole jalapenos in chickpea batter, randomly placed Southern specialties like a spicy fish curry, shrimp biriyani and shrimp masala, and spicy-sour rasam soup, plus bready regional treats like idly and appam, and subtly sweet lentil vada with coconut sambar.
While a dinner or lunch date with its menu is perfectly acceptable, Mayura also offers a daily buffet for $9.95. Whereas many Indian buffets taste better than they look, Mayura’s buffet dishes are meticulously maintained and appear more than appetizing, singing out in bright colors, neat rows, and careful arrangements. We feel truly lucky when we find whole battered peppers and fish curry in the line-up, which often includes chicken tikka masala and lamb curry, plates of idly and naan, a hill of fluffy rice, and a few beautiful vegetarian curries, along with salad and a tidy arrangement of daal, pickle, raita, sambar, and the like. Mayura is the standard-bearer of excellence in this particular strip and took its rightful place this week at Jonathan Gold’s Gold Standard Event.
Mayura, 10406 Venice Blvd. Culver City. 310-559-9644.
To us, Annapurna’s stark white, fluorescent lighting-illuminated space looks much more like the places we’ve eaten at in India than the typical bejeweled theatrics of dark, dramatic restaurants that dot the States. Like Mayura, this all-vegetarian restaurant also has a pronounced Southern Indian slant, with very affordable prices, a no-frills, no-fuss attitude, and, if you’re the kind of person who actually wants to touch a well-fingered keyboard while eating with your hands, net-enabled computers at its tables.
It’s hard to go wrong here, no matter how painful making a choice can be from the great menu full of uncommon dishes. Paper dosas stretch across plates with the heft of tree limbs, while dosa ingredients range from fried chili peppers, spicy cheese, mint and spinach, simple spreads of ghee, and typical masala. Uthappam, described as Indian pizza, but more like the lovechild of a crepe, pancake, and hashbrown, also have their variations, the one that comes with a “Hawaiian” filling of pineapple, raisins, and nuts, but we love the uthappam simple here, with no more than some onion and tomatoes.
Other standouts include another take on battered jalapenos, making your own Mumbai-style pav bhaji by sloppily ladling vegetable curry on small shiny white buns with a side of jalapeno, kind of like some Indian banh mi if it was made at White Castle, and Northern puri masala with a cup of thick mango lassi. With a thali of at least six different dishes priced at only $8.95, it’s a challenge to leave hungry, but a bigger challenge not to over-order once the menu tempts you.
Annapurna, 10200 Venice Blvd. Culver City. 310-204-5500.