GENERAL COMMENT: On a cold winter night Indian food hits the spot. Many years ago, when we sailed together as a family, we would come back to Marina del Rey cold and tired, clean up the boat, and head over to the Akbar restaurant on Washington Boulevard. Mr. Kapoor, the owner, a gentleman from the “old school,” always offered good food. That restaurant, and I’m afraid Mr. Kapoor, are now gone, but his sons carry on and now there are four Akbar restaurants: close by, one in Santa Monica and one in a different location on Washington Boulevard, just west of Lincoln. We recently visited the one on Wilshire, which is owned and occasionally managed by Avinash Kapoor. Gustavo, the manager, is usually on duty and will take good care of you.
WHERE: 2627 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, Calif., 90403. Telephone: (310) 586-7469.
WHEN: lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., dinner every day 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
BEST DISHES: The most popular dishes at the restaurant happen to be the ones I usually order: chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, garlic nan and white rice. Here the chicken tikka masala is less creamy than in other local Indian restaurants, the cheese in the saag paneer is chewier, and the nan has a lot more garlic in it than is customary — all nice improvements, although I think the chicken is added to the sauce and not simmered in the sauce for a long time as it is made in India. For those of you who are not Indian food lovers, saag paneer is like a creamed spinach with cubes of cheese in it, but with Indian spices overtaking the natural spinach flavor.
BEST FEATURES: Convenient hours, good location, good parking, and consistent food. But the overriding best feature for me is the side sauces. The mint sauce is much hotter than anywhere else. The coconut sauce is creamy and delicious, and the tomato-based sauce is also creamy with a nice kick to it. I didn’t taste the chopped vegetables but it looked hot.
WORST FEATURE: Indian food doesn’t always sit well the next day.
WHAT TO DRINK: I always have a beer with Indian food. At their Washington Boulevard location they have a wine list with several of the California cult wines. But who drinks cabernet with Indian food?
PRICES: Most dishes run between $10 to $15, so if two of you order three with rice and a beer you can expect to spend as much as $50 for two.
BOTTOM LINE: Another great ethnic restaurant. Isn’t Los Angeles wonderful?
Wine with an Argentinean flare
GENERAL COMMENT: If you happen to find yourself in Silver Lake, just west of downtown Los Angeles, and near beautiful Echo Park Lake, you can take advantage of a wonderful wine bar there called Barbrix. It’s worth the trip. Santa Monica foodies will remember chef Dickman from the old Rocco Italian restaurant, and here he is again, in a small Spanish-Italian wine bar owned by folks from Argentina.
WHERE: 2442 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles, Calif., 90027.
WHEN: 7 days a week, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and 6 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday nights.
BEST DISHES: Most of the menu consists of small plates that go well with wine. For the first course I recommend the garlic fried sweetbreads, but I know the crostini misti are more popular. The New Zealand bluenose sea bass and the Moroccan spice rubbed lamb ribs are a treat not often found.
BEST FEATURES: Rustic feel, excellent food, good wine selection.
WORST FEATURE: It’s a long way from Santa Monica.
WHAT TO DRINK: Dumb question: it’s a wine bar!
PRICES: The first courses run about $6. Vegetable sides are about $8. Fish and meat courses are $10 to $15. A nice glass of wine is between $8 and $15. My friends tell me they spend about $30 a person when they go there.
BOTTOM LINE: This new wine bar trend is a wonderful addition to the eating scene. And these owners have done it right, with great food and an eclectic selection of wines that make it worth stopping by.
Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org