Sunday, February 3, 2008

Indian in Artesia

As part of my New Year's resolutions, I vowed to venture down to Pioneer Boulevard in Artesia and try some of the Indian cuisine on this strip.

Well, it's February, so I figured, let's get down to knocking off a few of those resolutions. The Pioneer commercial strip is only a few blocks long, filled with sari shops, jewelry stores, video stores specializing in the latest Bollywood hits and, of course, food. I took a few trips there over the past month, but there are many places I didn't yet get to, so consider this a preliminary report.

Surati Farsan Mart
11814 E. 186th Str.
Artesia, CA 90701
(562) 360-2310

Of all the places I visited in my first few trips to Artesia, the sweet and snack shop Surati Farsan Mart was easily the best. Surat is, of course, a large port city in the Indian state of Gujarat which is famous for its sweet and spicy snacks.

Surati Farsan Mart is a lively shop which seems to always have a line. They have a wide selection of barfi and other milk-based Indian sweets. I must admit, though, that I don't favor Indian sweets, so I went instead for the snacks, and I was not disappointed.

Delhi Chaat is a bowl of fried crackers mixed with potatoes and beans and covered with a sweet, spicy yogurt sauce and chopped cilantro. The flavor of this dish is incredible. There is hot spice, cool yogurt, crunchy crackers and a sweetness that makes it hard to put this dish down. I ate this after having a full South Indian meal at another spot and, full as I was, I couldn't stop eating it.

Chole Samosa is sort of an Indian equivalent of chili fries. Traditional samosas are cut up and drenched with a spicy chick pea mix. The sauce is extremely rich and addictive. I shudder to think how much ghee, Indian clarified butter, goes into this, but it is another one that I couldn't put down.

What distinguished Surati Farsan Mart for me was the distinct and powerful combinations: sweet and spicy, cool and hot, crunchy and chewy. Each of these dishes was its own revelation.

Udupi Palace
18635 Pioneer Blvd
Artesia, CA 90701
(562) 860-1950

Tirupathi Bhimas
18792 Pioneer Blvd.
Artesia, CA
(562) 809-3806

Of the South Indian outposts I tried, my favorite was Udupi Palace. I enjoyed the giant dosas, the Indian crepe stuffed with potato and spices, uthappam, an Indian vegetable pancake which was rich and chewy, and a traditional thali with its curries, pickles and spicy soups. I think my favorite dish of the night was probably the uthappam, but everything was good.

After seeing a review by Jonathan Gold, we also went to Tirupathi Bhimas, which has a similar menu to Udupi, but I found almost everything to be better at Udupi. That being said, I loved the freshly cooked dahi vada (lentil doughnut), though I liked it less in a dish which drenched it with yogurt, making it damp and soggy.

Saffron Spot
18744 Pioneer Boulevard
Artesia, CA 90701
(562) 809-4554

It turns out that the best thing about Tirupathi Bhimas was its proximity to the Saffron Spot, an Indian gelato shop on the bottom floor of the same strip mall. Run by a physician, Saffron spot makes amazingly creamy gelato in traditional Indian flavors like saffron, rose and kulfi as well as a damn good vanilla.

The kulfi ice cream was amazing, the kind of thing you dream about. In fact, I liked Saffron Spot's kulfi ice cream much more than I like actual kulfi, a sort of milk pudding flavored with cardamom, saffron and other spices.

Saffron Spot had numerous flavors I'd never heard of and was generous with the samples. When I asked what the purplish, brownish gelato called Chickoo was, the scooper did not skip a beat, saying, "It's zapote." Zapote is a Nahuatl word for a sweet, vanilla-flavored Central American fruit. In LA, you can find it in liquados in Salvadoran restaurants or in ice cream at the Salvadoran ice cream shop Helados Pops.

Only in LA would you have an Indian ice cream shop worker trying to describe a flavor to an Anglo customer by translating the word into Nahuatl. I love this town!

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