All the world is nuts about
Z: How fitting to come to this vegetarian restaurant with our friends Eric and Annie, who treated us to a ride in their car that runs on vegetable oil. We drove into the free parking garage below and walked to a stairwell that conveniently took us upstairs to the entrance of the restaurant. While Rajdhani's dining room has a bright, cheery, spacious, and attractive ambience, its outdoor patio offered delightful balcony dining among tall palm trees. We were pleasantly greeted and chose a table close to the lush palm trees--it was the perfect spot, sitting under an umbrella on this warm summer evening. Keshar and Anise, two servers from Nepal, brought us our menus and left us to ponder our choices.
R: When they returned, they explained the menu offerings. Aware that many Indian foods contain dairy, we told our servers we were vegan. They hadn't heard the term before but understood our concern about dairy and directed us to the many non-dairy items. Keshar mentioned the restaurant serves meals buffet style and prepares a different menu every day. Though we were well indoctrinated in the buffet tradition, we were in for a unique surprise.
Z: Soon another server arrived with an attractive, stainless steel pitcher, stainless steel glasses, and round, stainless steel thalis that held 5 small stainless bowls or is sectioned to hold servings of several items. For newcomers to Indian foods, a thali is a metal tray that holds small serving bowls. Most of the thalis we have encountered were rectangular, but this one was round.
R: First to arrive were tiny metal saucers of "salsa" and papadam, which they called papad. The salsa was actually lightly spiced pico de gallo--not at all an Indian appetizer. However, the chopped medley of tomatoes, red onions, chiles, and cilantro was delicious and tasted great as a topping on the papadam, a crisp lentil crepe served at many Indian eateries. Then came a rectangular metal tray with three small metal containers, each containing a different condiment: mint chutney, mixed vegetable pickle, and sweet and tangy tamarind chutney. These we also dabbed onto our papadam like salsa and chips.
Z: Soon a steady stream of foods one or two at a time were poured, heaped, ladled, and spooned onto our awaiting thalis and glasses. The Potato Wadas were delicious, richly-seasoned balls of cooked potatoes, onions, chiles, ginger, garlic, and lemon juice dipped into a batter of seasoned chickpea flour and deep fried until golden. They went down super easy and were even better when dipped into the thick, smooth, and spicy tamarind or mint chutneys.
R: Annie and Eric's favorite dish, the Kachori, seemed to be everyone's best pick--even our friend, Jackie, who was new to this cuisine, enjoyed this appetizer. Kachori is another deep fried, chickpea-battered ball that was even tastier than the Potato Wada. Green peas and lentils formed the wholesome base of the Kachori, while an exotic blend of seasonings and a hint of chiles added the fabulous flavors that compelled us to say yes every time the servers brought more. Balancing the complexity of flavors of this outstanding appetizer was a hint of sweetness, typical of Gujarati cooking.
Z: Into the bowls on our thalis went a delicious dal made from chickpeas and toor dal that was lightly sweetened with brown sugar. The okra was another favorite specialty with its thick gravy and mild seasonings that compared with those of other Indian restaurants. I especially enjoyed the cabbage dish--one I had never encountered at an Indian restaurant before. Combined with tomatoes, mustard seeds, a hint of chiles, and a blend of seasonings, this wonderful cabbage medley was reminiscent of great tasting, old-fashioned home cooking.
R: In addition to water, we were served Mango Ras, a thick mango beverage sweetened to perfection. By this time we were beginning to reach capacity, but puris and chapattis were hard to turn down. Our surprise was that at this buffet, we could eat as much as we wanted, yet never had to leave the table once. The food just kept coming and coming.
Z: There were several more items on the menu, but our servers were culling out the dishes with dairy for this vegan bunch. Jesu, who is related to the owners, told us that each day the chefs prepare a different variety of dal, vary the appetizers, and choose different vegetables, while retaining the white rice, chapattis, mango ras, papad, and puri as the base of the menu.
R: Because all of the desserts are prepared with dairy, the last item to land on our beautiful table was a welcome finger bowl with a small piece of lime--it was just what we needed after wrapping our fingers around the Potato Wadas, Kachori, and oily puris and chapatis.
Z: After the thalis were cleared, we took a moment to admire the attractive marble-like tables with their colorful vine and floral designs embedded into the surface. In a nostalgic moment, we were reminded of our fabulous visit to the amazing Taj Mahal on our trip to India two years ago. The Taj Mahal also has beautiful floral designs embedded into the marble.
R: Back in the moment, we mustn't fail to mention the restaurant offers outstanding value. All the food we could eat was only $13.99 per person with kids' thalis at $10. Our early Sunday dinner was a quiet time for the restaurant, which meant we didn't have to wait for a table. By the time we left, the indoor dining area was filling up with a bustling, noisy throng, but the patio still offered more serene dining. Though we did experience occasional traffic noises, we have only praises for a tasty meal that left us in great spirits.
18525 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, CA 90701
Reviewed August 2008