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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
 Dining in Paradise

Editors' Note: On this page in our December, 2000, issue we published a review of Chameli restaurant in Rosemead. We are sorry to report that this excellent restaurant has closed its doors. They will be missed.

In most restaurant reviews the reader sees the restaurant experience from one person's point of view. In the reviews of the Vegetarians in Paradise, the reader experiences the eatery from the point of view of two people in dialogue form. Vegetarians in Paradise brings you those two intrepid restaurant aficionados, Zel and Reuben Allen, who will take you along as they eat a swath across the Los Angeles environs.

Chameli R: After visiting the bustling Eagle Rock Farmers Market one Friday night, we had developed some serious hunger pangs. We headed for Rosemead to sample the vegetarian offerings at Chameli, a 100% vegetarian restaurant specializing in Northern Indian foods.

Z: Since it was almost 8:30 in the evening when we left Eagle Rock, we were actually a little concerned the restaurant would be closed by the time we got there. Luck was with us. We found a perfect parking space right in front and discovered the restaurant was open until 10.

R: We entered a rather large foyer and were greeted by the towering bronze figure of Shiva Nattrag encircled in a metal frame that overlooked an impressive, cascading, three-level fountain.

Z: We later learned that dancers consider Shiva Nattrag to be supreme and often pray to him. Indian dancers embrace the philosophy that dancing overcomes evil. You can see we were rather awed by this five-foot tall figure that was perched on the upper level of the fountain.

R: To our left was a shop that sold clothing, books, and gift items from India. We didn't have to guess what was on our right. Our noses led us in that direction where the pungent aromas of Indian cooking wafted into the foyer.

Z: We were greeted with a smile and seated at an upholstered booth along the wall. Perusing the menu was a delight in itself. Everything is vegetarian, and each dish is so well described it makes choosing just a few dishes a pleasant challenge.

R: It was 9:30 and we were so hungry we ordered much too much. Besides, this menu's offerings had several unique dishes that piqued our curiosity. We asked about the ingredients in some of the specialties and were told that most dishes can be prepared vegan.

Z: From the separate menu of specials, we ordered an appetizer of Arbi Masala, taro root in an onion and tomato sauce. Taro root has a texture similar to potatoes. It was perfectly cooked in spices that permeated throughout the taro. It was a delightful starter with portions so large we took some home.

R: A must order dish was the Bhara Benghan! I don't know how I managed to live this long without tasting this bit of paradise. The menu described a half eggplant that's scooped out and cooked with peas, potatoes, onions, and a dynamic blend of spices that makes eggplant taste like the best thing royalty could feast on. At that moment I longed for Chameli to open another restaurant right in my neighborhood.

Z: Well, Reuben can be quite ecstatic over eggplant, but I join him in recommending this dish. We've eaten at many Indian restaurants and have never seen anything like it on any of the menus. I think Reuben agrees that the Char Dal, a blend of four different Indian lentils cooked in fresh onions, tomatoes and spices served over Brown Rice, was another specialty that we enjoyed

R: Here I go again--this time over the Petha. The contrast of sweet pumpkin that is actually a kabocha squash and the savory tomato based sauce seasoned with their mystical combination of spices brings this specialty to into the realm of food artistry.

Z: Their Saag is made in the Punjab style with mustard greens instead of the usual spinach. Although many of their foods are seasoned with garlic, onions and tomatoes, each dish has it's own blend of spices to make it stand apart from the others.

R: When the table next to us was served their bread, the zesty aroma of garlic floated our way and had a powerful influence on us. To accompany the meal we had to try the Garlic Naan and were not disappointed. We knew we were eating freshly chopped garlic, not something that came from a jar.

Z: The food is not the only thing special about Chameli. The ambience was also notable. This is not a cafe--it's a restaurant where we dined in leisure and sat at a table with a dusty rose tablecloth and white cloth napkins. There was elegant carpeting on the floor, pastel peach walls that reached upward to a vaulted ceiling with an enormous skylight. And the special highlight for us was the live Indian music. Seated cross-legged on a raised platform in one corner of the room were three musicians--one on tabla, one on sitar, and the third on guitar.

Chefbird R: Our waiter with the welcoming smile and personable manner was Goldie Sharma who told us the restaurant has been open for10 years. We asked him if Chameli had a special meaning and were told it meant jasmine flower, the name of the owner's mother.

Z: The restaurant's owner, Hari, is quite the exceptional man. While we were waiting for our food, we noticed a tall man in an apron who dashed out of the kitchen frequently with hot dishes that he served at several tables. He cleared dishes, he cashiered, he greeted diners, and he cooked. This spry man appeared to be in his 70s and in very vigorous health. We had an opportunity to tell him how much we were enjoying our meal, and he spent several minutes with us answering all our questions.

R: He even said if we called ahead in plenty of time, we could order special dishes. There were many more temptations on the menu, but we'll have to save them for next time. They offer special breads like Makki Roti, a griddle-baked cornmeal bread. One of the tempting Dal choices was Lobhia, black-eyed peas slowly cooked in their exceptional spices. Channa Dal with Loki, chickpeas cooked with Indian squash, was another unique choice.

Z: A meal such as this is not just a matter of satisfying hunger. The care given to each preparation is evident. This is a meal we could savor emotionally as well as physically.

R: What astounded me were the prices. There were a number of items on the menu for $3.75 or less. A few of the entrees were over $5, and one dared to be over $6. This was extremely tasty food at unbelievably inexpensive prices.

Chameli, Fine Vegetarian Cuisine of Northern India
8752 Valley Blvd., Rosemead, CA 91770
Hours: Monday through Friday, Lunch 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Dinner 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Closed Tuesdays

Reviewed December 2000

Click here for past Dining in Paradise reviews

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