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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Dining in Paradise

Z: Boarding a jet to India to taste the country's exotic vegetarian cuisine possesses a magical lure, but since the budget doesn't permit such extravagances, we scrapped the idea. Instead, we opted for a trip to Chandni Restaurant in the heart of Santa Monica for a rich sampling of Northern India's typical vegetarian dishes.

R: As usual, we were in a feasting mode and brought some friends along who were just as eager to tour Chandni's diverse menu with fork and knife in hand. The "A" rating card in their window was heartening. Upon entering the restaurant, we stood in a small foyer momentarily until we were escorted through an etched glass archway into the main dining room. Surinder Kumar, our server, offered us a warm smile and showed us to one of the many circular booths that line the walls of the room.

Chandni Z: The first thing we all took into account was that we were the only ones in the restaurant. It was 6 o'clock on a Saturday night. It gave us some concern, but by the time we left, the dining room was filling up, and we felt reassured. We were ready to relax and enjoy, knowing the restaurant has an all-vegetarian menu with a large selection of vegan items.

R: We began with an order of Samosas, consisting of two deep-fried cone-shaped pastries filled with well-seasoned potatoes and peas. Since we were ordering several dishes, we planned to cut each Samosa in half and share with Tom and Cheryl. To our surprise, Surinder brought us a dish with four dough-filled pastries along with two chutneys for dipping and said it was "on the house."

Z: They were savory and satisfying with a zesty touch of spice. The sweet mild tamarind sauce and spicy cilantro mint chutney were the perfect accompaniments. Following that piquant beginning, the rest of the meal arrived quickly and steaming hot.

R: Each of us chose one dish. Zel selected the Ghobhi Paratha, a griddle-fried whole-wheat bread stuffed with cooked cauliflower. We all agreed it was a great idea that needed just a touch more seasoning. The Nauratan Korma was filled with great flavor that made up for the bread. The generous serving had an abundance of peas, corn, potatoes, carrots, green beans, onions, and tomatoes all cooked in a blend of spices that are distinctly Indian with a hint of chile, cinnamon, and curry.

Z: Tom's order of Alu Saag, with its cooked mustard greens and potatoes in fresh ginger, garlic, cumin, and fresh tomatoes, sounded like an unlikely combination, but it was perfection in seasoning. When the meal was over, the dish was practically licked dry.

R: No respectable native of India would consider a meal complete without dal. Maintaining tradition, we ordered the Char Dal recommended by Surinder who certainly knows his dal. This specialty consists of four different kinds of lentils cooked into a puree and heightened with fresh garlic, tomatoes, and seemingly magical spices. Light in color, this dal had a delightfully earthy flavor. We enjoyed the Char Dal over the Basmati Rice that went with everything else as well.

Z: The highlight of the meal was the Bhara Began, eggplant stuffed with potatoes, onions, and eggplant pieces. What made this dish stand out was the chef's secret recipe for the exceptional sauce that engulfed the eggplant and compelled us to scrape up every tidbit until the plate was empty. If you're an avid eggplant ravisher like Reuben, this dish is a must to include with your order.

R: We enjoyed it all, especially the genuine dining experience. I'm referring to the burgundy tablecloths, even though they were covered with a glass tops, and the white cloth napkins, the red leather booths, soft lighting along the walls, mirrors behind each booth, and the elegant chandelier over the center of the room.

Z: I really liked the exotic sounds of Indian music softly playing in the background. There's nothing quite as stimulating as exotic music and the aroma of captivating spices to stir one's imagination. For a nanosecond or two I could have been in Calcutta or New Delhi biting into my Ghobhi Paratha. But, no, I realized I was fortunate to have an all-vegetarian restaurant like Chandni right here in Santa Monica where the service was excellent, the chef accommodating, and the food soul satisfying.

R: I noticed there was even a buffet lunch cart offering 8 courses for a very reasonable $5.95. Prices in general were exceptionally reasonable. We only scratched the surface with the few dishes we ordered. The menu offers nine different appetizers as starters, eleven kinds of breads, vegetables dishes too numerous to count, nine varieties of dal, several rice dishes, desserts and exotic beverages. In other words, many choices.

Z: On the top of their menu Chandni boasts, "4000 years of fine foods and good living." As we passed through the foyer to leave, we each took a tiny spoonful of anise seeds "to aid the digestion," we were told.

Chandni (Santa Monica)
1909 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90403
Phone: 310-828-7060
Hours: Daily
Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Reviewed November 2001

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