Karma Vegetarian Cuisine
(formerly Saams A-1 Produce and Veggie Lovers Deli)
R: Veggie Lovers who live in the San Fernando Valley are really lucky, especially if they live in or near Northridge. They're close to some of the best vegetarian Indian food in Los Angeles at Saam's A-1 Produce and Veggie Lovers Deli, a market that specializes in imported Indian foods. But the best-kept secret is that right inside the market is a cafeteria-style restaurant that cooks up Indian specialties with exceptional flavor.
Z: We had noticed the sign announcing Saam's A-1 Produce and Veggie Lovers Deli months before the opening and were curious to learn about the vegetarian adventure waiting inside. We parked the car in the ample parking lot behind the store, and as soon as we opened our car doors, we couldn't help noticing the pungent exotic aromas emanating from the market.
R: Entering the market, we noticed a long, windowed counter to the right where diners could make their selections from more than a dozen dishes in steam trays filled to the brim. In addition, one could special order an amazing array of traditional dishes listed on the huge board posted high on the wall behind the counter. The end third of the counter displayed 25 different varieties of Indian sweets, each of them made right in the kitchen.
Z: Most of their items represent Northern Indian cooking, but those who fancy South Indian cuisine could select from items like Dahi Wada, Masala Dosa, and Idli Sambhar, to name a few. If that weren't enough, one could order a Chinese dinner, a Mexican dinner, or even Falafel.
R: Faced with so many choices, we found it daunting to make decisions. Veena Rehil, the owner, helped us make our selections from the items on the steam table. While everything is totally vegetarian, vegans will easily find a comfortable niche here. We each ordered combination plates--I selected the #1 Combo; Zel had the #2 Combo.
Z: Informality and convenience are primary here. The foods are served on sectioned styrofoam trays, and plastic utensils are well placed in a small white cupboard in the sizable dining alcove just past the food counter.
R: We chose one of the nine ivory formica tables, collected our utensils, and began to appreciate the various tastes, textures, and temperatures of our meal. I chose the combo that had Rice, Opo Squash, Cauliflower and Potatoes, Lentil Dal, Samosa, Pakora, Onion Pickle, Cilantro Mint Chutney, and Tamarind Sauce. Oh, I almost forgot the Nan.
Z: My combo had almost as many items with Rice, Eggplant and Potatoes, Chick Pea Dal, Vegetable Soup, Lemon Pickle, and Nan. I didn't have the three-inch tall Samosa and the Pakora with the sauces, but I didn't miss out on a thing--we always share.
R: While many of these items are familiar on most Indian restaurant menus, the Opo Squash and the Lemon Pickle stood out as unique. The Opo Squash dish consisted of chunks of this exotic squash cooked with onions in a tasty, thick sauce that artfully combines a host of Indian spices. We complimented Ramila, the restaurant's very capable cook who skillfully seasons all the dishes as lovingly as if she were serving guests in her own home. Everything had a fresh, homemade quality. Even the curry flavorings are made from scratch--no standard packaged curry powder lives in this kitchen.
Z: I must mention, though, that Ramila's palate leans toward the spicy side. It's possible that by Indian standards, her foods are mild to medium-spiced, but many Americans would consider them pretty zesty. Those sensitive to spicy foods may want to special order their meal. Reuben and I kept reaching across the table to taste each other's items. Each bite was so full of robust flavor. The Lemon Pickle, while definitely piquant, dominates with its lemony overtone but is perfectly balanced with a variety of enchanting flavors.
R: The only thing missing was the Samosa and Pakora served piping hot. They were pre-made and served at room temperature. Though they were tasty, serving them hot does bring out their best.
Z: Great ambience is definitely not a focus here, but the dining alcove is very bright with its simple white walls, tables, and chairs. The owners were thoughtful enough to place a pitcher of water on each table. Instead of hearing the sounds of the sitar and tabla playing Indian music, we listened to soft music from the oldies KRTH radio station emanating from the PA system.
R: Both of us were amazed by the reasonable prices. My dinner was $4.50 and Zel's was $3.50. I was able to take my date out to dinner for only $8.00. With dinner so reasonable, we thought we might finish with something from the dessert section. By the end of the meal, we changed our minds. Though there were plenty of desserts to tempt us, we simply didn't have an inch of space left for dessert.
Z: Next time, we decided we would special order something from their a la carte menu like Vegetable Zalfrezsee or Mirchi Ka Salan. Ah, those exotic names never fail to tantalize.
Karma Vegetarian Cuisine
Reviewed February 2003