R: Eureka! We've found it! Or so it seems. We believe we've discovered the real Hernando's Hideaway! Those still searching for that "dark, secluded place" will most certainly find it here at Electric Lotus.
Z: Located at the southeast corner of Franklin Ave. and Vermont Ave., the Electric Lotus specializes in village cuisine from Northern India, and has much to offer vegetarians and vegans. While most Indian restaurants prepare vegetarian dishes regularly, seldom do they offer traditional dishes that include tofu.
R: Here, nearly every curry, vindaloo, korma, and masala can be made vegetarian or vegan with tofu rather than the usual meat, chicken, and seafood ingredients. Another unexpected treat we discovered is the restaurant's very talented chef who comes from Japan. Regular customers make a point of coming to dine on the nights when Yoshi is cooking.
Z: Trained in Asian cuisine, Yoshi adds little seasoning touches that heighten flavors to pleasing perfection. Upon entering the restaurant we were standing in a large reception area with an attractive full bar. The shelves that held the liquor bottles were framed in a beautifully designed housing that reminded us of the Taj Mahal with its Indian style arches. As our hostess escorted us to our table, we felt we were entering a long, rectangular, dark cavern.
R: There are a few brass lighting fixtures with small cut-out designs and low wattage bulbs that hang high above the room. These lights, however, are more for décor and offer little to light the room.
Z: Small round tables filled the center of the room, while comfortable booths hugged the walls on both sides. Draped booths along one of the walls added a touch of intrigue, as did the multicolored fabrics that hung from the very high ceiling. The tables were dressed in white tablecloths, glass tops, white cloth napkins and small candles that provided the main source of lighting.
R: In her Southern belle accent, Amie, our amiable server from Alabama, greeted us and brought our menus. Holding the menus close to the candlelight enabled us to see the offerings well enough to make our selections. Yoshi's Electric Tofu was labeled a "must try" by Amie who mentioned it was one of his exceptional dishes.
Z: We began with a Veggie Samosa and included Chana Masala, Vegetarian Coconut Curry, and Rice along with our Electric Tofu. Though the Veggie Samosa was deep-fried, it didn't feel greasy. After finishing this appetizer, our fingers were almost dry. The three Samosas were filled with exceptionally well-seasoned potatoes and peas that delivered a pleasing medium punch of spice.
R: On the table were the condiments to spoon onto our dishes for dipping the Samosas. A very spicy mint chutney was Zel's forte, while I enjoyed the milder mango chutney. As we were finishing our Samosas, Amie brought our entrées. The lively midweek crowd of patrons didn't seem to slow the kitchen down one bit.
Z: The large round platter of Electric Tofu was an attractive presentation. Large chunks of red tofu were marinated in traditional Tandoori spice and laced with a hint of vinegar. Bathed in a sensational red sauce, the tofu occupied the center of the platter. In striking contrast to the red tofu and offering a variety of texture was a combination of raw and cooked julienne slices of green bell pepper and white onions heaped over the tofu.
R: A round, brass hammered bowl held a generous portion of the Chana Masala, a dish consisting of garbanzo beans in a perfectly seasoned sauce. The flavors were exceptional, the blend of spices so sophisticated none were overemphasized but instead all were rather well harmonized. Pleasant aromas from steaming trays left a trail of heady perfume as they drifted by on their way to other tables. We could only imagine the bustling activity in the kitchen.
Z: Another brass bowl lined with stainless steel kept the Vegetable Coconut Curry pleasantly warm so we could thoroughly enjoy the richly flavored sauce with its distinct coconut milk base and curry seasonings. Huddled under the blanket of coconut curry sauce were chunks of potatoes, peas, tofu, and cauliflower with added bits of shredded coconut for a toothy texture.
R: Completing our entrée was our bowl of delicate white Rice in complete contrast to Chinese rice. Indian style rice never sticks together. Each grain is a separate entity that's soft and feather-light. Because the music in the restaurant is rather subtle, it took me a little time to notice it. An eclectic array of Indian, ambient, and dance music played softly in the background, adding a pleasing dimension to our dining experience.
Z: On a subsequent visit we dined with our friends Helen and Alex and shared an order of Broccoli Pakora as our starter. The generous platter of large broccoli florets in its tasty light batter of chickpea flour was accompanied by a small bowl of sweetened chili sauce for dipping. Because the serving was so abundant, we found ourselves nibbling on the florets throughout the meal. This dish could well serve four to six people as an appetizer.
R: The Veggie Soup was our next indulgence, a light broth that offered full-bodied flavor with a lemony tang and a light touch of spice. With each spoonful we discovered many treasures including rice, peas, carrots, green beans, corn, and herbs.
Z: Our bowl of Tofu Bhuna was a spicy delight enriched with the zesty heat of ginger and garlic and large chunks of firm tofu. Embedded within the flavorful thick sauce were cooked dried peas so typical in traditional Indian cuisine.
R: Another dish we selected was the Mushroom Mater, with peas and chunks of mushrooms in a thick brown sauce that was accented with slivers of fresh ginger. This dish did not stand out, mainly because it lacked distinctive ingredients and seasonings. However, the Aloo Paratha, their freshly baked bread stuffed with potatoes, peas, and spices, was very pleasing.
Z: We noticed there were tables along an upstairs balcony toward the rear of the restaurant and a mezzanine that lead to another room. As Amie was packing our leftovers, she mentioned that on weekends these rooms and the banquet room at the rear of the restaurant are filled with parties
R: Electric Lotus has been in this location for 10 years but hasn't always been this size. It began with a tiny take-out stand where the mezzanine is and gradually grew to its present configuration.
Z: We came away recognizing our dining experience was exceptional. While Indian cuisine is always tasty, the food here is extraordinarily flavorful. Vegetarians and vegans will also find more choices on the menu than are offered at most Indian restaurants. The restaurant is an ideal dining experience to share with non-vegetarian friends as well.
R: The Electric Lotus is not only a cut above in flavor, but it is also a cut above in the pocketbook as well. Though we felt we enjoyed good value, we noticed that prices are just a little higher than most Indian eateries.
Z: While many other restaurants would hang a closed sign by 9 or 10 most evenings, Electric Lotus is the exception. To accommodate night clubbers and theatergoers, the restaurant maintains exceptionally late night hours daily.
Reviewed June 2004