Culver City: Modern Indian Food at Sambar
Chef Akasha Richmond of the eponymous Akasha has opened Sambar in Culver City. Sambar is practically next door to Akasha but the food is very different. Akasha Restaurant describes itself as New American/ Californian while Sambar reflects the time Chef Akasha spent in India. The dishes are not specific to any one Indian region but feels like a love letter to her favorites.
We started with a cheese plate called cheese thali which featured goat and cow paneer (cheese), yogurt cheese, naan, gujarati crackers, pappadum, chutney, lemon pickles and spiced pistachio. I really liked the different soft cheeses. They weren’t too different from goat cheese. It was really the different breads that turned this Indian. I liked this modern take on a cheese plate.
Sambar’s cocktails list is divided into three sections; Spice Trade cocktails, punches and inspired classics. The original drinks are inspired by Indian flavors and ingredients. Everyone told me I would love them because they’re so different. They’re right that I wanted to explore this menu and contemplate how all the drinks were built.
My favorite cocktail on the menu is the Darjeeling Express. It’s very toddy like in the sense with the Darjeeling tea and whiskey. But it’s much more pretty in that Nick and Nora glass rather than a chipped mug in the winter.
Darjeeling Express – Darjeeling tea infused white whiskey, lemon, spiced honey reduction
Another appetizer we had was the sevpuri chaat which is traditionally made with potato but at Sambar, avocado does the trick. This is a great dish to share with friends.
One of my favorite Indian foods are samosas. These are stuffed with potatoes from Weiser Farms. I knew we had a few other dishes coming so I was happy to share but maybe next time, I’d get an order just for myself.
Another great zucchini dish right now in LA is the zucchini kofta. These were incredibly tender and I enjoyed the cashew, tomato and saffron sauce as well.
For a lighter starter, pick the kachumber. The cucumber and tomato salad is lightly dressed with mint, cilantro, red onion, chaat masala and lemon.
I’m pretty much a chicken wings fan. I order it any time I see wings on the menu. But I don’t know why I was so surprised to spot them on an Indian-inspired menu. Soon I saw there was a Masala lamb burger, a Mumbai chicken burger and pork shoulder vindaloo. These items are called New Wave Masala and reflect modern Indian takes on perhaps more familiar American food like burgers.
How did I like these wings? I loved them. They were so juicy and the spicing was perfect.
We tried all three of the punches; Last Train to Goa, Malabar Coast and Rose of Jaipur. Punches are always good to go with food since they’re balanced drinks. Here it’s as easy as picking your base spirit. Do you feel like bourbon, rum or gin tonight? Luckily they’re easy enough to try all three.
Last Train to Goa – bourbon, pomegranate, tart cherry, xta, lemon, orange bitters
Rose of Jaipur – gin, orgeat, sambar rooh afza, lemon, grapefruit
Under the street food and snacks section is something called uttapam. These pancakes were made of quinoa and were new to me. It came with a couple of chutneys including red onion and tomato plus hempseed. I am not much of a sauce person but enjoyed a tiny dab of each. I was warned one was extremely spicy so I was even more careful to dribble just a bit on my pancake.
Besides loving the name, I’m also a big fan of goat. I wanted the Truck Stop goat curry right away. It’s slow braised in a cumin, tomato, onion and goat yogurt sauce. The result is a creamy curry that went well with either rice or the numerous breads we had. The leftover curry was even better the next day for lunch.
Just give me all the breads, why don’t you? The makki ki roti is described as a Punjabi corn tortilla. I can see that. It’s thick and reminds me a bit of a sopa. Ginger, red onion, chile and cilantro dot the roti.
Besides the goat curry, I picked the Punjabi mama greens. I liked the slightly bitter taste of the greens. This went well with rice.
It’s no secret I love egg white (and whole egg) drinks. When I saw the Sacred Cow, I knew I’d like it just from the description alone. Gin, yogurt, apricot, pistachio? Count me in. I love all those things.
Sacred Cow – Sloane’s gin, yogurt and apricot liqueurs, lemon, honey, egg white, saffron bitters, pistachio crumble
Besides the Bhutanese red rice, we also had basmati rice as well as the lemon rice. I really liked the lemon rice with mustard seeds, curry leaves and toasted dal. I usually eat rice with dal and Sambar’s daily dal (not shown) was very good. I am a lentils nut so I like to say if I ever went vegetarian, I would survive on lentils and rice. And greens, of course.
One of the best sellers is the salmon curry. Using Ora King salmon, the curry features a light coconut broth with mustard seeds, curry leaves, ginger and heirloom tomatoes. Pescatarians will love this.
If you want a thinner, more tortilla like bread to eat with the curries, I suggest the paratha. The Bengali style whole wheat paratha is layered with ghee (Indian butter) and ajwain (herb).
My favorite of the punches is the Malabar Coast. It’s complex with rum and banana liqueur. Plus I thought the use of jaggery (cane sugar) was perfect.
Malabar Coast – Old Monk rum, banana liqueur, pineapple, coconut water, jaggery, lime, Sambar bitters
I usually am not much of a bread person but there’s something about naan I love. I enjoyed the tumeric naan quite a bit. It was great to dip into the curries.
Rounding out the night, we tried a few more drinks. I mentioned I’m usually a brown, bitter and stirred girl and Smuggling Monk was recommended to me. I took a quick peek at the menu and saw coffee-infused Scotch and thought, “oh yeah.” I also liked the Spice Road Warrior which reminded me of a Negroni with the Luxardo Bitter taking place of Campari.
I thought the Punjabi Warrior was very interesting with the Kummel. It really captured the Indian spice element with the caraway seed flavoring.
Smuggling Monk– Coffee infused scotch, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, coconut liqueur, chocolate bitters, Angostura bitters
Punjabi Warrior- applejack, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, Kümmel, Combier, celery bitters, Angostura bitters
Spice Road Warrior– tamarind & cacao infused rum, Luxardo Bitter, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
After such a stunning meal, we closed out with three different desserts including the vanilla soft serve sundae (not shown), coffee ice cream pie and the cookie plate.
You must try the coffee ice cream pie with some whiskey. Perhaps with the Smuggling Monk cocktail.
I was content with the pistachio thumbprint cookie with berry jam but really wished I could have tasted all the cookies. The tumeric poppy seed, chai spiced chocolate chunk, dark chocolate goji berry, coconut cashew, chocolate-dipped Earl Grey shortbread with pistachio-almond-cashew dust all sounded really amazing. Someone mentioned the dark chocolate goji berry was a particular favorite which wasn’t too sweet.
© The Minty 2015