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Electric Karma Northern Indian Cuisine
By Karen Trachtenberg
Slightly hidden amidst the bustle of West Third Street lies Electric Karma, a festive restaurant offering northern Indian cuisine, a taste of sophisticated L.A. nightlife, and of course, Indian ambiance.
The soft, dim lighting and decorative murals are reminiscent of a movie set. Ornamental pillows with red fabrics and sparkling curtains adorn plush booths; it's nice to enter this place from the noisy street.
On Thursdays, Electric Karma is not for the faint of heart. It's "Bollywood Night" and it resembles the L.A. party scene. So for those in search of a quiet dinner, move on. For those seeking savory Indian cuisine that's different and complex in an entertaining environment, c'mon in.
Chef Paramjil Singh has been running Electric Karma since 2004. The food is a blend of traditional Indian dishes, like chicken tikka masala and lamb korma, with atypical dishes like fish vindaloo. The restaurant also offers numerous vegetarian and vegan dishes.
I was intrigued by the sampling of pretty people waiting in line and the smell of cumin and spices when I arrived, and there were Indian tourists seated at a large table enjoying a group buffet. "Good sign," I thought.
I started at the bar, accompanied by a tart pomegranate martini and some appetizers. As I bit into the vegetable samosas (fried little square pillows with potatoes and peas accompanied by tamarind chutney) I had good thoughts. Samosas are supposed to have a crunchy outside texture and a warm, inviting softness inside, and these did. I also had a chicken kebab with cheese, or chicken rolls filled with masala cheese. To me the kebabs were average, like chicken sausage, and I could not taste any cheese.
My companion and I were escorted to our table after a bit of a wait, and considering the restaurant knew we were coming, I was surprised at how long it took -- so for those who want some "Electric Karma" for dinner on Thursdays, be sure to make reservations.
My favorite thing in the entire world is chicken tikka masala topped with mango chutney and yogurt. The chef convinced me to try something new on this night, because chicken tikka masala is such a "standard" dish. We agreed on nirvana chicken, which is grilled chicken in a coconut masala curry with chili. The texture of the chicken was tougher than I would have liked, but I loved the fact that it was so spicy. The nirvana washed down easily with some mango lassi, a wonderfully thick and smooth sweet yogurt drink. Lassi is the perfect way to soften the kick and get your palate ready for the next bite.
Next, I topped my nirvana chicken with some of the best mango chutney and yogurt I have ever had. The chutney was so tangy; it was seasoned with cinnamon, mango, ginger and chilies. A sweet little fire in my mouth.
The yogurt was traditional, with cumin, onions and cucumber, but it seemed have a little more. I was told that the cumin is ground and roasted by the chef daily, and I asked for the recipe (but they wouldn't give it to me).
All at once, several dishes came: fish tandoori, karai lamb, a sampling of naans, and veggie entrees. The naans were interesting. They were warm, soft and stretchy when they pulled apart and although tasty, they didn't match what I was eating. The olive naan tasted like it was Italian and so did the mozzarella cheese naan. Their texture reminded me of pizza.
The tandoori fish of the day was salmon and it was moist, with an aroma of dill and mustard. It was a little salty, but overall a good dish. Karai lamb was next (simmered with tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, mint and spices) in a thick, spicy sauce infused with big chunks of mint leaves, which I loved.
Good veggie dishes are important, especially at an Indian restaurant and Electric Karma was no exception. I enjoyed the aloo gobi - baked cauliflower and potatoes seasoned with tomatoes, ginger, turmeric, cumin and chilies. Probably my favorite was the bhindi masala, or cooked okra with mild yet savory spices. The palak paneer was also pleasant - a creamy spinach sauce with onions, green chilies and tofu cubes.
Desserts here are very traditional and I found the rice pudding to be a little watery and not for me. Next time, I'll go with the kulfis (homemade Indian ice cream).
Overall, with the variety of sweet sauces, spices, chutneys and yogurts that complemented my meal, I was happy.
While dining I noticed an open-air outside patio with ground-level, traditional plush seating and I asked the owner to show me around. Huge murals decorated the walls, and the patio looked like it was cut out for one of those traditional Indian weddings portrayed in the movies.
For a meal on that particular patio, I'd go back any time.
Location: 8222 ½ Third Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Valet Parking after 6 PM
Private Outside Patio for Parties
Ambience: On the night I was there, very "Hollywood" and youthful with lots of pretty people; a video was looping all night long with "Bollywood" music videos and movies.
Service: Friendly but slow.
Price: Traditional Indian appetizers, $7-$9; Indian Breads/Rice - $3-$5; generous lunch specials from $7-$10; most main dishes $11-$16, Dishes: Tandooris, Vindaloos, Kormas, Saag, Paneers, Rices, Naans, etc.
Details: Open 11:30 am - 10:30 pm Monday - Thursday, and 11:30 am - 11:00 pm Friday & Saturday.
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