Tantra restaurant, located in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, is owner Navraj Singh’s most generous gift to the community. Beginning at the ornate, hammered-metal doors and continuing throughout is an opulence that far exceeds any expectation. This gorgeous space was designed by Sat Garg of Akar Studios in Santa Monica, and is profoundly beautiful. It is a setting that perfectly compliments Chef Sanjay Kumar’s masterful preparations. His menu is a sophisticated mélange of traditional Indian cuisine and contemporary ingredients, with a broad range of tandoori dishes from the north and masala based dishes from the south of India.Read More ...
The Silver Lake area of Los Angeles has always been home to artists and art galleries, chefs, and hot spot restaurants—and for the past five years has gladly hosted Tantra, whose subtitle is “the art of Indian cuisine.”
Owner Navraj Singh has spared no expense in creating this masterpiece of a restaurant. Prior to opening Tantra, he had treated Angelinos to Indian food for more than twenty years at his India’s Oven and Planet Indus restaurants located near Beverly Hills. At Tantra, with the help of Chef Sanjay Kumar, he has ultimately attained gastronomic perfection. Tantra is where people in the know go to enjoy flavors of the Far East.
Enter through the massive copper doors and leave your world behind as you find yourself surrounded by a décor that takes its cues from the spices of Indian cooking. Rich turmeric- and saffron-colored walls invite you to lose yourself in the sensory experience that awaits. A beautiful portrait of an Indian mythological figure hangs above the hostess station, beckoning your presence.
To the right is a cocktail lounge, with long banquets covered in gorgeous sari material, and a beautiful bar that serves specialty drinks such as Tears of Ganesha, Tiger’s Milk, and Panilla Dream. Black and white Bollywood movies are projected onto the walls, artfully blending Indian allure with California culture.
To the left is the dining area. Step beneath the arched doorway and the hostess will escort you past a narrow pool strewn with orchid blossoms and floating candles. It is a beautiful surprise and really sets the tone for the rest of what is yet to come. Above the pool hangs a gigantic metal sculpture that serves to delight the eye and sequester the dining room from the foyer. There are free-standing tables in the center, with smaller booths along the periphery. At the very end is a semi-private alcove that can seat up to twelve guests. Above that hangs another portrait of an Indian mythological figure. Hibiscus-colored silk lamps rather dimly light the room, creating drama and romance all at once.
We were seated at the edge of the room in one of the booths. Our server, Rupa, came to give us menus and take our drink orders. We decided to try the Taj Majal, a light-bodied lager from India. We also ordered the Palak Kofta, which is a spinach roulade. The order came with six pieces, delicately seasoned and served with a butter-tomato sauce. Aside from the fragrant aroma, the most remarkable aspect of this dish was the texture. The spinach was smooth and moist on the inside, and crispy on the outside. The butter tomato sauce was very fine, as though it had been worked through a sieve. It was fresh and flavorful and complimented the spinach very well without overpowering it.
Next we ordered the Mulayam Rattan, which is a lemon and chili scallop dish. This dish was masterfully prepared and blended the flavors of the ocean with the land. The scallops were bathed in fragrant coconut milk and piquant spices. It was served in a shallow bowl with a dollop of masala mashed potatoes in the center of the dish. There was a hint of curry in the potatoes which balanced nicely with the sweetness of the coconut milk. The scallops had been macerated and the dish had the consistency of a chunky dip so we ordered some traditional Indian Naan to scoop it up. Naan is traditional Indian bread cooked in the tandoori oven, but the word “bread” hardly describes the experience of eating Naan. It is the Indian equivalent of a handmade tortilla, but better. Parts of the bread are crisp and parts are chewy, and the tandoori oven flavors of wood and smoke are subtly absorbed, making this a delightful accompaniment.
For one of our main dishes we ordered Rogan Josh which is lamb shank in a rich onion-tomato sauce. It was served with golden saffron rice. I know that aromatherapy is all about fragrance, but the spices that wafted up from this dish were heavenly and soothing. Curry and coriander bathed my senses in rich and exotic spices. I had expected a whole shank but was surprised when it came removed from the bone already in bite-sized pieces. The sauce was a hearty tomato base, and really stood up to the succulent lamb. With this I ordered a glass of A by Acacia Pinot Noir, from the California Central Coast. There was just enough fruit in this medium-bodied wine to balance the acidity of the tomato sauce.
We also ordered the Nariyal Machi, otherwise known as catfish masala. The fish is grilled over charcoal and then served in a mild coconut masala sauce with lime leaves and basmati rice. This is one of the most popular dishes on the menu and it is easy to understand why. There were four generous pieces of catfish that were cooked to perfection, and took on some of the smoky flavor of the grill. There was also a slight sweetness inherent in the fish that complimented the coconut, curry and lime. Because the dish is rather rich, my husband ordered a glass of Sterling Vintner’s Sauvignon Blanc. Its citrus flavors were a suitable accompaniment.
What Indian meal is complete without vegetables? Certainly we had to try the Bhindi Bhazi, or seasoned okra. This is a standout dish in terms of texture and flavor. Okra, onions and tomatoes are slowly sautéed with tamarind and mint and develop the most refined flavors. The okra absolutely melts in your mouth. We also ordered Peeli Daal, or yellow lentils. It is served as a stew and has a prominent turmeric flavor that made a good accompaniment with the other dishes we had. The Naan was so sensational that we had to have another order. The second time around we ordered the spinach naan which Rupa suggested as it is not on the menu, (though it is always available upon request.)
And though we had absolutely no more room, we were compelled to have dessert and so ordered Tandoori Ananas, which was pineapple cooked in the tandoori oven with cardamom, saffron and vanilla ice cream. This was a delightful blend of sweet and savory and a nice way to end a fabulous evening. Other dessert item were Aam Ki Kheer, or mango rice pudding, and Thandi Gilaf, crepes with ice cream and chocolate sauce served with mixed berries. Both looked tempting as they passed our table. We will be back to try them on another occasion.
This restaurant is inspirational and romantic and we were eager to try as many dishes as possible. We knew we were ordering too much, but couldn’t restrain ourselves. The best outcome of our indulgence was the leftovers. They were beautifully packaged for us by the kitchen staff, so we could enjoy them at home. In better lighting, we were awestruck by the gorgeous colors of the golden saffron rice and deep red sauces we missed in the restaurant. As I mentioned, the glow was beautiful from the silken lamps, but did not sufficiently illuminate the stunning creations the restaurant served.
Leaving Tantra, we felt as if we had been treated to a visit at the Taj Majal. Owner Navraj Singh is a most gracious host, and Chef Sanjay Kumar is serving a little bit of Nirvana in every dish.
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