There was a time when Indian restaurants in Los Angeles drew as much interest as a school of guppies. Well, that's changing. Spiffy new restaurants appear; old, decrepit ones are polished up. Suddenly, they're everywhere. My trend guru, Marya Dardana, a food stylist and chef, credits Thai restaurants for proving that ethnic can be good, inexpensive and fun.
So if you haven't ventured recently to an Indian restaurant, try India Inn, a Bangladesh-run restaurant with very few drawbacks and food that is very good, inexpensive and fun. The charming incongruity of waiters--all of them co-owners--done up in tuxedos, scurrying about in their modest but ecletic environment, smacks of British-rule pomp gone askew.
To get the drawbacks out of the way: Portions are small restaurant servings, although adequate for normal appetites. I have found that Indian restaurants, in general, tend to serve skimpy portions whether you are paying $10.95 per order at a fancy spot on the Westside or $3.95 at the India Inn in East Hollywood.
Drawback No. 2: area. I've always thought that a Neighborhood Watch with National Guard escort should be a permanent fixture in the East Hollywood area. So, caution.
Beyond that, the food will probably bring you back several times, if not constantly. And, as a bonus, once you've sampled the cuisine you will probably gain a new perspective about Bangladesh, an independent republic surrounded by India, whose unfortunate history of strife and famine still preys on the mind.
Bangladesh cuisine is basically Indian/Pakistani cooking noted for its spicy-hotness. Basic staples are curries, tandoor oven dishes and biryani (meat or vegetables with rice dishes). The soup is mulligattawny (lentils and vegetables); the rice is plain or fried basmati, the national drink is lassi, a sweet, mango-flavored yogurt drink. The desserts are kheer , the fabulous creamy rice pudding; gulab jamn , milk balls soaked in syrup, and baklava, the flaky pastry filled with nuts. The breads, a magnificent quartet, include naan, a puffy, light tandoor oven bread, which is the best I've had anywhere, bar none; paratha , a tortilla-type bread, and its stuffed versions-- aloo (stuffed with herbs) and muglai (stuffed with meat).
Like Pakistan, Bangladesh is predominately a Moslem country, which means that religious dietary laws restrict use of pork. But you will find lamb, beef, chicken and certainly fish because Bangladesh's low plain is cut by the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers and their delta. At India Inn, the menu contains only shrimp, but owners promise to add more fish dishes as the new restaurant settles.
I must say that the tandoori chicken was outstanding, brought sizzling to the table. Tender, tasty and perfectly cooked. The chicken tikka dishes ( tikka means diced) also are tasty. You have a choice of very hot, hot and mild curries, but if you are interested in the Bangladesh curry specialties, try the chicken bhuna and chicken moglai (the name kurma is more accurate for this curry topped with almonds, cream and egg yolk).
Among the lamb curry dishes that are typically Bangladeshian, according to one of the owners, there is lamb sag , made with spinach, and lamb pasanda, a lamb steak cooked in yogurt. Several Bangladesh-style vegetables also are offered--a potato-cauliflower mixture called aloo kabi, a fried mushroom dish called bhajee and lentils cooked in butter called tarka dal.
Dining Indian-style at India Inn is much like dining Chinese-style, with several small dishes arriving simultaneously. Try a dish from each category--meat, fish, vegetable, biryani, dessert--if you are with a crowd. Otherwise, ask for guidance from any of the waiters, whose collective patience, I have discovered, exceeds human restraint. Then, of course, you can always take your chances. Actually, you can't miss. P.S. Don't ask for Darjeeling tea. That's a Bombay favorite. In Bangladesh black tea is served spiced.
India Inn Tandoori restaurant, 1638 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, (213) 461-3774. Open daily noon to 3 p.m. for lunch and 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. for dinner. Parking across the street. No liquor yet. Reservations suggested on weekends. All major cards accepted.