The Far Pavillions, 1520 West Coast Highway, Newport Beach, (714) 548-7167. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, dinner nightly; Sunday champagne brunch. Full bar. Parking in lot. All major credit cards accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $30-$38.
The Far Pavillions, a name given to the Himalayas, has the ring of open spaces and far-away places. The sheer majesty of these mountain ranges seems to seduce, to beckon, to call.
Closer to home, the Far Pavillions means something entirely different. It is the name of a new restaurant in Newport Beach, situated on the site that once housed Pastels.
This is a simple, cozy and informal spot done in soft pastels. The kitchen is hidden behind Italian block glass and the lush garden patios on either side will be open for outdoor dining by summertime.
The duo responsible for the Far Pavillions is Anil Kapoor, a longtime associate of the Akbar establishments and more recently with Aashiana in Brentwood, and Vinay Lall, also a recent member of the Aashiana team. Together, Kapoor and Lall have created a menu that appears at first to be the same as every other Indian restaurant in Los Angeles. On further scrutiny, however, you will see more unusual items--dishes with calamari, lobster, Cornish hen and lotus root.
In addition to the usual appetizers--mixed tandoori grill, assorted hors d'oeuvres, samosas and kebabs, there's wonderfully prepared chicken chat , an Indian-style salad. Chicken is mixed with potatoes that have been marinated in spices such as cumin and coriander and then dressed in tamarind chutney and fresh mint. It is a lively, tangy dish, one of the specialties of Bihari Lall, a chef with some 30 years experience. Light and low in calories, it makes a great appetizer or a luncheon choice. Shrimp chat is much the same, but this time the mixture includes pineapple cubes. Kashk-e-badamjan , an eggplant-yogurt souffle with chopped onions, ginger and garlic, is impressive and among the best I've had.
Tandoori dishes are well executed. Chicken tikka --yogurt-marinated spiced pieces of chicken--and lamb shaslic , a spice-infused lamb brochette, are outstanding. Bihari Kebab , a house specialty of marinated breast of chicken, is another interesting option. The tandoori shrimp are good. The clay oven also produces delicious breads-- naan, garlic naan , paratha (a layered whole-wheat bread) and onion kulcha.
The curries here are especially intriguing. An excellent house specialty, Chicken Far Pavillions, is a gentle, intricately spiced curry, with nuggets of delicately seasoned minced chicken in a slightly piquant sauce thickened with cream. Though the name is the same, the shrimp version is totally different. This time the curry has a tomato base with green peppers; it is very lively and explodes with flavor. Next time, perhaps the shrimps will be cooked a bit less.
Of the vegetable dishes, personal favorites are the mirchi ka salan , a curry of tomatoes with hot green chile pepper and, a perfect counterpoint, bhen masala , a soothing curry of lotus root with fresh ginger and tomatoes. Other vegetable dishes include eggplant bhartha ; mattar panir , a curry of cottage cheese and peas, and a number of bhajis-- vegetables cooked with a variety of spices, fresh herbs and aromatic seeds.
Rice is basic to Indian food. With curries it's better to stick with the simple pilaus or steamed rice. Biryanis , on the other hand, are complete in and of themselves. The lamb biryani, a classic Moghlai dish of fragrant yogurt-moistened saffron rice layered with pieces of curried lamb, is well prepared, as are the traditional Indian desserts.
Kheer, the creamed rice pudding, is wonderful, and the Indian ice cream, kulfi , is among the best in L.A.