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VALLEY WEEKEND | RESTAURANT REVIEW

Fare Gets Boost From Bangladesh

The cozy, established Shalimar and the new, elegant Anarbagh offer subtly flavored foods of India.

February 08, 1996|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Shalimar and Anarbagh, two West Valley restaurants located within shouting distance of each other, have something unusual in common: Bangladeshi roots.

Shalimar has been with us 10 years, thanks to the good cooking of chef Salik Miah. Anarbagh, on the other hand, is a new restaurant. Don't be fooled by its flashy overhead neon sign, which still gives the name of Anarkali, the previous occupant here; Anarbagh's kitchen is now the province of Mohammed Uddin, formerly chef at the East India Grill in Encino.

In every way, Shalimar is the less flashy of the two restaurants. It's a simple, cozy place adorned with a few embroidered Indian scenes. The service is attentive, the lighting scheme pleasantly dim.

Shalimar's dishes are well prepared and subtly flavored, but like Anarbagh's, they're basically in the Mughlai style you find at most Indian restaurants.

True, the menu section "Seaport of Bengal" is full of seafood dishes (mainly based on shrimp), and Bangladesh is very much a fish-eating place. But the fish curry, for instance, is salmon (of all un-Bengali fish) in a rich, spicy Mughlai-style red sauce. Still, occasional hints of tamarind and coconut allude to a different cooking aesthetic.

One popular appetizer is samosas, crisp pastry patties filled with a gently spiced mixture of diced potato and green peas. But if you're like most of Shalimar's customers, you'll start off with a plate of tandoori meats from the clay oven. The lamb tikka is four or five good-sized shish kebab chunks--tasty, if tough. The chicken tikka is spicy and fork-tender.

Best of all is probably sheekh kebab, cylinders of ground lamb nicely browned around the edges and redolent of cumin and ginger. When the waiter takes your tandoori order, by the way, he'll ask whether you want the dishes mild, medium or hot. No matter which answer you give, the heat level will be fairly mild.

The usual parade of Mughlai lamb and chicken dishes are available, but because Bangladeshis are not Hindu, there are also beef dishes. Try keema mattar, ground beef and peas in a mild gravy, or karahi beef, sliced beef stir-fried in the wok-like Indian iron pan karahi (also called karhai).

Good vegetarian choices include tarka dal, lentils cooked in butter with fried onions and garlic, and aloo sag mushroom, potatoes, spinach and fresh mushrooms with a pungent blend of herbs and spices. The Indian rice pudding, kheer, is chunky with raisins and cashews.

*

Anarbagh is one of the Valley's handsomest Indian restaurants, with delightful booths tucked behind white arches and an air of unabashed elegance. The name of the place--literally, "pomegranate garden"--comes from Persia, just like many Mughlai dishes (not that a Persian would necessarily recognize them after centuries of being made with Indian ingredients).

On busy evenings, though, service at this particular pomegranate garden can be slapdash and disorganized. I once ordered a tandoori course as an appetizer and got it after the entrees. I asked for a dish to be served dry and it came drenched in tomato sauce.

When chef Uddin cooked at East India Grill, he put more coconut in his curries and served a wonderful snack, aloo papri chat, not available here: rice crisps piled with diced potatoes and fresh peas and dressed with yogurt sauce and chopped cilantro.

Still, Uddin does make the fabulous puffy bread known as puri, terrific egg fried rice, wonderful Parmesan-dusted naan bread and the best tandoori chicken in our area. Furthermore, Anarbagh might be the most reasonably priced Indian restaurant in the entire Valley. Most dishes are under $8.

I'd begin a meal with onion bhaji, two deep-fried softballs of shredded onion and garbanzo bean flour, great with the restaurant's mint chutney.

I had to blink when I saw lamb "dansk" on the menu. No, it isn't Danish lamb but a typographical error for lamb dhansak, a Parsi recipe from Bombay. It's a wonderful dish, tender chunks of lamb cooked in a sweet-and-sour sauce thickened with lentils.

Anarbagh makes fish curry, using either swordfish or snapper, and several beef dishes are on hand here as well. The most unusual vegetable dish is vegetable coconut curry, cauliflower, potato spinach and tomato in a green-tinged sauce.

All of Uddin's oven-baked breads and rice dishes are excellent, and the two achars--limes preserved with turmeric or the penetrating mango pickle--pep up what is on your plate.

Bengali sweets are famous throughout India, but unavailable here. Anarbagh's kheer is really a runny tapioca pudding, a shameful substitute for the stick-to-the-ribs rice pudding that Indians treasure.

DETAILS

SHALIMAR

* WHERE: 23011 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills.

* SUGGESTED DISHES: chicken tikka, $7.95; fish curry, market price; aloo sag mushroom, $6.95; keema mattar, $7.95.

* WHEN: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, dinner 5-10 p.m. daily.

* HOW MUCH: Dinner for two, $21-$32. Beer and wine only. Street parking. American Express, MasterCard and Visa.

* CALL: (818) 225-7794.

ANARBAGH

* WHERE: 22721 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills.

* SUGGESTED DISHES: Onion bhaji, $1.95; lamb dhansak, $7.95; vegetable coconut curry, $5.95; tandoori chicken, $6.95.

* WHEN: Lunch and dinner 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily.

* HOW MUCH: Dinner for two, $19-$26. Beer and wine. Street parking. All major cards.

* CALL: (818) 224-3929.

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