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Valley Life | Restaurant Review

Currying Flavor

At Anarbagh, variety spices up subcontinental menu.

April 09, 1999|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Nearly all the employees at Anarbagh come from Bangladesh, rather than Punjab, where many of our Indian restaurants trace their roots. This partly explains its menu--easily the Valley's largest for an Indian restaurant. It's filled with dishes from all over India: tandoori chicken salad, sea bass masala and various dhansaks, the thick lentil and meat stews of Bombay.

The dining room is pleasantly nondescript. A few photos of Himalayan peaks and a requisite number of embroidered cloths on the walls constitute most of the decor. The service is friendly, but some of the waiters are not quite fluent in English. They'll smile, nod and occasionally bring you something you didn't order. No problem, really; it's hard to go wrong here.

Generally speaking, this is a north Indian restaurant, but it's more eclectic than you might expect. For instance, Anarbagh's fish curry is made with vegetable oil, though Bangladeshis regularly cook in mustard seed oil. On the other hand, several other curries, as well as the stuffed bread paswari naan, make liberal use of grated coconut, a favorite Bangladeshi ingredient.

One of the most delicious appetizers is the tandoori chicken salad, which includes mixed greens, carrots, onions, cilantro and a creamy sweet-hot dressing. The menu mentions flour crisps and rice puffs, but mine came unadorned by either crisps or puffs. When I pointed that out, the salad was redone with crumbled pappadums (lentil wafers) sprinkled over it instead. No problem.

Order sea bass masala when the fish is available, and ask for the kitchen to turn up the heat. You get big chunks of boned fish in a searingly hot curry sauce. Shrimp dhansak is a thick sweet and sour stew of yellow lentils, tomatoes and a generous amount of extra-large prawns. The tandoori fish is also quite good. It's fresh swordfish, firm enough to cook in the clay oven without falling apart.

Most dishes not prepared in the clay oven are served in wok-like copper dishes heated by a small flame underneath, and it's a lovely touch. Keema curry--ground lamb in a mild tomato-based sauce--is quite good, as is chicken coconut curry, made with grated coconut, sliced almonds and a rich coconut milk gravy.

I recommend sauteed okra (bhindi bhaji) in the bhuna style, sauteed dry with onions. Another good, and wonderfully rich, nonmeat item is paneer korma: cubed farmer's cheese in a creamy ginger garlic sauce.

BE THERE

Anarbagh, 22721 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily. Street parking. Beer and wine only. MasterCard and Visa accepted. Dinner for two, $25-$39. Suggested dishes: chicken salad, $4.95; fish masala, $8.95; keema curry, $7.95; paneer korma, $5.95. Call (818) 224-3929.

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