Saturday, March 12, 2011

You Goa, Girl: Addi's Tandoor

When I posted a video for my new favorite song by Mumford and Sons, Ally responded with a link to a blog on the making of the video and mentioned that "Goan people and food rock!" Ironically, a few days later I was driving down Venice Boulevard and saw a banner for a place called Lawrence of India, that advertised Goan food. I didn't stop, but made a mental note to try it soon.

Lassi, come home: Addi's Tandoor puts an uptown spin on Indian favorites like this cooling mango drink and tangy chicken samosas.

A couple of weeks went by before I decided after a particularly brutal day at work, that I deserved to go out to dinner. I couldn't wait to drive home to the Westside, so I googled "Goan food" and Addi's Tandoor in Redondo Beach popped up. So Dylan and I bundled into my new-ish Soupmobile (mine's a 2008, painted a fabulous dark blueberry!) and drove in the blustery March evening to the beach.

Addi's, which is located at the unassuming corner of an unassuming strip mall on Torrance Boulevard, belies the posh interior replete with fresh flowers and white tablecloths. Cultural elements of India made up the tasteful decor, with musical instruments, a display of ceremonial jewelry, and contemporary paintings of dancers. But the best representation of one of India's most culturally diverse states was Brian Barretto, the manager and our lead server.

Brian, our hospitable and knowledgeable tour guide to Goa. 450 years of colonization never looked so good.

If my geography and history lessons in grade school had been half as appealing, I probably would have resolved at an early age to eat my way around the world. Although the menu offered a lot of dishes that are standard in Indian restaurants, there was a definite twist to old favorites. For example, the gentle samosa that is typically filled with lightly spiced peas and potatoes was something else entirely, filled with tender chicken, made zestier with cilantro and mint. And the dal makhani was very flavorful and fresh, without the salty burn that usually obliterates the natural taste of the lentils.

As I have always believed, food reveals a lot about the history of a people. In the United States, except for the random chicken tikka masala, we tend to think of Indian food as predominantly vegetarian. Thanks to more than 450 years of European influence, Goan food includes every tasty quadruped you can think of, as well as a lot more seafood than northern Indian fare.

The best bread ever, bar naan.

Due to the absence of meat, northern Indian food is enhanced by the richness of dairy with butter or paneer. Brian said that Goan food is a lot lighter, and uses alternatives like coconut or the cashews in the navratan khorma to provide a creamy texture.

This subtle dish, which Dylan said seems to be made with frozen vegetables at most restaurants, was full of freshly chopped vegetables. The luxurious sauce was a welcome and slightly sweet counterpoint to the red! hot! blazing! lamb vindaloo, which was one of a number of items designated as a "specialty of Goa."

Sometimes, my antics at the table are the gastronomic version of bungee jumping. It's a point of pride to see how far I can go with heat before I say "uncle." Although my nose ran throughout the entire meal, it hurt so good. If I could establish a rating system for hot and spicy fare, this was definitely a four-hankie meal.

I thought of invoking the aid of Krishna to get through the lamb vindaloo - it was that hot!

Brian told us, to our surprise, that the citizens of Goa are about 85 percent Catholic. It was fortuitous that we were at Addi's on Fat Tuesday, with the austerity of Ash Wednesday looming ahead. Although it's been decades since I've given up anything for Lent, dinner at Addi's would have been a great send-off to (temporary) self-denial. I'm glad I don't have to wait 40 days until my next visit to Addi's.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Birthday Boy Seiji: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

When Jolene told me that she was pregnant for the first time, I wrote a letter to the baby, meant to be read when - well, when it was old enough to read and comprehend a deep and brooding missive written by an emotional 30-something. It was as if I was trying to sell the baby, our immediate family's first grandchild, a vacation home in the Berkshires. I told the as-yet-unknown infant how lucky he or she was to be born to intelligent, creative, and stylish parents. I described the wonderful and diverse city that the baby would live in and warned him or her how eagerly he or she was going to be spoiled rotten on our side of the family by a grandmother and two doting aunts.

Seiji at two-ish: all thumbs up for freshly baked chocolate cupcakes.

Before Seiji was old enough to read and comprehend well, I bemoaned the fact that I have long since misplaced the letter. But in reality, I should have been writing him a thank you letter for what he's brought to our family within his small but formidable frame. Looking back at the last decade on this, his ninth birthday, I want to thank him for all that he's given us, the gifts that he probably would not recognize and may not realize the worth of until he has children of his own.

With a little help from my friends: Seiji celebrated his 9th birthday with fellow March birthday boy Joshua (Yuhki) and the donut version of bobbing for apples.

First off, he's made his mother one heck of a cook. While my sisters and I are no slouches in the kitchen, motherhood and the inevitable rounds of birthday parties, PTA involvement, and holidays have turned Jolene into a cross between Harumi Kurihara, Chef Duff, and Martha Stewart. She specializes in pleasing the pint-size palate as well as delighting more mature tastes with creations that approach restaurant quality for their flavor and presentation.

A "Mini-Me" bento that Jolene made for lucky S + K: our usual lunch in grade school was fried egg sandwiches and bbq potato chips!

Apart from her culinary achievements, Jolene has become one of a legion of moms that keep El Marino Language School together in more than an academic sense. These women form that proverbial village needed to raise each child. They help each other out by pooling their collective cooking, baking, babysitting, sewing, chauffeuring, welding (they had to build a haunted house for the annual Halloween carnival), and any number of surrogate mom tasks that may come their way. A wonderful by-product of this is that they are subconsciously teaching their kids how to be friends and to help each other as well.

Another of Seiji's gifts - compounded by the arrival of his brother Kenzo 18 months later - is how his presence regularly turns my usually reserved brother-in-law Hiro into a little boy himself. "Papa Time" begins around 7 p.m. when the key is heard clicking in the front door as he comes home from work. Amusingly, I am often met with mock disappointment when it is discovered that it is only me coming through the door.

Is that a donut I see before me?: For kid brother Kenzo, dessert hangs in the balance.

But if it is Hiro, joyful screams and small but pounding footsteps echo through the halls as two boys scramble to "stealthily" hide from their father so that they can spring out from somewhere and scare him. Since Hiro moves a lot more quietly, it is usually he that gets to do the scaring, much to his sons' delight.

For Mom, Joselyn, and I, being a grandmother and aunts is like having every superhero, movie idol, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus all rolled into one little guy, and now two. My pride in Seiji came initially from seeing the family's story in his face when over the years, I have detected a glimpse of each member of the family in his character or physical being.

We think of the past when he and his friends remind us what it's like to be a kid and experience everything for the first time. My often-jaded (Seiji, I know you can look this word up if you don't know it already - I've seen your homework and wonder how I got through the third grade) eyes and heart become new again when I share his perspective on almost anything.

But the most enduring gift of all that Seiji has given us is the future that we also see in his face. We all fervently hope that he benefits from whatever we give him in comfort, wisdom, and play. And with each year, we see what he is growing into: every superhero, movie idol, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus all rolled into one.