Chicken Tikka Masala, Vegetable Samosa, Chana Masala
Occupation: Director of Operations, Test Prep Exams
Favorite Restaurant: Indian Aroma
Reviewed Indian Aroma: Thursday January 31, 2008
We were at the restaurant, and just like ever other time I've been there, the place was pretty quiet. There was a spattering of couples dining in the small dining room, but it appeared like more because of the large mirrors flanking the walls. Tulu, our usual waiter, recognized my girlfriend and me, and gave us our choice of seats. He knew I liked the Flying Horse lager and brought one out for me and brought my girlfriend a large glass of wine. He also gave us some pappadam for no charge as an appetizer! These are light lentil wafers that come with two types of chutney. This was an excellent way to start off the meal.
The air smelled great in the restaurant, and instantly I knew it was the fresh naan coming out of the tandoor oven. From our seat, we could see the small kitchen, which had finely grilled tandoori chicken hanging in plain sight. This is served typically as an appetizer and consists of a plateful of tandoori chicken chunks, marinated to perfection and garnished with freshly sliced onions. That is my usual pick for dinner, but we went with something different.
We went with a special dish, which is not on the menu, but Tulu has the kitchen make it for us when we request it. It's as okra aloo, a take on their okra bhaji which consists of nicely crisp and tender slices of okra in a mix of onions, tomatoes, and herbs with perfectly cooked potatoes. I think this may be my favorite dish and I lobby quite hard to get it on the menu. Along with this, we get the best naan you'll find in the city: Indian Aroma's garlic naan. The naan is light, fluffy, and crispy with the perfect brushing of garlic and butter. The slightly charred edges are excellent for dipping with our next main dish, fish tikka masala. We've had the king prawn tikka in the past which comes with a good number of large prawn slathered in the same great masala sauce. On the side, we had some plain basmati rice. I don't know how they do it, but the rice is so fluffy and non-clumpy. It makes for great leftovers, if you can stand to not eat it all.
This was the first time I've had the fish tikka, and I thought it was awesome! The nice, light, white fish was perfectly cooked first in a clay oven and then added to the masala sauce. Slightly sweet and spicy, I could drink a cup of this Bengali-style sauce with no problem at all. The dish came in a handsome iron bowl and we had enough for the two of to share and we even had leftovers to boot.
All in all, I recommended this restaurant because I think it's the best place to have a nice dinner with friends for the value, vibe, and service. They are very accommodating and are willing to answer any questions you may have about the food. I have never had a bad dish or experience here. Parking can be rough, though, due to the neighborhood. The food is simplistic by design, yet packed with flavor, and when you couple that with a large selection of meat, seafood, and vegetarian fare, this is the place you need to go to for a large group or just a few friends to have dinner and feel like you're at home. It's in the heart of the action on Polk St. and is a great starting point for an awesome night out.
Occupation: Casting Director
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Anchor Oyster Bar & Seafood Market
Reviewed Indian Aroma: Wednesday January 30, 2008
Four friends and I ate at Indian Aroma Restaurant last night. I don’t feel like an “expert” when it comes to Indian food, so it was helpful to bring along friends who love Indian food, and one friend has spent a lot of time in India. For the most part, this restaurant is a great find, especially for the price.
It was probably one of the coldest nights of the year so we chose a table more towards the back of the kitchen. It’s a small restaurant, but we had no problem getting a table for the five of us, and the waitstaff was nothing but sweet and attentive. I appreciated that the five of us could easily have a conversation without yelling over music or sitting at tables that were too close together. This is a great restaurant to meet up with friends and have some fun. We started out with cold Indian beers and the mixed vegetarian appetizer; which consists of samosas, vegetable fritters, and dal puri. The samosas were fantastic! Probably the best I’ve ever had. The crust was flaky and tasty and the potatoes inside were creamy and flavorful. The other two fried items tasted just like fried dough to me. I could not taste much of anything other than wasted calories, although my girlfriend, Patricia, loved the vegetable fritters.
We ordered heavy on the vegetables. The chana masala was perfect, great sauce and great chickpeas. The began aloo (eggplant) was mushy with no flavor and after everyone had one taste, it sat there for the rest of the meal. I personally didn't care for the saag paneer (spinach dish), I thought it was too milky, but other people at the table liked it. My favorite of the vegetables was the Kashmiri vegetable korma. I didn’t do any of the ordering and I’m sure I asked my friends at least three times what it was I was eating. The vegetables were perfectly cooked, the green beans still had a bit of snap to them. The sauce was a light cream sauce with a mild flavor that didn't overwhelming the vegetables. I think I grabbed the last couple of spoonfuls of it.
Our only non-veggie item was the chicken tikka masala, and I LOVE this dish. I might not know much about Indian food, but I do know, “I LOVE me some chicken tikka masala." It’s one of my favorite dishes, and I was not disappointed. This dish alone will bring me back to Indian Aroma restaurant. It was perfect. Sauce: perfect. Chicken: perfect. We loved it so much that instead of ordering another non-veg item we ordered another plate of it after our first taste. It was sooooo good.
Yes, we had nan: garlic, onion, and plain. The nan was good, but I have had better. The rice was good. The mango chutney was adequate.
So, my friends, would I go back to Indian Aroma Restaurant? Yes! I would go back for the chicken tikka masala and the Kashmiri vegetable korma…very good stuff.
The level of service for the prices (attention to detail about taking the plates, silver bowls, asking if it was ok to take the plates away, not rushing us out) was pretty spectacular. The décor was unpretentious and very clean and the cloth napkins were a nice touch.
We were please to find that they deliver. Although we all had such a good time and the waitstaff was welcoming, the smoke from the kitchen was a little intense and after leaving the restaurant, our eyes were irritated. My friend Amy believes it was the tandoori oven, and that that’s a good sign….next time we’ll sit near the door.
Occupation: MBA Student
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Lalime's Restaurant
Reviewed Indian Aroma: Friday February 1, 2008
On the cover of the menu of this hole in the wall Indian joint on Polk street, one finds the following text: “Indian Aroma Restaurant. Aroma of India. Also known as and doing business as Scenic India Restaurant.” When even the name of a place is hard to figure out, it follows that their food might be just as confusing. In the case of, well, let’s call it “Scenic Aroma,” confusion seems to be the main ingredient in everything.
I went out with three friends on a Friday night for what I hoped would be a nicely priced casual Indian meal. At Scenic Aroma, I was sorely disappointed by the food quality, service, and overall value. The best thing I can say about any of the dishes is that some were just fine. Others were an affront to the art of cooking, and some were even downright frightening. Then there are all the dishes I wish I could review, because we ordered them, but they never appeared (except on the bill). On the plus side, I didn’t get sick.
We started with two orders of vegetable samosas. They weren’t half bad, but not at all memorable. No, I take that back; they were memorable because they actually arrived on the table without much delay. Also, they didn’t inspire the slightest bit of terror within any of us, which was a pretty good sign. We also ordered a chutney and raita, but those never appeared. One of my friends had heard that the place served decent breads, so we each ordered a different type to have with our main courses. Unfortunately, only two of the breads ever made it out of the kitchen. The plain nan was not among them, nor was the onion kulcha. We did receive our garlic nan and keema nan, unfortunately.
The garlic nan was a pungent bread, full of “scenic aroma” and nearly overflowing with mashed cloves of barely cooked, possibly raw garlic. The best thing I can say about it is that all of us agreed there must not be any vampires working in the kitchen, because there was surely enough garlic in there to scare them away. That was an important piece of information, it turns out, because the keema nan was downright scary. From beneath the perforations in an otherwise perfectly respectable piece of flatbread, a red fluid oozed out creepily. When we tore into the bread, feeling a bit like hyenas at a kill, we took pause. The “minced” lamb inside was in fact thinly sliced strips of some sort of flesh, covered in this red sauce. A vigorous debate ensued over whether the sauce was blood or just red dye #5. After the garlic nan, however, we decided it must simply be food coloring, but we weren’t sure the meat was actually lamb.
After a while, and then another while, and another round of some decent Kingfisher Beer, our main courses arrived. The lamb vindaloo was ordered “spicy,” but came out mild. It was utterly unimaginative, and we nibbled at it dispassionately. The chana masala was quite easy on the palate and was perhaps the best thing on the menu, if you don’t count the beer. It was kind of refreshing, but in a creepy way, like how you wouldn’t mind the drunken old lady sitting next to you on BART if the alternative was to be handcuffed to Joan Rivers. The sag paneer wasn’t so bad either, but when “inoffensive” counts as a positive attribute, you know your dinner wasn’t so great. Our last dish was the most confusing of all: tandoori mixed grill. At $14.95, this is the most expensive dish on the menu and should consist of five meats. We counted only four, however: bright red funny chewy meat, pink tough meat, grayish rubber sausage-like meat, and cardboard-colored meat. I don’t think it included shrimp. It was lovingly presented as a giant pile of indistinguishable mess on a big plain plate. We spent about five minutes trying to decide what was what on the plate. We never agreed on any of them, except that the one we all thought was chicken didn’t actually taste like chicken. We picked it over for a while but left about half of it sitting there, untouched and staring at us. We felt bad for the poor creatures that wound up in that dish. We considered becoming vegetarians.
Then it was time to leave, so we could go home and wash off the mystifying scent of Indian Aroma. However, there was the matter of the check. All the dishes we had ordered but never received were still on our final bill. I managed to argue enough to get the raita and chutney removed from our tab, but I didn’t want to push it. I was afraid I might end up in the keema nan if I upset the chef.
I’m a fan of Indian food and I’ve been to several great Indian restaurants in the Bay Area (Ajanta, in Berkeley, ranks right up there with the best). But after eating at Indian Aroma, I’m going to have to lay off Indian for a while. That terrible experience just lingers in my memory like a nightmare. If you love Indian food, do yourself a favor and don’t go to Scenic India, er, Indian Aroma, er, anything known as and “doing business as” Aroma of India.