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Musing in Fremont

losfelizhound | | Aug 31, 2012 11:02 PM

Maybe a more apt title is "Gormandizing in Fremont", but musing is easier on the ears.

In the last three-four months I have figured out Fremont is a one-trick pony. A Kentucky derby level one-trick pony, but still in essence a one-trick pony. The cuisine of choice here is pan-Indian; mostly northern, some southern, and some in between. Let's begin with a discussion of the northern. What is commonly packaged as "Indo Pak" cuisine, is in essence more Pakistani than Indian. In my opinion its actually a good thing. It's a euphemism, the genesis of which is rooted in any business's DNA: profitability. The intent here, is to ensure the Indians visit as frequently as the Pakistanis.

There are at least five restaurants in this category, four with Pakistani roots, and one of Indian origin. The four are: Pakwan, Shalimar, Chutney's and Bismillah and the Indian is Tandoori-and-Curry. Having tried all five at least once, I do have a favorite: Bismillah. This under the radar, cash only, divey joint serves awesome kebabs and curry. Notable are the chicken seekh, the chicken boti, the chicken kofta curry, the lamb bhuna and the fantastic lamb biryani. Bismillah is all about no compromises and honest food - greasy, artery clogging curries and spicy grilled meats. The kofta curry is hot, the kofta (meatball) is spicy - the combined effect is lip-smacking goodness. The biryani as I understand is "pakka" style, i.e. the meat is cooked separately and then mixed with rice that is cooked separately, differing from the "kachcha" style or "dum biryani" that is popular in southern India, particularly Hyderabad. The naan is typical Pathani - north west frontier type, than the typical naan offered in Indian restaurants. From what I have heard and read, its chefs are former Pakwan alums, who opened this place. More power to them.

My second favorite is actually Tandoori-and-curry. One caveat about TnC is don't waste your time and money with the Sunday brunch - its nothing great. But do go at other times and order the Chandni Gosht or the Chicken Handi - again great curries made with unflinching honesty. The chicken and lamb biryani is also excellent. A common theme you will observe is that "unflinching honesty" usually translates into grease. Welcome to real muslim food from India.

A few words about the others: Pakwan is good, probably a toss-up for the second place. The curries at Shalimar are good, but the kebabs don't stand out. Chutney's has a more cleaner dining room, but basically is overly greasy and nothing really stands out, except the mango lassi.

There are also quite a few restaurants of Indian origin - Masala Grill, Biryani Bowl, India Grill (haven't tried) and a bunch of others. Masala Grill is good, but in Fremont good, is not good enough. The Tangri (leg) Kabab was disappointing, the Rogan Josh was OK (agreed, I am trying a Kashmiri specialty in a Hyderabadi restaurant), the Desi Chinese (Hakka Noodles) were insipid (like most Indian Chinese). It's really not as bad as I make it sound to be, but its not the first place I would go to especially if TnC and Bismillah were open.

If you are in Fremont, you must also try Peacock Indian Cuisine. I have tried the buffet three times, and its solid food. The Andhra sambar and vegetables (bagara baingan?) are usually very good. The Hyderabadi Biryani is a big draw - and is perhaps the best rendition I have had in a while. I am yet to make it for dinner which is served a la carte. Peacock is a safe bet. The bad for Hyderabadi food in my opinion is Biryani Bowl. I mean for fuck's sake if you call yourself "Biryani Bowl" and your eponymous dish doesn't stand out - especially in a place like Fremont, you've got problems. Paratha Point suffers from the same malady - mediocre parathas.

Since we are more or less in the South, let's discuss some south Indian joints. I have tried three - Amma's (Chettinad - below average, hit Anjappar in Milpitas). Woodlands - good solid (Udupi/Kannada-style south Indian) - good sambar/rasam/vadas; dosa was OK. Ganesh Bhavan - good sambar, great chutneys, better dosas (better than Woodlands) If I am correct its Andhra-style south Indian. Point to note, all three are in Newark. I am yet to try the Sarvanna Bhavan (someday...)

The remaining big potato is chaat. Some nominees from the "been there" list: Chaat Paradise, Chaat Bhavan, Chaat Cafe, Chaat Paradise (Mountain View, but they opened a branch in Fremont) Lovely Sweets and Snack and Chatpatta Corner.

I find Chaat Bhavan ovrerrated; I don't get it, I simply don't get it. My gold standard for testing a chaat restuarant is paani puri and on a good day, I think Chaat Bhavan's pani is good, but not Fremont good. However, Chaat Bhavan offers a rather diverse set of items - and a lot of them are quite good (e.g. methi puri, sprouts bhel - I like it because its a different take on Bhel, yes I know its technically chaat, some parathas)

For Fremont good, I maintain that if you want to eat awesome chaat especially Paani Puri head to Chatpatta Corner in Ardenwood.

The others: Chaat Paradise (OK, don't get what the deal is), Chaat Cafe (beer + chaat + "non-veg", e.g. chicken tandoori wrap) is good food, but doesn't stand out.

Now for the surprise. I think Indian food largely is holistic: the sum of the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. A good example is Lovely Sweets and Snacks. This divey, definitely not the most hygienic restaurant possibly serves some of the best Samosa Chaat and Dal Kachori Chaat I have ever had. In the Bay Area, I am sure you will find better Chole, better Samosas or better Chutneys, but LSS has the secret formula and it bloody works. I haven't tried anything else there, but the increasing girth is testament to dozens of Samosa Chaat (BTW, FWIW, one of the worst Samosa Chaats I have had was at Chaat Bhavan).

What else.....

I tried Wang's Kitchen (Indian Chinese); had the classics "Manchurian"/ Hot and Sour and all that good stuff. This is strictly for those who grew up thinking Chinese food is supposed to taste like this. I did, but I also spent seven gorgeous years wandering through the alleys of San Gabriel Valley, so in all honesty, I don't care much about it. I enjoy it once a year, but otherwise its basically more of the same "Schezwan" or "Manchurian" sauce.

I miss Los Angeles; Yunchuan Garden, Mariscos Chente (or wherever Sergio's cooking), Park's BBQ, Porto's....the list is endless, but thats not the point. I am here, and its about now.

I like Darda's Seafood near Ardenwood (next to Chatpatta Corner). Andy's Tofu House on Thornton serves pretty good Soon Tofu (Yay!). Some other notes - if you love beer, Fremont is quite mediocre - no Beer Revolution, let alone Toronado/O'Briens/Father's Office. There are three craft beer stores/"pubs". California Craft Beer - probably the most respectable. Mission Spirits and Cork-and-Cap (or some combination) also have a decent selection - nothing out of the ordinary, but yes, at least you won't end up with Coors Light.

Cheers. And welcome to Fremont.

p.s. I am sure many will disagree with me, and rightfully so. It's your opinion, you are entitled to it. So am I. :)