A visit to this Indian restaurant in Irvine has been long overdue by me. After all, I drive past it on a daily basis, and I have heard a lot of good remarks about it here on Chowhound.
We arrived on the early evening to an almost empty restaurant. The room was larger than I expected, with a dramatically lit white stone fountain on the far wall. A few cushy booths hugged one side of the restaurant, while square tables dressed with white cloths occupied the rest of the space.
We ordered the Chicken Tikka Masala ($11.95), which was described on the menu as "All white meat boneless chicken marinated in spices and yogurt, tandoored in clay oven, then blended in our delicious curry sauce" and the Shrimp Jalfrezi ($12.95), which was "juicy shrimp cooked with assorted vegetables". We also ordered Naan bread ($1.50).
The first thing that was brought out was the papadum. These, for those who've never had them, are thin crispy Indian crackers, which are served with a spicy mint chutney and a sweet mango chutney. The papadum were light and airy, perfect with a dab of the marmalade-like, sticky consistency of the mango chutney and the piquant heat of the mint chutney.
Then the dishes were served, all in shiny metal bowls. The Chicken Tikka Masala was fantastic. It is quite simply, the best that I have ever tasted. The sauce was the star of the dish. Deep reddish orange, it was creamy and rich. Eaten with rice, each spoonful of it filled my mouth with the faint sweetness of tomatoes, the silkiness of coconut milk (or was it yogurt), and the ever present tang of spices. It was not overly sharp or too bold. Just perfect. The chicken meat was really just playing second fiddle to the sauce.
The Naan, which is Indian flatbeard baked in a tandoor oven, was also surprisingly bubbly, crispy, and yet still supple. It's somewhere between a matzo cracker and a thin pizza dough crust. Perfect when dipped into the aforementioned Tikka Masala sauce.
The Shrimp Jalfrezi was also good, but not a favorite. The shrimp, completely stripped of the shell and tail were quite large and plump. They could have been cooked a little less, since some were a little rubbery. And the accompanying sauce was quite mild and was more akin to a vegetable soup that an actual sauce. The veggies (potatoes, carrots, zucchini) were a nice addition, rounding out our meal nicely, but I don't think you could order the Shrimp Jalfrezi all by itself and feel satisfied that you had experienced all the flavors the restaurant had to offer.
In any case, a great meal, and a stone's throw from home no less.
By the time we were finished with our meal, the restaurant had filled up completely. Dozens of people, Indians included.
India Cook House
14130 Culver Dr
Irvine, CA 92604
P.S. After dinner we walked over to Assal Bakery two doors down and took home a few pastries for dessert. This place was GREAT! The pastries were light and full of flavor without being too heavy. A bargain since they sell by the pound. Any pastry for $8.50/lb.