There's another thread wandering around here, to the effect that the Westside has no good Indian food. This morning, I would have agreed, but tonight, I can joyfully report that that thread is flat-out wrong.
You wouldn't know it from their sign, but Lawrence of India (please don't hold the punny name against them) specializes in the spicy, coconutty, vinegar-laced food of the chef's home state, Goa. As with other Chow favorites, you're probably better off skimming through the regular menu before proceeding to the "Chef's Specials".
The star dishes of the evening were two curries. The Goa-style shrimp curry was rich and subtly flavored with spices and vinegar. The Chicken Xacati "Shakuti" was bold, complex, and earthy and reminded me a bit of a Oaxacan mole.
The other noteworthy dish of the evening was the chana masala appetizer. Ordinarily I'm not a big fan of chana masala, but this one had a meaty texture and exploded in our mouths with flavor.
The naan had a bit of crust on the outside and a chewy center that reminded me of a good Italian bread. The raita was thick and well spiced, but still mild enough that it didn't overwhelm the other dishes.
Not everything was fantastic: the lamb tandoori, while perfectly spiced, was somewhat overcooked, and the daal soup was rather bland. And the service was a bit slow, though I suspect that was due to each dish being prepared to order. I'm willing to wait for great flavor.
Dishes that are on my must-try list for future visits include:
"Sorpotel": a traditional pickled pork stew,
Goan sausage "Chouriço", which I assume is some sort of Indian-Portugese fusion sausage,
Karela: stuffed, spiced, and roasted bittermelon,
White pumpkin soup (which doesn't sound all that special, but our waitress kept raving about it, and she was right about everything else),
and apparently vindaloo, although available in every two-bit Indian joint in the country, is originally a Goan dish, so I'll be needing to try that too.
The restaurant was disturbingly empty for a Saturday night, a situation which I have to attribute to the economy, or perhaps the corny name, or the restaurant's location in the midst of a sea of mediocre Indian joints. But a restaurant this good should not lack for customers, so I hope my fellow hounds will join me in helping keep this place open.
10032 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Pictures at www.lawrenceofindia.com