Fortunately we hadn't parked yet. My time-fanatic wife had insisted on phoning that we'd be ten minutes late for her birthday dinner at Chakra. She had made the reservation only four days before, complete with phone number. But in the meantime Chakra had booked a private party. We were told that we had "lost" our confirmed reservation without so much as a courtesy call.
A booking at Nawab was available, so we went back to Santa Monica, expecting a solid if unspectacular dinner. We've been going to Nawab for many years. At one time we felt it was head and shoulders above every Indian restaurant within an hour's drive or more. The Sunday buffet was always delicious and delightful. But in the last year or two, the buffet seemed to be getting thinner and more plebeian. Meanwhile, dinner quality seemed to be going down while the check went up. Very good nearby Indian restaurants now eclipsed Nawab.
Not any more! The Lamb Vindaloo was superb. Its dark brown, vinegary, peppery sauce had the deep, multilayered, complex, harmonious spicing of the best vindaloos I have enjoyed. There wasn't a trace of the tomato sauce which misguided chefs too often add. The lamb was of excellent quality, not tough, fatty, or gristly, and was so generously portioned that I only encountered one small piece of (the obligatory) potato. Chicken Sagwala was right, chunks of good chicken in a gently-spiced, medium smooth spinach sauce that had not been pureed to death. Vegetable korma had many nice, compact "vegetable meatballs" in a rich, mild cream sauce. The korma was an excellent foil for the vindaloo. I've had korma with a bit more flavor in the sauce, but it is not supposed to be a strongly-flavored dish. Good rice and naan rounded out the meal.
As a birthday celebration we had Ras Malai for dessert. Its mild Indian cheese patties were light, airy, and very fresh; they were napped in an ample portion of fresh, sweet, cooked-down milk with light dessert spices. Nawab is unusual for having this dessert always available; it is complex to make and does not last long, so we frequently find it listed on restaurant menus but "not available tonight." My description does not do Ras Malai justice; if you like milk you must try it.
Chakra had offered to rebook us, but I think it's Nawab to which we will return.
Nawab of India
1621 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90403
151 S Doheny Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90211