Cleverly placed on 5th Avenue in the midst of the well established restaurant district of Hillcrest, Bombay restaurant offers a variety of dishes in the flavorful Northern India tradition. The exotic aromas of coriander seeds, cardamom and cinnamon among other Indian spices are the first mix of fragrances to greet us as you make your way in.
The restaurant is designed for comfort offering outdoor tables, roomy booths in the periphery of the dining room, and traditional tables, all dressed in elegant white linen with sparkling stemware. You can also sit at the bar to enjoy appetizers and cocktails while you wait for your party.
The light from graceful crystal chandeliers lends a stylish mood to the large dining room which is complemented by a beautiful bar reminiscent of the whimsical Taj Majal while a gallery wall of festive and elaborate Indian turbans adds eye-catching exoticism. The ambiance is further complemented by the sounds of contemporary Bollywood tunes mixed with the gentle tinkling of a nearby cascading waterfall.
The Sapphire room, a spacious salon that accommodates 75 to 100 guests, offers an elegant and versatile venue for groups. It features a projecting screen for photograph or video presentations and also has a buffet table should you prefer this form of serving over the sit down dinner format.
After a warm “Namaste” greeting at the door by a handsome Maharaja guard, garbed in classical Indian red and gold silks, we are greeted by manager James Lao who shows us to our spacious booth. We are barely over the awe of the graceful monsoon rain curtain and the understated elegance of the dining room, when Priscilla, our server, places a trio of sweet, non alcoholic drinks in front of us. The Mango Lassi, a smooth yogurt milk, is a carnival of sweet tartness in your mouth. The Goa Sunrise is a silky drink where the coconut bouquet blends with the tropical sweetness of ripe passion fruit make a party of flavors. Our third drink, the Masala Night, is a luscious cocktail of passion fruit mysteriously delicious with the spice of masala.
In addition to the delightful fruit drinks, Bombay’s full service bar offers an array of fascinating libations such as the Mumbai Mojito, which features a taste of mango that fits well with the tropical theme of this fashionable rum and mint cocktail. Another specialty cocktail is the Bindi Drop which is a lemon drop martini laced with exotic spice. These drinks combine the formulas of established cocktails with tropical flavors and exotic spice to create new and tasty results!
The wine list offers a variety of excellent pairings. It covers the map of California wineries offering red and whites like the Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon of Napa Valley, the Fess Parker Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara, or a Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma County. It also features Delas, a French Merlot and some alluring reds from Italy and France.
Bombay’s commitment to customer satisfaction doesn’t end at the attention to quality food and the generous selection of wines but extends to offering many ways to enjoy the array of foods and drinks, like the chef tasting menu, the buffet brunch offered daily from 11 to 3 pm and the Monday dinner buffet from 5 pm to 9:30 pm.
The parade of dishes that follows our refreshing drinks is an experience I will savor for a long time. A rectangular tray of white ceramic holds a warm Desi Chatt of peas and potato samosas. The crisp pockets are bathed in three types of cold sauces: sweet tamarind chutney, tangy mint sauce, and raita of tomato and cilantro. Together, the tamarind and mint sauces meld with the zesty peas and potatoes to satisfy every spot in my palate while the yogurt cools the heat of these spicy savory triangles.
The plate also presents a pair of golden crisp Coconut Shrimp on a bed of velvety orange mango chutney. Each tender bite of shrimp is contrasted by the crunch of the golden batter and the flavor is intensified as it mixes with the tartness of the mango chutney.
Our appetizers are paired with a sweet and bright house Riesling that complements the fragrant tanginess of the sauces with its own fruity and delicate floral tones. For the sake of variety I try a Martin Ray Pinot Noir and discover that its intrinsic earthy flavor and hints of berries bring out the exotic bouquet of the chutneys and sauces on the samosas.
After the above appealing introduction of flavors, we taste a selection of five carefully crafted curries presented in hand hammered copper and stainless steel bowls. The assortment includes Sagwala, a creamy curry of fresh spinach with a harmonizing taste of cashews, peanuts and turmeric. The herby and tart taste of spinach comes together with the sweetness of the nuts and the spices in a symphony of flavor and texture.
The Tikka Masala is a sweet, exotically spiced, creamy yogurt sauce served with large chunks of tender chicken cooked in a and seasoned with the secret masala spices revealing a complexity of aromas that burst in your mouth in a festival of flavor. Chef Popat skillfully works a magic formula that rejoices my palate.
The Vindaloo, a velvety and toothsome dish of mock duck and potatoes is simmered in a smooth curry with the zesty taste of cumin and zingy ginger. The combination of flavors and textures is a pleasure to the palate in every bite of masterfully balanced hot chilies, and zesty ingredients: we eat it slowly, savoring every morsel.
The flavorful show continues with chicken and onions in Korma sauce, a savory curry flavored with the flowery aroma of saffron. Every piece of soft chicken is filled with the pungency of onions and further complemented with the sweetness of raisins, rendering a marriage of tastes in every fork full. Our taste buds hunger for more of these delicate flavors, tantalizing them as they linger in our mouths.
The symphony of flavors approaches its finale with the Masala Pasta, a dish of penne pasta cooked al dente in a red, creamy masala sauce flavored with fresh ginger and bell peppers. The tender diced chicken is enveloped in the zest of Indian spice, providing a delicate contrast of textures for every sweet and fiery bite.
As the last note, we are served Tandoori Lamb which is marinated in aromatic herbs and spices and baked in the classic tandoor clay oven, which assists in the melding of aromas. The succulent lamb is complemented with the refreshing taste of mint chutney, unmasking its distinctive taste while it melts in the herbs and spices to fill the senses with delight.
While the pungent spices are tamed with a bowl of basmati steamed rice garnished with fresh cucumbers, careful consideration is offered to meet every guest’s taste and tolerance as to the degree of piquancy in every dish. You can request mild, medium, spicy or “tikhi (extreme spiciness)…if you dare.” You can also dunk savory sesame seed, garlic or plain naan bread while pretending that you’re dining in exotic Mumbai.
The dessert selection is an imaginative assortment of sweet treats: the Bombay Sunset is an airy mousse of ripe mango that fills your mouth with tangy sweetness, the classical Indian Kheer, an earthly confection of rice cooked in milk and cinnamon, reminds me of childhood desserts; and the pistachio and the mango Kulfi ice creams, which are delicately sweet and remarkably fruity.
Since we want to freely enjoy our Chocolate Samosas, we leave them for last. As we break the golden and crisp pastry with our fork, the luscious chocolate runs loose onto the plate. We scoop it with anticipation and our mouths discover that a sweet and smooth heaven exists in the form of this confection.
We leave Bombay restaurant with the certainty that the dishes we savored have the ability to fulfill the requirements of comfort food by virtue of the simple everyday ingredients which are cooked in familiar techniques like sautéing and baking. At the same time, the exotic spices take us out of the familiar, making for an enjoyable voyage out of our comfort zone.