Monday, November 17, 2014

Wine And Food: Los Angeles Indian Restaurant Gets It Right

We have all dined in at least one restaurant - many more, I'm sure - in which the wine list left much to be desired.  A flimsy little sheet of paper bearing the names of a few wines you passed up at Ralph's on your way to dinner is nothing for a wine lover to get excited about.  And isn't it a shame that so often, that's what a wine list is?

Owners can blame it on the distributor, blame it on the customers, blame it on the economy or blame it on the Stones.  The thing is, if you run a restaurant where adults are expected to dine - and you want to be taken seriously - you'd better bring something to the table besides the bill.

Given this blustery preamble, it may surprise you to learn that I will eventually get around to writing about a good experience here.  A Los Angeles Indian restaurant that Denise and I frequented - for its dependable food and convenient location - changed hands.  For several reasons, we thought this was probably a good thing.  

The wine list there was something I rarely bothered to scan.  It was completely unimaginative, appearing to be the result of the distributor's desire to push some cheap wine that was in large supply.  The restaurateur did not drink wine and had no feeling for wine or the way it complements food.

Under new ownership, as Cardamom, things are quite different.  British chef Manju Choudhury is responsible for the changes in the kitchen and the place has taken on the stylish look of a modern London restaurant.  The food has definitely stepped a notch or two, from "dependable" to inventive and delectable Indian-inspired cuisine.  The wine has made an even greater leap forward under the guidance of Stewart Prato of Southern Wine and Spirits.

What was, at the previous incarnation, a completely uninspired and misdirected wine list has been transformed in one that displays wines chosen specifically to compliment the spicy dishes.  Fresh, clean whites and reds that are not too heavy on oak are perfect choices for this type of food.  To nitpick, the  wine list is a little French-heavy.  Four of the five whites, the rosé and two of the three sparkling wines offered by-the-glass are from France.  (The lone non-Franco white is an Italian Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige.)  France accounts for four of the five reds, too, with Beaujolais making a welcome appearance alongside Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhône.  There is also an Argentine Malbec by the glass.

Breaking one of the cardinal rules of restaurant dining, Denise and I decided to go there on the first night they were open under the new regime - for our anniversary.  Expected missteps did not materialize, so we felt that Cardamom had earned a spot on our short list of favorites.

An amazing chutney tray is served with the papadum openers and the naan is more like Indian pizza than bread.  I like that thick, doughy naan, but Denise prefers the lighter, easily-tearable style.  The tandoori prawns were some of the best-tasting shrimp either of us had ever had, while the chef's curry is delicious - and very spicy.  

I chose the 2012 Marc Bredif Loire Vouvray to go with these dishes.  It was perfect with the shrimp, but a little too acidic for the curry - acidity and heat do not mesh well for my palate.  According to their website, the winery was “established in 1893 under the original name of Château les Roches.  In 1919 Marc Bredif took over from his uncle and renamed the property to mark the change of ownership."

The wine has a greenish tint in the glass.  Unfortunately, as is the case in many restaurants, it was improperly chilled.  The wine was ice cold and, as such, the aromas were difficult to sniff out.  The nose eventually offered minerals and flowers.  Denise claimed to get an aroma of cheese, Edam or Jarlsberg.

The wine's great acidity makes it a wonderful food wine, but just sipping it isn't too bad either. Minerals and citrus notes make for a refreshing mouthfeel.  It's a little too acidic for the spice of the chef's special curry but is perfect with the tandoori prawns.  

We mentioned on our way out of the restaurant that it was our anniversary.  The manager insisted that we sit down again and have a glass of bubbly to celebrate.  It was Barton & Guestier sparkling wine.  The Vin Mousseux de Qualité is made entirely from Chardonnay grapes which undergo a second fermentation in vats and three months of aging in vats while resting on the lees - the spent yeast cells - for added complexity and weight.  The wine offers fine bubbles, a fruity nose and peach on the palate.  

Before a week had passed we were back at a Cardamom again, this time with an occasion no more special than Thursday night.  The Sancerre fit the crab cutlet and the Shahee Jhinga lobster in cream sauce to a tee.

The Michel Girault La Siliciese Sancerre 2012 features a fresh lime nose that refreshes, and aromas of flowers that add a pretty side.  The palate shows a round mouthfeel, while citrus and herbs have a mingle on top of some really great acidity.  The long, green finish brings those herbs back into play. 


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