Fat Boy Raul with his name crossed out on wall graffiti, lights shining on lights, reflecting off the hoods of bimmers, bouncing off the sidewalks, then settling, cradled like pools on the road; a cool waft of LA breeze that blows in from the oceans, floral prints in January--I am there--a one time resident, flying in after a numb fingered tire change on a bitterly cold night, in a pothole puncture, off Van Wyck near Kennedy.
Gaylords in the eighties was one of the legendary Indian restaurants in LA, in the heydays of Westwood when the warm weekend nights around UCLA would be alit with the gaiety of a street fair, and thick crowds would meander through the night, with Lebanese falafel, shawarma, and the international flavors of this city. Gaylords was the restaurant of the well heeled older Indians—we as graduate students frequented the now burnt down India’s Oven. Our first Gaylords meal was tentative--there to celebrate a graduation, we picked at the menu sparingly, sensitive to its prices. I remember curries in stainless steel katodis, we were convinced that it had to be good, the four of us in their twenties, in a 1984 Civic.
Many things change in a city, never the quality of the light, never the smell of its undefinable feel, so too for LA after 22 years. Gaylords changed its name, changed it back again, then renaming it now to Tanzore with the Gaylords brand name still hovering somewhere in its description. Rebuilt and expanded at the same location, we enter a huge tasteful space and lounge, and for me a first in the men’s room--little television screens right above the WC’s, tuned to a TV channel. This was LA, you never knew what to expect.
It was not all about the food that night. It was the memories of a youth, felt by feeling the embroideries of the past. The Civic now long gone, after years in Minnesota—packed off in farewell with a tow truck.
Gaylords has a dim restaurant ambiance with big boxy lights from the ceiling, sleek with a woody Nordic feel, but a deep Indian tone and shine. The food remains deserving of an elite restaurant. The tandoori lamb chops are a specialty, and the dish survived the transition to the new restaurant. We had them medium rare, and they were perfect, of the “closed eye in enjoyment” variety. If you seek tenderness, lamb chops marinated with Indian spices and a bit of yogurt impart dollops of it (I suspect they had yogurt but I cannot be sure—they may have had some papaya as well, which is a fantastic meat tenderizer). Indian recipes overcook vegetables, but if you are willing to overlook this, the Baingan Bharta, where the eggplants blended pastelike so that it formed a thick, viscous consistency with the rest of the condiments, went well with naans. A vodka-citrus scallop salad with pomegranate seeds, hearts of palm and avocado was a pleasant surprise, a non-Indian dish to me, not that it mattered—it felt light and breezy. I hate to use the word “pairings”, firstly because we are talking about more than two items, and secondly because it is a hackneyed cliché, but the pomegranate, hearts of palm and avocado went well with one another—the first two familiar to Indian palates though never together, the avocado traditionally unknown within India.
For dessert I have been on a kulfi binge lately--Tanzore makes its own kulfi, and this is always reason to try. There are typically two types of kulfi’s served in Indian restaurants—one that has a creamy, consistent and smooth texture that starts out rock solid, but turns smooth once it has had a bit of time to warm up in your mouth. The other offers a more brittle texture at first bite giving away its store bought mass pedigree, the granularity coming from small amounts of melting and refreezing as it sits around. It is a small, but discernable difference. This in my mind is a decent yardstick of the quality of a Indian restaurant—I usually ask the waiter whether the kulfi was created on the premises. Tanzore’s kulfi was good, the respectable product that one expects from a restaurant of its stature. I had hoped that it would be served with the traditional vermicelli, but we were told that customers apparently did not like this.
We drive across the city at night. Apart from a few new high rises in downtown, its profile has remained the same: low and flat, like a droplet of water spreading unchecked, forming a thin film on a surface it has completely wetted. A good meal, a once familiar city, the glow of the city bouncing around in its smog, and palm trees whizzing by a freeway that the night has now unclogged.