On a recently visit to Silicon Valley, my friend KC took me to Sakoon, a newish restaurant in Mountain View. It has a labyrinthine layout, with passages leading into inner rooms, and then more passages and rooms further beyond.
Indian restaurants have started paying far more attention to the presentation of the meal. This is not important to me, but for some can be an added appeal. Sakoon offers an intriguing appetizer—the avocado jhalmuri (avocado seems to go well with Indian food—Tanzore in LA had a similar pairing). Jhalmuri is of course the traditional Bengali street food often served in makeshift cones of recycled newsprint. This jhalmuri came in looking like a bride, a colorful cylinder of packed muri glued together by the condiments, sitting on a bed of mashed potatoes and avocado.
KC gets a headache if he consumes a vegetarian meal, so the jhalmuri was paired with seekh kebab—not as moist as I would have liked, but restrained on the spices (I know this sounds like a broken record in all of my posts, but this is important). For the main entrees we ordered Punjabi Bhindi (okra), Kashmiri lamb chops, and Lakhnavi murgh (chicken) biryani. You will note that as in many other Indian restaurants, the dishes at Sakoon bear the names of places in India, implying a certain regional authenticity. This is by and large BS—there may be some regional guidance behind the spirit of the dish, but the authenticity generally has as much credibility as the Manchurian Gobi (cauliflower) that is popular in today’s Indo-Chinese restaurants. This is not to say that these dishes do not taste good. If it helps, the regional reference can offer the seduction of ethnicity. Imagine that that the lamb chops that you are eating, where folks at the next table are talking about 10G Ethernet technology, could be the same as that cooked on an open fire, by brooks bearing ice melt from the Himalayas. Or that the Lakhnavi (from Lucknow) biryani is the one that a chess playing nawab takes a spoonful of askew while he makes his move on an ivory chessboard, eyeing his zenana beyond.
The biryani came casserole dish styled, with the mouth of the dish sealed with a naan, similar to dum cooking, where the food is mildly pressure cooked in its own aroma and vapors by putting a lid on a casserole that is sealed by the flour batter. This had subtle themes of spices, and rice that remained white rather than the typical yellow coloration that biryani often takes. The lamb chops, notwithstanding visual imagery, were marinated and cooked to tender perfection. We used the Bhindi, a blackish looking dish in the dim lights of the restaurant as dry curry added to the biryani or had it with the naans. It was good, though I always have a love-hate relation with Indian vegetable dishes, where the essential technique involves overcooking the vegetable. There was Kingfisher on draft available, which is always an added bonus.
For me, Sakoon brought a dose of respect back for North Indian restaurants in the Bay area, given my earlier disappointments with Shiva’s in Mountain View and a restaurant in Burlingame a couple of years earlier.