Addi’s authentic southern cooking

Haute and hotter Southern Indian cuisine

Addi DaCosta has created a luxurious atmosphere for his adventurous menu. Photo

For years after my first trip to India, I looked in vain for restaurants offering a fraction of the flavors that I experienced there. Most local places offered only North Indian cuisine, made extremely mild for strangers to that community. An Angeleno could be forgiven for thinking that Indian cuisine was limited to tandoori barbecue dishes, a few curries and rice dishes, bread called naan and crispy wafers called papadums. Those who traveled to Pioneer Boulevard in Orange County could find dishes from southern and eastern India, but had to deal with uninformative menus.

Fast forward a few decades and progress has been made. Even the South Bay, with a very small South Asian population, has Indian restaurants featuring regional cuisines and innovating on traditions. The most established is Addi’s Tandoor, which opened in 2002 on Pacific Coast Highway. (It has since moved to Torrance Boulevard, west of Prospect Avenue.)

At first the menu looked like most others, though with a few out of the ordinary seafood dishes. These were part of the heritage of owner Addi DaCosta, a native of the southern coastal city of Goa, which had been a Portuguese colony for over 400 years. Goans eat lots of seafood, mellow their spicy curries with coconut milk, and blend Mediterranean ideas with Indian techniques, and Addi’s quickly caught on with locals and the expatriate Indian community. After two years, they moved to the smaller but more luxurious Torrance Boulevard location, and expanded the menu with adventurous dishes, both traditional and original.

We started a recent dinner with an item that had obvious New World influences, namely, Indian-style hot wings. They’re coated with spices and barbecued in a tandoor oven instead of fried, so the taste is quite different from your usual hot wing – and they are hot, so have a cold beverage very close on that first bite. If you enjoy spicy food you will take a second bite, because they’re flavorful as well as peppery – ginger, garlic, and other spices add depth and dimension. I recommend having on hand a cold Taj beer or lassi, the cool yoghurt drink that will quench the most scorched tongue.

Most Goan food isn’t this hot. We also enjoyed vegetarian somosas, the turnover filled with peas and mashed potatoes that is a pan-Indian staple. Addi’s have gentle spicing and always arrive hot and crisp. Those who want to keep that spice train rolling can add a dollop of mint chutney, but after those wings I was happy to have something mild.

After consulting with our server about specialties of the house, we continued with beef vindaloo, “chillie mushroom,” prawns Kanyakumari, and bhindi dopiaza – okra with onions, tomatoes, cumin, and dried mango.

Beef dishes are rare in Indian restaurants due to Hindu taboos, but Goa is mainly Christian. Vindaloo sauce is a specialty of Goa – it’s a hot tomato sauce in most of India but a complex mélange of vinegar, chillies, and spices in Goa. Critics and gourmets have celebrated Addi’s version ever since they opened, and it’s easy to see why.

The mushroom dish we ordered is part of an old tradition of “Indo-Chinese” items. It’s very rare to find this cuisine from their shared border, but these mushrooms cooked with onions and bell peppers in a hot sweet-and-sour sauce were exactly as I remembered. It’s everything I like about the Mandarin favorite but with more exuberant spicing, and it was a hit even with someone who doesn’t usually like mushrooms.

The prawn dish is an invention of the chef but also has some Chinese influence – big tiger shrimp sautéed with onions and bell peppers in a peppery mango-garlic sauce. The sweet shrimp in tart, peppery garlic sauce were reminiscent of some Szechuan dishes, thoroughly delicious and cumulatively hot. The heat sneaks up on you, starting out as a little edge on a savory dish and continuing to a tingle on your lips and heat on the tongue. We ordered it medium and found it to be piquant but bearable – those who don’t like overtly hot dishes are advised to ask for it mild.

I ordered the bhindi dopiaza because I like okra Indian style – chefs there have found ways to make the flavor intense and the texture firm rather than mushy. With the onions and tomatoes, it might have been a Southern dish, but the shot of cumin and mango lent an exotic air to a simple and savory dish.

For breads we selected methi paratha and Kabuli naan – the first a flaky, multilayered whole wheat bread sprinkled with fenugreek herb, the second a soft flatbread stuffed with cherries and nuts. We enjoyed both, but the kabuli naan – inspired by Afghan dishes that contain fruit and nuts – was the winner. The light, sweet counterpart to a spicy, savory meal was perfect, and next time I’m going to get two orders just so I won’t run out of bread while I still have spicy food to pair it with.

We departed with take-out bags (we had over-ordered for our party of four) and a general sense of well-being – for less than $30 a person we had a fantastic meal with a few exotic beers and soft drinks on the side. Eight years after first opening, Addi’s is still refreshing my memories of my long-past trip to India and introducing me to original creations that blend Southern California with Southern India.

Addi’s Tandoor is at 800 Torrance Blvd. #101, west of Prospect. Open daily except Sunday for lunch, daily for dinner. Wine and beer served, parking in lighted lot, wheelchair access good. Phone 310-540-1616. ER


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