Richard Foss

Spice Six: Punjabi comfort food

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A strip mall Indian restaurant in Hermosa delivers the goods.

Spice Six owner Ashok Arya. Photo by Kevin Cody.

I don’t often get takeout food, partly because I enjoy experiencing restaurants and mostly because I like my meals to be as fresh as possible. The most popular takeout options — burgers, pizza, and Chinese food, all wilt on the drive home. If there’s anything worse than Szechuan crispy pork that isn’t crispy any more, it’s soggy pizza or cold burgers with warm lettuce. Those items that are so wonderful when they’re straight from the wok, grill, or oven decay with alarming speed.

My solution, when takeout food is called for, is to get things that use a different method of cooking, like soups, stews, or curries that hold heat longer and take reheating better. There are plenty of these available locally, from American favorites like chowder to albondigas, barbacoa, bouillabaisse, and Thai tom yum.

On a recent evening when my wife couldn’t be dragged out of the house by wild ferrets, I mulled over the options and decided on curries. A little Indian place called Spice Six in Hermosa popped into my mind. After a few minutes of quality time with the online menu and some consultation with my formerly grumpy spouse who brightened up at the prospect of not having to go out, the decision arose – delivery or pickup? I decided that since I could stop at the store for a few things and it would be harder to convince the delivery person to pick up a dozen eggs along the way, I’d pick up the order.

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I was glad I did, because I learned about a change in the way Spice Six does things. They opened with trays of ready-to serve hot food, but after six months in business expanded their dining area and moved to a cook-to-order format. They also expanded the menu, something I noticed when I ordered online. We were expecting friends over so got enough for four: papdi chat and papadums for a starter, followed by lamb shish kebab, eggplant bharta, butter chicken, shrimp biryani, cauliflower-stuffed paratha bread, and paneer tikka, Indian-style cheese cooked in a tandoor.

This turned out to be ample because I hadn’t realized that several dishes came with rice, so we had a feast spread across the table when I unpacked.

We started with the one item that was highly perishable, papdi chat. This Bombay street snack is composed of spiced crackers mixed with boiled chickpeas in a mildly spiced yoghurt sauce, topped with crispy bits of dough. It lights up your tongue with sweet, tart, salty, and rich, and is an amazing antidote to hotter foods, so I had to get it even though it doesn’t hold for very long without the crackers getting soggy. They make it very well here, and it was a fine counterpoint to some of the more assertive dishes.

Those included butter chicken and lamb shish kebab, which I had ordered medium-hot, and which at that heat level were still a bit much for my spice-averse wife. The kebab was made from ground lamb mixed with herbs and spices and molded onto a skewer before being briefly cooked in a very hot tandoor oven. This adds smokiness and char when charcoal is used, but I think they use a gas tandoor here because that was notably absent. It means you taste the meat more, and depending on your sense of flavor that can be a plus or minus, or just something a bit different than usual. I’m in the third category, as I like woodsmoke flavor but found this to be more subtle. The heat is cumulative, and with each bite you notice that there is indeed a fair amount of ginger and chili in that rich mix.

We ordered another item from the tandoor, the paneer tikka, which is a kind of fresh low-fat cheese that is stiff enough to stay on a skewer when grilled. I asked for that mild because I wanted to see how the cheese flavor combined with the spices, and that’s what I recommend that you do too. This may be the best barbecue a vegetarian can enjoy, and it’s worth a try for omnivores who enjoy new experiences.

The spice dominated in the butter chicken, white meat chunks in a thick tomato and butter gravy with lots of chili, cumin, and other spices. It was the most exuberantly hot item of the meal, but with butter and tomato richness in balance, and I might order it hot instead of medium next time to give my tongue a real thrill ride. I would have to assemble some friends who enjoy tingling tongues more than the family members who joined us this time, or resign myself to eating that alone.

The other mild dishes were shrimp biryani and eggplant bharta, fire-roasted eggplant cooked chopped into a thick curry. Neither of these were quite up to the standard of the other dishes, for different reasons. Bharta eggplant is usually deliberately charred to give a smoky overtone, but that was completely absent here. This had a more natural flavor that my wife found appealing, but I prefer that added complexity. The biryani was also too simple, almost like a Chinese or Peruvian rice dish rather than an Indian item. Biryanis are often made with exuberant turmeric, cinnamon, and coriander to add a spicy fragrance to a mild dish, but those elements were less prominent than the bell pepper and onion.

On the plus side, the gobi paratha, a flatbread stuffed with ground cauliflower, was excellent, and we enjoyed the novelty of a dessert that I hadn’t planned to get but decided to try on a whim. This was a halved mango stuffed with mango sherbet, and it ended the meal with a note of fruity coolness.

Dinner for four ran $73, a pretty remarkable deal all things considered. Spice Six doesn’t do anything remarkable or innovative, but they’re not trying to – they offer freshly made Punjabi comfort food, and they seem to have found an audience for it. It’s a good introduction to Indian food and a good value, whether you dine or have it at home like we did. ER

 

Spice Six is at 450 PCH in Hermosa. Open 4 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. Mo-Thu, 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Fr-Su. Small parking lot or street parking, free delivery. Wheelchair access OK, no alcohol, many vegetarian/vegan options. Phone 310-921-8315, menu at spicesix.com.

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