Jeff Smith 8 p.m., Aug. 30
Sundara: underwhelming Indian food
Ocean Beach Indian restaurant is "Indian-ish" at best, and no better than the average takeout spot.
Sundara Indian Cuisine (1774 Sunset Cliffs Blvd, 619-889-0639) started life as a pop-up affair in a coffee shop, taking over the space in the evenings and selling a short menu of curries. Apparently, so successful was the Indian venture that it’s taken over.
There’s no faulting the decor. The building may be small, but the owners figured out how to maximize table space such that it’s cozy and attractive. Blonde tones and soft lighting suit the place, and the patio seating behind the restaurant is sweet when the air isn’t too clammy.
Ineffectual staff members partially confirmed a tip/rumor that “the service was so fucking shitty” as to deserve special mention. It wasn’t abysmal, but little gaffs made the servers look pretty bad. For example, when two people sit at a four person table, and the server sets dishes, glasses, silverware, etc. at the unoccupied seats on the table--that shouldn’t happen. Sadly, this is exactly the kind of thing that passes for normal in lots of restaurants, but it shouldn’t.
In terms of food, the short menu lists four or five basic curries ($9-$9.50), a few appetizers, tandoori chicken, and not much else. The best curry was the saag (spinach), which was a great example of globalized Indian food, made rich and delicious when filled with veggies or paneer. Sundara deserves some credit for making the vindaloo just the right amount of hot. For “normal” people, i.e. those without a high spiciness tolerance, it will be a tongue scorching experience. The biggest failure was the chicken.
Sundara’s cooks used exclusively white meat chicken in the curries. Indian people the world over groan at the thought of eating chicken breast, mostly because Indian cooks always skin the chicken. Chicken breasts without skin are disgusting and the absence of thigh meat neutered what might have been a good vindaloo. The fact of the matter is, ladling a delicious sauce on top of something so blatantly wrong as dried out chicken breast is worse than OK meat and OK sauce. At Sundara, stick with the paneer (cheese) every time!
On a better note, Sundara’s rice pudding ($4) delighted. The creamy pudding lacked the gluey consistency of inferior confections. Instead, it was richly flavored and dressed with pistachios and roasted almonds. Even the basmati rice on the side of the curry dishes was cooked well, so it seems like someone in the kitchen knows a thing or two about rice cookery! In addition, every dish was plated very well and a feast for the eyes.
Other little quirks, like charging $0.75 for the (admittedly delicious) chutneys, rankle the skin to the point where Sundara doesn’t hold it down as a restaurant. Being able to get tasty beers on draft helps heal the hurt, but the selection isn’t wide enough to merit outright praise, not for the beers, and not for the restau. It’s OK, but diners would be better off making the trip to Punjabi Tandoor, or even getting an “all you can eat” buffet somewhere for cheaper. A place should taste as good as it looks.