Friday, September 16, 2011

Expanding Our Food Repertoire at Natraj

24861 Alicia Parkway
Laguna Hills, CA 92653

I am not going to try and fool you. I have no idea what Indian food is all about. The last time I had it in a restaurant could be like fifteen years ago. I know what you are thinking, what kind of food blogger are you? Okay, I admit I have to get out of my food comfort zone more. In my defense though, we have gone to our first Thai place this year, along with trying the cuisines of Lebanon and Peru. So slowly, but surely we are eating around the globe, as we eat around OC.

A wonderful couple, Maureen and Dennis really wanted us to try one of their favorite Indian restaurants, Natraj. This restaurant has been around since 1991, and been in its present location since 1993. Two partners ran the business, and at one time operated four restaurants. After one of the partners wanted to move back to India, they sold off three of the four restaurants. The three restaurants that were sold kept the Natraj name, adding to confusion, but these restaurants are not owned by the original owners or family members. The owner that stayed here, now operates the original Natraj in Laguna Hills, and has opened three fast food/casual Indian restaurants, Natraj's Tandoori, (two in Irvine and one in Foothill Ranch).

Natraj is tucked in the back of a shopping center that features a Dick's Sporting Goods and a Big Lots. The restaurant is spacious, yet a little dated in its decor. The waiters, all men the night we were here, are all dressed in white dress shirts and black pants. Very professional looking to match the service they offered us this night. The Natraj menu is a little overwhelming. They offer close to sixty entree items, and even more if you count the appetizers and breads. Let's see what we went with off of this big menu.

Our meal started off with the Indian equivalent on a bread basket. Not sure what they call this kind of bread. It looked like a tortilla, but it was stiffer, and less bready. We also had three sauces served with this. They ranged from sweet to a little spicy. I forgot to write their names down, but they were pretty good.

Much like my strategy in any restaurant, I always want to try as many items as I can on one visit. So of course  we went with the Mixed Hors D"Ouvres. This sampler platter came with chicken tikka, samosa, seekh kabob, and pakoras. Out of these my favorite was the chicken tikka. The chicken was tender and the spice used here really popped with flavor. The pakoras were vegetable fritters, that I could see myself dipping into ranch dressing next time. They were fried just right. I was not so excited by the samosa, which is the cone looking item. The insides of this was filled with potatoes and peas. I found it to be a bit boring when it came to flavor. The seekh kabob was made of lamb, and really left no mark on my memory.

Maureen informed us that she always gets the same thing when she eats at Natraj, the Chicken Pasanda. This mild chicken dish is served in a nut sauce. She loves the mildness of this dish, and felt that the chicken was cooked well.

Dennis almost got an identical dinner from his wife, the Chicken Korma. This chicken dish is simmered in a mild almond and cream sauce. Dennis had no complaints about this meal. From where I was sitting, the sauce looked velvety smooth.

Katie and I ate at a Biryani cart in New York, and that was about the extent of our Indian food knowledge. She stuck to what she knows when she ordered the Chicken Biryani. This dish combined chicken with herbs and spices, with basmati rice. Katie enjoyed the slight heat this dish had, and it definitely reminded her of that street cart in NYC. Her pleasure of this dish was enhanced when she combined the yogurt sauce and  garlic nann with this plate.

I admit I was intimidated by the large menu here, and I choked. Maybe, I should rephrase that since this is a food blog and everything. I mean to say I think I ordered the wrong item. I went with the Lamb Saag. Lamb served with a spiced cream spinach. I love creamed spinach, and I love lamb, so I did not think this could go wrong. Unfortunately the lamb was not very tender, and the spice used in the spinach did not find favor with my taste buds. I should have gone with a safer bet. Maybe at the next Indian place.

To go along with our meals we also ordered the Garlic Naan. This leavened bread was sprinkled with fresh garlic. This is a must have when eating here. The garlic is very prominent and really makes the bread come alive.

We had three of the six desserts offered here. Starting us off is Katie's choice, the Mango Ice Cream. She called this dessert, "very refreshing and delicious". Maureen always goes for the Kheer, which is an Indian rice pudding with a pistachio garnish. I had the unusual sounding Gajjar ka Halwa, which is a carrot pudding with pistachio and almond. I thought this would be like a pumpkin pie flavor, but there was definitely no cinnamon or nutmeg in this. In fact there was no sweetness in this at all, and it was served warm. It was not awful, but is something I do not think I would get again.

To sum up my first experience at an Indian restaurant, I would say I did not make the right choices when it came to my preferences for food. I did get exotic items, and I liked the spices used, but I would definitely get different things next time. The other foods I tried here I liked, and I am looking forward to trying Indian food again in the future. Most meals were in the $13 to $17 range, and the portions were average sized. So I guess you can say this was my practice run for Indian food. Thanks Maureen and Dennis for the company, and we look forward to trying Indian food with you again.

Out of five tandoor's, (a small, clay oven used here at Natraj and other Indian restaurants), five being best to zero being worst, Natraj gets 2.5 tandoor's.

For more information on Natraj, click here:

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