For my daughter’s 21st birthday, she requested we celebrate at an Indian restaurant. I have always wanted to try Badmaash in downtown LA, near Little Tokyo and the Arts District, so I made a reservation for dinner.
Walking into the multi-level Indian restaurant, we noticed the bright colorful walls, and an Indian movie projected high above. The casual dining counters and table seating areas were filled with millennials enjoying the cafe’s fun atmosphere.
After the hostess welcomed us, she led us upstairs to a quieter dining loft, and sat us at a table under whimsical Indian-themed pop art of Gandhi wearing Ray Bans. The walls were also lined with Indian movie posters.
The tables were set with silver metal plates and dishtowels as napkins. Our server Anna brought us a green glass bottle and poured water into small silver cups.
The menu states “eat like you’re Indian” and encourages diners to order a variety of plates to share.
Since it was my daughter’s first opportunity to order a legal drink, we thought beer would pair nicely with Indian food. We ordered an Indian Kingfisher lager made by the first Indian beer company, founded in 1857. Other beers on the menu are craft beers from Colorado, California, Hawaii and New York. We also ordered a bubbly gin and tonic made with Offley White Port and INDI & Co. lemon tonic water. There is a ginger-lemon Radler, Old Club Scotch ale, and organic acai berry wheat beer from Eel River Brewing.
For those who prefer wine, Badmaash offers glasses of sparkling wine from Italy, and a handful of whites and a rosé. Red wines are from Austria, Italy, Spain and California. Non-alcoholic beverages are a ThumsUp – an Indian brand of cola and a mango lassi made with a blend of yogurt, water, spices and fruit.
For starters, I recommend the Indian pickles. It’s a plate of pickled green beans, julienne carrots, sliced jicama, squash, cucumber, peppers and onions glistening with Indian spices and aromatics. It’s a wonderful mixture of sweet, tart and delicious.
Other winning appetizers are the distinctly triangular shaped samosas made fresh daily. The fried pastry is stuffed with potatoes and sweet peas and jazzed up with coriander seeds, roasted cumin and ginger. The butter chicken samosas are stuffed with a bouquet of Punjabi curry. Besides a traditional raita (cucumber and yogurt), they prepare a tasty whipped avocado yogurt raita that is heavenly on rosemary naan bread. The breads are made fresh to order and arrive puffy and hot right out of the tandoor.
In India, tandoori cooking is traditionally associated with Punjab. At Badmaash, they offer several dishes prepared in the tandoor oven. Broccoli florets poached in coriander and cinnamon then slightly charred in the tandoor oven are drizzled with a slightly sweet and spicy vinaigrette. Other clay oven dishes include lamb chops that are massaged with clove masala and cardamom; and a salmon kabob marinated in yogurt, fresh dill, lime and serrano chilies. The kabob arrives in a white bowl with smoked tomato chutney beneath the salmon. Be sure to order the basmati rice pilaf – theirs tastes better than most Indian restaurants.
Anna urged us to order the classic “Indian wedding food” – butter chicken marinated in yogurt and Indian spices for at least 48 hours. It is charred in the tandoor oven and bathed in a creamy tomato curry flavored with fenugreek. India is the largest producer of fenugreek – a green leaf plant that is used fresh or dried as an herb. The seeds are used as a spice. It offers a sweet smell and, when roasted, enhances the flavor of many dishes.
The last dish to arrive to our table was the “good ol’ saag paneer” made with baby spinach, tomato and onion with garam masala an aromatic blend of ground spices common in Northern and Southern India. Mixed in were cubes of white Indian paneer cheese. It’s a non-melting type of cheese that looks like firm tofu, yet is made with fresh squeezed lemon juice or vinegar and whole milk that is heated until it curdles and separates from the whey.
Many Indian restaurants lack creativity with dessert, but not Badmaash. We enjoyed a plate of India’s most beloved biscuit cookies sandwiched with ice cream. My husband really liked the chai-spiced chocolate pot du creme, similar to a rich and thick chocolate custard with subtle flavors of cardamom, cinnamon and ginger. It’s topped with whipped cream and roasted almond slivers.
A coconut milk rice pudding topped with almonds is very satisfying. While enjoying each dessert, we shared a small glass of India’s “cutting chai.” It’s brought to the table in a small wire crate that reminded me of the milk man delivering glass bottles of milk in this type of carrier when I was a little girl.
The small clear glass held hot and strong black tea that is cut with milk, sugar, cinnamon, clove, ginger and cardamom, just like the tea street vendors or chai wallahs who make and sell this type of beverage at train stations, alleyways, urban centers and bus depots.
When the check arrived, there were three pieces of Dubble Bubble gum on the tray– a nice final touch to a uniquely different Indian cuisine dining experience.
Badmaash opened in 2013 in Downtown L.A. by Nakul and Arjun Mahendro and their father, Pawan Mahendro. Pawan is a classically trained French chef, raised in Punjab, India. After attending cooking school, Pawan secured his first job at the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel. Later he moved to Toronto and eventually opened his first restaurant Jaipur Grille in Toronto. His son Nakul became the General Manager. Then son Arjun joined the family when they opened Badmaash.
In the Urban Dictionary, the word “Badmaash” is a Hindi word that means a person who is mischievous or a hooligan. At this Badmaash, there was nothing troubling to report. Instead, it’s a playful dining spot that will inspire you to book your next vacation to India, and tempt you to come back again for its pleasing exotic flavors.
The restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Friday at 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. for dinner. On Thursday through Saturday it stays open until midnight. 108 W. 2nd St. (213)221-7466.