Great Karma in Thousand Oaks
By JR Grant 07/07/2011
Karma Indian Cuisine
173 N. Moorpark Road, suite E
A friend of mine works near KCLU in Thousand Oaks. He was telling me the other day that he used to lament the lack of non-traditional food when he would go out for lunch. His new nearly daily luncheon, however, has now become a favorite of mine as well for dinner and catering. Karma Indian Cuisine in the Janss Marketplace serves delectable and authentic offerings from the Indian sub-continent.
Owner/Manager Rajbir Khinda already knows how to cook and present East Indian food. With his family, he also owns Taj restaurant in downtown Ventura (consistently voted Best Indian Restaurant in Ventura County). Karma is as attractive as possible in the pedestrian Janss Marketplace. Murals adorn the walls and the subdued colors are warm and inviting.
One is greeted very respectfully at the door (often by Raj himself), and the first pungent hints of exotic spice welcome the diner into the restaurant. The luncheon buffet (at $9.95) is probably the best sampler for those unfamiliar with Indian cuisine. I find the spice combinations a bit subtle. (I’m sure the chef tones down the piquancy for general dining.) If you tell your waiter you would like extra spiciness or have a spice preference, each dish can be happily tailored to your palate. Raj wants you to enjoy your meal, and such personal interest and attention is obvious throughout the meal.
For dinner the other evening, I desired a very spicy Indian meal. The first thing to arrive was an order of papadum, beautifully flavored with caraway and a combination of hidden spices. The chutney accompanying the papadum was a pumpkin-tomato concoction with garlic and cilantro, slightly sweet and earthy. It was a perfect taste combination with the caraway of the papadum.
As I was with a friend who had not been to Karma, I also ordered the chutney sampler, which is usually four different chutneys, but Raj brought us eight to sample the many varieties available. There was a thin but delicious tamarind, a very sweet tomato-garlic, a hearty mango pickle, a tangy mint-chili, a creamy coconut-walnut and a slightly spicy mixed fruit combination. Each chutney had its own texture and taste sensation, and I knew dinner that night would be special.
Before the main course arrived, though, I also ordered a sambar vada, a specialty dish from southern India consisting of large marble sized balls of lentil flour marinated in ginger and served in a thick spicy coconut and mustard soup and a coconut-walnut chutney. My companion ordered the chaat papri chips, which are wheat flour chips topped with potatoes, onions, crispy noodles, yogurt, chutney, and a 12-spice garam masala seasoning. (The few bites I managed to sneak away from my companion’s plate were astounding.)
As I said, I wanted a very spicy feast that evening, so I ordered a spicy lamb karahi, which is a thick curry with chunks of very tender lamb, bell peppers, onions and a spicy garam masala. This great dish was served with a vegetable korma (basically a curry stew made with whatever vegetables are in use that day), a small ramekin of dal (actually, a little thin for my preference), and a perfect raita (made with cucumber, yogurt and some tiny shredded carrot.) All this is served with mouth-watering garlic naan, and I must say, the flavor combination was really terrific.
This is exactly what freshly prepared, made-to-order Indian cuisine is supposed to look, smell and taste like. Kudos to the kitchen for such attention to detail. Although I had ordered it extra-spicy, it was not too powerful to eat. According to the chef, too much hot spice ruins the blend of flavors intended to permeate the dish.
Another dish I quite like is the Agra chicken: the chicken is poached with ginger, onion, green chili and spices, and then sautéed with dry mango powder, coriander and cayenne. Again, this dish is a subtle blend of lots of different flavors, but the end result is most appealing to the discerning palate.
The menu is too vast to describe in depth; I’ve not been disappointed with anything, and feel the great culinary choices made at Taj in Ventura have now been fine-tuned at Karma. Wine and beer are served, but I always opt for Raj’s favorite, a mint-flavored iced tea blended with homemade sweetened lemon-ginger syrup. My friend always orders the sweet lassi, which is a rose-scented sweet yogurt drink, but for me the minty iced tea cannot be matched.
If you have room for dessert, the gulab jamun (milk balls in rose-flavored syrup) is great, but you must try the specialty dessert: gajar halwa, a puréed carrot pudding made with golden raisins and almonds. Sweet, filling, and a great end to a great meal. Thousand Oaks may seem like a distance to go for some, but for all interested in Indian cuisine it is well worth it.