Sunday, December 07, 2003

Royal Khyber - Costa Mesa

Had a great experience at Royal Khyber recently. The restaurant is replete with fine art, romantic lighting, white table cloths and nice silverware. Very upscale place, but quiet when we arrived at 6:00 pm.

A few customers did trickle in eventually; a pair of ladies with business suits; a trio of 20-somethings in jeans; and an Indian girl in her twenties meeting the family of her Caucasian boyfriend for the first time. I guess she picked the restaurant.

The staff, professionally uniformed was warm and accomodating and refilled out water glasses as soon as it was half empty.

A basket with crispy wafer-like crackers were brought out with two sauce accompaniments. The green sauce was herby, chunky and spicy; the dark burgundy sauce was sweet, sour and hot. (If anyone can educate me on what this was, I'd be appreciative). I almost singlehandedly obliterated the crackers; delicious.

We ordered the Chicken Tikka Masala and the Tulsi Mushroom Matar Khorma, which was described as "fresh mushrooms and peas sauteed in basil cocunut gravy." Both dishes were a la carte, and served in ornate silver serving platters. To accompany the main dishes, we also had two orders of basmati rice pilaf, which had slivers of carrot and something else I could not identify. The rice was fluffy and aromatic, a perfect foil to the tikka masala, which was bright red and had the right level of spice and creaminess. I tasted roasted red peppers in the sauce. The chicken chunks in it were white meat and moist. The mushrooms and peas were tasty too; the brown gravy had a great and powerful blend of spices I've never had before, its hotness tempered by the coconut milk. For dessert, we had the mango creme brulee which had combined the classic custard flavor with the tartness and sweetness of mango. The caramelized sugar crust further balanced the tartness of the custard. All in all, a great meal. I will be back for more someday.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Lonestar Steakhouse - Tustin

Executive Summary: Lonestar Steakhouse is not as great as Ruth Chris, but far cheaper, and better than than Outback and Black Angus. Good food and excellent service.

Review: We were seated at almost exactly at the predicted wait time given to us (35 minutes). The atmosphere was unmistakably Texan. License plates, steer horns, and "Don't mess with Texas" signs were mounted on the brown wooden walls. Country music piped through speakers and at 30 minute intervals, the volume was raised as the wait staff went through a mandatory line dance. Understandbly, most of them did this with nary a smile on their faces (I wouldn't either). I think everyone in the restaurant, including the wait staff, would've done fine without it.

Warm bread rolls with sweet butter arrived. The bread, freshly baked, was golden and remakably supple. It reminded me of soft and sweet Hawaiian bread I've had before.

My cup of French onion soup came out with a generous covering of melted cheese. Underneath this seemingly thick layer of Gruyere, the soup was sweet and oniony, a nice balance of soft onion slices, broth and soaked croutons.

My companions opted for the green salads, which were amply sized. Red onions, thick croutons, two types of greens, grated cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and crumbled bacon. It was a substantial salad. Easily a meal on its own.

I ordered the Delmonico, an 11 ounce rib eye, with baked sweet potato. The steak was cooked exactly to my specifications; medium, pink throughout. It was wonderfully marbled, lots of flavor in the light crusting; a good solid rib eye; no steak sauce needed.

The side of baked sweet potato it came with was was large, but curiously foreign to my tastes. It is served with some butter and a small cup of brown sugar. My companions loved it, but I found it to be too odd of a pairing with the steak. I guess I'm used to savory and salty flavors of a nice baked potato loaded with sour cream and chives when I'm eating something as beefy as a rib eye.

Total for the night was less than $22 per person with tip (we gave our waiter 20% for his ability to sense that we needed more water). Leftovers were encased in aluminum foil which was then sculpted into a novel steer head. A bit of art and humor for our doggie bag; a nice touch.

Conclusion: Eventhough Lonestar is a big chain in the East, the fact that there aren't many around in So. Cal makes it feel less like a chain (remember a few years ago on how Krispy Kreme seemed to taste better after the long trek to La Habra to get it?) And since the food and service was quite better than what I was expecting, it trumps the lesser chains like Outback and Black Angus.