Chef’s Tasting Menu at Ajanta Restaurant Showcases Best of House
In the multitude of good restaurants that serve Indian cuisine in the Bay Area Ajanta Restaurant in Berkeley is a standout. The bountiful, all-region Indian fare served here is so remarkable people frequent the establishment on all occasions, from a weekday family dinner to a Sweet 16 birthday celebration—and they don’t mind standing in line.
The acclaimed restaurant’s chef/owner Lachu Moorjani recently introduced a nightly Chef’s Tasting Menu inspired by the venue’s 2013 Zagat Survey food rating (27 on a 30-point scale). The new abridged menu provides a glimpse of the diversity of Ajanta’s offerings that makes this place so irresistible.
Seasonal tandoori appetizers include an array of Ajanta specials. Meaty slices of organic Portobello mushroom are served with a dollop of sweet and hot yogurt-cashew-mint sauce. Plump juicy Dayboat scallops are marinated in yogurt and spices, roasted in a tandoor oven, and served with a pleasantly tart yogurt-cashew-tamarind sauce.
For chicken chaat, organic chicken marinated meat is grilled in tandoor then shredded and tossed with oil, lime juice, red onions, cilantro, and ginger—a cold dish spiced hot.
The main dishes section contains four perennially popular entrees. Chicken mulligatawny, a South-Indian classic curry from Chennai, is made with organic chicken meat—boneless and cooked in a sauce with onions, ginger, garlic, coconut milk, lime juice, and spices. This satisfying soup-stew hybrid can serve as a full meal on its own.
Succulent lamb rib chops are marinated in yogurt and spices and grilled in tandoor to a reddish-golden color and perfectly smoky flavor.
Green fish curry from Mumbai has ling cod fillet simmered in a sauce made with cilantro, mint, onions, garlic, green chili, coconut milk, cashew powder, lime juice, and spices. A sprinkling of yogurt, cashews, and cilantro enlivens a plate full of fragrant curry.
Achari Baingan from Rajasthan is made of an organic, Chinese eggplant sautéed and cooked in a tomato sauce with ginger, garlic, lime juice, and Indian pickling spices, such as fenugreek and nigella. Any dish can be prepared mild, medium, or hot and spicy. Speaking of pickling spices, the Chef’s Tasting Menu comes with a cup of sharp and sweet house-made pickled carrots.
Other accompaniments include assorted hot pickles from a trusted vendor, mango chutney, basmati rice, and freshly baked naan served hot from the oven.
The spicy menu is well supported by the substantial international wine list, with a number of vintages from India. The by-the-glass selection boasts some interesting choices: whites, such as 2011 Edelzwicker from Mendocino County, a blend of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot gris; 2010 Alta Luna Pinot grigio from Terentino, Italy; and 2011 Villa Maria Sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand, and reds including 2010 M. Chapoutier Cotes du Rhone (a biodynamic product from France); California 2010 Double Decker blend of Cab, Petite Syrah and Barbera; and 2011 Red Diamond Malbec from Argentina.
Desserts from the Chef’s Tasting Menu present a choice of kulfi, cardamom gelato, mango sorbet, or gulab jamun (milk powder ball, fried and soaked in rose-scented syrup). As Chef Lachu points out in, “Ajanta: Regional Feasts of India,” his famous cookbook, “The mere mention of kulfi makes Indians salivate,” and for a good reason. This Northern Indian incredibly light and delicate dessert is made of milk, cream, cardamom, and sugar and flavored with saffron and pistachios—a great finale to a flavorful feast.
The Ajanta dining room features design components and artwork inspired by Ajanta caves, a World Heritage Site located in the central Indian state of Maharashtra. Paintings on the walls depict cave artwork, and light box fixtures with translucent shades on the ceiling bare images from the caves.
The Chef’s Tasting Menu is served from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. every night and is priced at $27 ($24 for the vegetarian offering). It includes three appetizers and four main dishes, sides of rice, naan bread, chutneys and pickles, and a choice of dessert.
Ajanta Restaurant is located at 1888 Solano Avenue in Berkeley, California. The restaurant is open daily for dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Call (510) 526-4373 or visit the website for reservations and more information.