Wednesday, April 6, 2011

All Spice in San Mateo

1602 S El Camino Real
San Mateo, CA 94402
(650) 627-4303

Our wedding anniversary fell on a week day again this year and I could not take any time off. My V took the day off to plan a row of wonderful surprises for the evening, not the least of which was the dinner event at All Spice, a new restaurant in the Peninsula.

All Spice is located in a cute little Victorian house. There is some parking next to the house and also on the street behind. If it hadn't been for the maitre'd receiving us at the foyer, I would have assumed I was walking in to someone's home for dinner. Every room in the small house is tastefully decorated and has either 2 or 3 tables seating small groups. V had made reservations for us, but they were not too busy since it was a weekday.

The menu is seasonal, and they still had their "Winter menu" which is appropriate considering the especially cool, rainy spring we have been having. Interestingly, the menu had a lot of dishes which included mushrooms. There are ample choices for vegetarians, which is always a big bonus in our eyes. Coming to the type of cuisine, I would describe it as being Indian-inspired. The chef has taken popular dishes from all over India, and tried to get really creative with it. On their website, they call themselves "Contemporary Indian Cuisine". May be so, neither of us have eaten out in India that much in the last several years.

We started off by ordering the "Mint Passion Fruit Lassi" - a sweet lassi with crushed fresh mint leaves and passion fruit juice.

Our first appetizer of choice was "Ma Mere" which literally translates to "Mother mine", described on the menu as Indian bread fritter stuffed with mushrooms, potatoes and ciligini, served over stewed chickpeas. (Did not know what ciligini was until I looked it up. It is a special variety of tomato grown in Sicily.) This dish is inspired by the "Samosa chaat" sold on the streets of Bombay - the samosas have been replaced with flavorful mushroom fritters but the chole was just like something you would get at a standard Indian restaurant.

The other appetizer we ordered was the "Warm Winter Sambar". This is inspired by the South Indian lentil stew called sambar which typically has a very distinct flavor due to the tamarind and south Indian spices (sambar podi) that go in it. Sambar is most often made with "thaan" or chunky vegetables like potatoes, pumpkin, squashes, radish, etc. Being an authentic South Indian, I can attest to the fact that the flavor of the sambar at our dinner table was very authentic. It also contained crunchy lentil dumplings and assorted vegetables as "thaan". The lentil dumplings in sambar is also quite traditional.

For the main course, V ordered the "Pumpkin Dosa" and I vacillated between the "Khaman chickpea flour pasta" and "Hara Kabab" and finally decided to go with the "Khaman".

The "Pumpkin dosa" is obviously inspired by the popular South Indian tiffin dish called "masala dosa". The "dosa" (crepe) itself was perfectly crisp and paper thin, and not oozing oil. The stuffing, a variation of the traditional masala, contained pumpkin curry seasoned with kalonji and goat cheese. This was served with a tomato chutney. V did not even touch the chutney, as he was totally in to savoring his dosa with the pumpkin masala.

My "khaman" was inspired by khandvi, a common Gujarati tea-time snack. However the chef got creative with it and made a ginger and shiitake mushroom broth to go over it. I have never had khandvi like this before! The only issue I had with this dish was that it tasted a bit salty.

The final course, the tour de force was the dessert. Since we were already pretty full, we ordered one dessert to share and that was a good thing because the "Dark chocolate kulfi" that we ordered was quite rich and creamy. It came with macadamia nut brittle flavored with tandoori spices (yum!). It was not much like kulfi, but was more like a rich mousse. Needless to say, it was absolutely delicious and we savored every bite.

The restaurant is upscale and pricey, however we would definitely go back there for special occasions. Looking forward to their summer menu!

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