I am all about elevating food to new heights, but sometimes, for my preferences at least, some cuisines are better left more traditional/homey/rustic (Chinese and Mexican, for example). It's a matter of value, for the most part - for these cuisines, I may like the more refined versions, and on occasion may even prefer them to more budget options, but not enough to justify the often astronomical leap in price. This principle recently came into play at Tanzore, an upscale Indian restaurant on La Cienega's Restaurant Row.
Inside, Tanzore looks exactly the way you'd think an establishment serving "Indian Modern" cuisine would look - sleek, with rich colors and fabrics, plush seating, and elegant wood paneling - the decor evokes a more lounge-y feeling than that of a dining establishment. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, as long as you understand that the atmosphere will be an element in your final bill.
We started out with the beautifully plated chatpate aloo and samosa plate, which featured masala potatoes, as well as spinach-asparagus and potato-green pea samosas. Each element of this deliberately composed plate was competently executed. The cylinder of potatoes had a surprising (and not unpleasant) sweetness, and the crust on the samosas was flaky and not too heavy. However, nothing on the plate was particularly exciting on the palate.
We also ordered the paneer pudina tikka, wedges of the ubiquitous Indian cheese marinated in yogurt and ground spices, flavored with mint and chargrilled. The appetizer was a very nice surprise - really lovely, subtle flavors married together in a simple dish. The extra flavor and texture the chargrilling gave the cheese was especially appreciated.
And here's where the value analysis comes into play. We really wanted garlic naan, which is one of our favorite items in Indian cuisine, but were perplexed to see a $6 charge for something that is usually provided gratis (or at least, much cheaper) at your typical Indian restaurant. It was good, flaky with a very subtle hint of garlic flavor, but I didn't really feel like it was $6 good.
For our entrees, Mark and I ordered the chicken tikka makhani (charbroiled chicken in buttery tomato sauce) and the lamb vindaloo (morsels of meat and potatoes cooked in malt vinegar, chills, and other ground spices). Both were very good, if not balls-out great - while we both would have preferred a lot more heat in the vindaloo (I ordered it as spicy as you can make it), both the lamb and chicken dishes sported juicy morsels of meat and pleasing flavors. However, for $16 (chicken) and $18 (lamb) entrees, the portion sizes were really just so small, especially given that we were charged an extra $5 for rice. I'll say that again, $5 dollars for white rice.
We ended the meal by splitting the cardamom chocolate cake, made with warm Valrhona extra bitter sweet chocolate and topped with a blood orange reduction, a balsamic reduction sauce, a blackberry, strawberries and a fromage blanc (creamy soft cheese similar to cream cheese) ice cream (below). The plating was stunning, and the taste? Pretty good. The fromage blanc ice cream was elegant in its simplicity, and the chocolate cake was very moist, if not particularly cardamom-y. The blood orange flavor was maybe a little too assertive, but that didn't stop us from polishing off the plate.
With all the Indian restaurants in LA, I'm not sure we'll get back to Tanzore anytime in the future. Don't get me wrong - all of the food was nicely executed, the service was faultless and the decor was very elegant. But the price point...even with a $50 Groupon, our meal came out to about $80 (with tax and tip), and we each only ordered one glass of wine. If you are looking to eat solid and beautiful-looking Indian food in a swanky atmosphere, Tanzore is just the place for you. Just know that there are dozens of places in LA to score comparable if not better Indian eats for a literal fraction of the price.