Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Royal Khyber

DISCLAIMER: Tonight's post is sloppier than usual. I'm exhausted! A post without pictures is half-assed, so I'll make this brief. I'll make a real post on Royal Khyber in a month or two.

Ever since attending a friend's high school graduation party way back in 2004, I've been a huge fan of Indian and Pakistani cuisine. For many of the guests of that party was memorable because of the hip DJ, dancing, gorgeous high school graduates, and plentiful food & drink. I, on the other hand, remember the party solely because the catered food exposed me to new tastes and smells. Dancing with high school sprites wrapped in tube tops is good wholesome fun, but the food kept me occupied throughout the night.

Never have I let an opportunity to eat Indian food slip by. Recently while shopping and making myself available to the young pretty things at South Coast Plaza, I decided to drop by Royal Khyber for a quick lunch. Mind you, I had breakfast at 8am and it was 12:30pm by the time I made it to the restaurant. Friends familiar with my eating habits know I am a stickler to my 5-to-6-meals-per-day program, a necessity for body builders. I lugged my camera bag into the restaurant but failed to take any pictures of food because I was too gad-dang hungry to remember I had a camera with me.

Royal Khyber's contemporary dining room is luxurious and relaxing. During lunch hours, the main source of lighting is sunlight filtered through tinted windows on the eastern side of the restaurant. This light is very cool (photography term for "has a blue tinge"), but small halogen lights accent each table for warmth. Indian style artwork adorn the walls, capturing scenes of a rustic life in the Indian countryside. With soft Indian music flowing from hidden speakers, the peaceful and romantic ambience is maintained by customers never speaking above a volume reserved for libraries and museums.

All too familiar with the menu, I wasted no time ordering the Lamb Tikka Masala, Chicken Basil Coconut Curry, and for dessert: Kulfi & Gulab Jamun. Hot Naan was complimentary and generously given.

Tikka Masala, a relatively new dish in Indian cuisine, is prepared very well at Royal Khyber. Though not considered authentic, it still utilizes staple Indian ingredients. I ordered it simply because of my love for coconut milk. The orange gravy was very aromatic with the presence of all those herbs, but just as importantly, coconut milk helped to achieve its distinct sweetness. The lamb was very tender and I was able to easily cut the huge pieces into bite-size morsels with a fork. Basil curry lived up to my expectations, satisfying this month's craving for its spices.

Each entree was served with a mildly entertaining salad of bitter greens drizzled with a dressing heavily laced with Indian herbs, which was in my opinion a little too much. Rice also accompanied each plate, but I found dipping naan into the sauces to be more appetizing (and fun). Royal Khyber's naan is skillfully made and not overly fluffy.

I really lack the vocabulary to describe Indian food. No, that doesn't sound quite right. Correction: I really lack the vocabulary to poetically/vividly describe emotions and sensory perceptions. Yep, I am a science major about to get a Bachelor's Degree in Human Biology. Whatever. Moving on to dessert.

Kulfi is essentially "Indian ice cream", and Royal Khyber serves it with crushed pistachios. "Indian ice cream" is what my server called it, but I think that is a stretch. "Frozen cream" might be more suitable because it does not have the malleable property of ice cream. (Yes, I just used a term reserved for describing metals of the Periodic Table to describe ice cream.) Interestingly, Kulfi has a rich creamy taste reminescent of Chinese caramel. Served as two small blocks, I made short work of this dessert.

Gulab Jamun, my favorite of the two, is a popular Northern Indian/Pakistani dessert. These lightly fried balls of dough were brushed with honey and caused my tongue to cramp due to the intense flavor of the dough(lots of milk/cream) and the honey it soaked up. Heavy stuff, but coffee tamed this beast.

Though a bit overpriced and not completely authentic (according to my Indi/Paky pals), Royal Khyber is still a noteworthy restaurant for Indian food because of its beautiful dining room, skillful creations, and fresh ingredients. It's true one could drop by a more casual and authentic Indian restaurant, but the ambiance in Royal Khyber is too much for me to pass up. I'll stay here for a relaxing lunch in plush seats, thanks.

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