½ restaurant, ½ grocery store. Or ½ god, ½ man? Or ½ restaurant, ½ god? Huh? Anyway, we were soon to find out the true nature of Bhanu’s Indian Grocery and Cuisine (BIGC), while seated at an unassuming table in the back of an unassuming grocery store, in an unassuming strip mall, in unassuming San Gabriel, California. Framed posters adorned the walls. Music blared from a TV high above the register, ranging from SOOPER HITS to SOLID HITS to B4U (“Bollywood for you,” of course). Not sure what to expect, we observed, relaxed, and discussed such socio-political topics as the ABCD, or “American-born confused desi.” Fascinating.
Chat’s first reaction upon setting foot into this apparent Socal Indian Mecca of a restaurant-cum-grocery-store was to scan the area for feminine products, recalling his and Yogi’s experience at Berkeley’s K.P. Deli (+ grocery store + Mexican food + freezer-burned ice cream), where they dined in the shadow of Tampax. Luckily this establishment was bisected along the long axis of the store, resulting in a much more benign shadow of Indian shampoo.
The food arrived quickly, and the fun began. We started with the pakora, which was nice and crunchy; an order of raita, with fresh, crunchy cucumbers; and veggie samosas, with smooth, creamy interiors. The veggie combo was also impressive, with veggies that we perfectly al dente—uncommon among even the best Indian establishments we’ve reviewed—as well as coccinia grandis, or ivy gourd. Apparently Bhanu thought it fitting to resort to the Latin nomenclature, in light of the myriad names attributed to said gourd; according to Wikipedia, “Coccinia grandis, the ivy gourd, also known as baby watermelon, little gourd, gentleman’s toes, tindora in Hindi, tondli in Marathi, dondekayi in Kannada, dondakaya in Telugu, Kovaykka in Malayalam and Kovaikkai in Tamil or sometimes inaccurately identified as gherkin, is a tropical vine.” Wow.
The mains truly shone brightly, with several cooked to absolute perfection, including the exquisitely tender fish coconut curry, the buttery butter chicken, and the flavorful lamb curry. And perhaps even more glorious were the dosas, which all had perfectly uniform crêpe cookitude, and the chicken vindaloo, which was intensely spicy—a comment from Dan, a hearty New Mexico native used to chowing down on the most extreme of Hatch green chiles.
Of course, not everything lived up to the extremely high standards set by the rest of the meal—the mango lassi wasn’t quite sweet enough, although it was still pleasantly viscous. The Daal makhani was acceptable, with decent potato cookitude. And the gajar (carrot) halwa was sweet, but alas, was not as incredible as the (admittedly non-carrot-based) sheera that we had during our final Berkeley meal at the Hare Krishna Temple. But even so, all of these items were very good. And everything else was exquisite, warranting a five-samosa (▲▲▲▲▲) at rock-bottom prices, achieving the highest possible (quantized) samosa-to-rupee ratio of 5. Overall, the experience bordered on religious, fitting for an establishment named “Bhanu,” or “sun,” where there are truly no shadows—Tampax, shampoo, or otherwise—and only wonder, light, and searing spice.
Thanks to Swarnima, Shriharsh, Dan, and the rest of the Road Review crew from Pasadena, Calif.!