Vada pav. You know you want it. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Desi Jacks. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The Bollywood Baller (with the Holy Cow in the background). Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Tomato shorba (strong like Zorba). Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The toybox eggplant curry plate (no eggplant mush here). Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The playful décor includes a delivery bike with tiffins, and the charming monkey wallpaper. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
A riot of color. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
One of the best things I have ever eaten in my life is the vada pav I had on my trip to Mumbai a few years ago. It’s a vegetarian slider of sorts, with a crisp-and-creamy-and-crazy-seasoned potato patty tucked into a pillowy bun with a sticky-sweet top, with brick-red “gunpowder” on the side for you to add at your own risk. It was the perfect bite, all hot and buttery and spicy and starchy. That taste imprinted itself on my brain and is why there is vada pav on the menu at Dosa on Fillmore—I came home from India and asked co-owner Anjan Mitra, a native of Bombay (as he’d call it), why the hell wasn’t one of the best dishes in that beautiful city on his menu? Fortunately he agreed with me.
So it should come as no surprise that the first things I went for on chef-owner Preeti Mistry’s menu at ~JUHU BEACH CLUB~ in Temescal are her flavor-packed pavs (be-tee-dub, pav actually sounds like “pauu,” with the softest hint of a “v” at the end—it’s a tricky sound). You’ll want to go for a trio for $13 (or $5 each—there are five in all). I hope your dining partner likes to share—my pals and I cut them up for maximum menu exploration. Her pavs are top of the line: Starter Bakery makes these Parker House-esque rolls for her, and they hold up well.
The vada pav comes with ghost pepper chutney on the oh-so-creamy potato patty with a lightly crisp exterior—and those two lightning bolts next to its name on the menu should be your cue that this is a hot one, yo. ZAP. A hands-down favorite is the Holy Cow, which features Niman Ranch short ribs (I know, beef in an Indian establishment!) that are braised for five hours, so tender and juicy; the short ribs are funked up with the flavor of smoky black cardamom (the pods are smoked on coals) and a complex (and peppery) spice mix.
The Bollywood Baller lives up to its cheeky name, a chaat masala-spiked lamb meatball with some flash: a ginger-tomato sauce and mint raita. So good. Get it! And the Sloppy Lil’P is a take on pav bhaji, a famous (and messy) street dish you can get on Juhu Beach in Mumbai (imagine a buttery sloppy joe made with a medley of saucy vegetables, like cauliflower, potato, peas, carrot, and onion). The pavs all come with their own sauces and slaws for extra oomph. At lunch, you can get any of the pavs in a larger size as a deluxe baller for $9, plus there’s a pulled pork pav in a vindaloo-BBQ sauce, and egg salad. (I wanna come back for those.)
As you may have guessed by the names, Mistry is having some fun. A lot, actually. Juhu Beach Club is far from a classic Western Indian establishment. Heck, Mistry’s menu not only includes inspiration from a few family recipes (from Gujarat, the state that is just north of Maharashtra and Mumbai) but also from the seasons, and reflects her creative mind and her status as a NorCal card-carrying chef (she was a contestant on Top Chef, in case her name or face look familiar). She uses sustainable and many organic ingredients, and does all her own spice mixes and pickles and more. She is doing her own thang here, that’s for damn sure.
This is a place for people who like flavor. If spice, heat, cumin, curry, and turmeric are not in your playlist, you’re going to have a smaller sandbox to play in here.
While mulling over the menu, graze on the Desi Jacks ($4), a popcorn, peanut, and pistachio mix that is like Cracker Jacks that vacationed in India. A strong start is the sev puri ($6)—instead of little puri globes, you get a flat puri cracker (almost like a tostada) slathered with a guacamole-like swath of mashed, fresh green garbanzos, and loaded with crisp sev noodles, cilantro and tamarind chutneys, seasoned Straus yogurt, pickled onion, and Mistry’s fun twist, nectarine relish. Another seasonal dish you should order right now are the zucchini fritters ($7) with a golden semolina exterior, amped with ginger and green chile (watch for the double lightning on this one!), and accompanied with tomato and coconut chutneys.
Fried (and feisty) padrón peppers ($6) are dusted with ingenious whispers of curry leaves and chaat masala; saucy vindaloo chicken wings ($8) come with a tangy note of vinegar (paired with a Point Reyes blue cheese raita). If you’re going to go for the Bombay sandwich ($7)—a grilled cheese sandwich on fluffy pullman bread (also from Starter Bakery) stuffed with sweet slices of roasted golden beets, melty jack cheese, potato, pickled red onion, cilantro chutney, and chaat masala—you kind of have to order the tomato shorba ($5) too. This tomato soup is chunky, thick, and not shy on heat, with the deeper notes of clove, plus curry leaves, cumin, ginger, and black pepper all combining to give you a tomato soup with loads of personality. Again, ZAP.
Vegetarians will also be stoked to replace the usual dal order with Mom’s Guju Chili ($5), a creamy soup of mung beans, and I want the bhel puri salad ($7) on the next scorcher day, with its refreshing and textured mix of cherry tomatoes, two kinds of cucumber, fresh green garbanzos, the crunch of puffed rice, and the sour tang of tamarind chutney. There’s also a seasonal side right now of corn, romano beans, gypsy peppers, and lime-and-chili butter ($6) that is the picture of summer.
There are four different curry and lemon rice plates: I’d be hard-torn to choose between the chicken leg ($14) marinated for 24 hours in fresh turmeric (it’s so juicy, and I do love me some dark meat) and the coriander shrimp ($15), with a pop from fresh curry leaves in a light tomato sauce loaded with peas. I also enjoyed the texture of the toybox eggplant ($13), tossed with garam masala and then roasted and coated with a tasty sauce (onion, gingers, garlic, chile, coriander, and cumin)—Mistry says the flavorful sauce is very Gujarati-influenced. All the curries come with her awesome apple pickle (with a mustardy punch), raita, and kachumber relish, a crunchy seasonal medley of celery, fennel, radish, carrot, and more. Get them on your plate and in the mix.
When I was in India, I drank salty lassis every day. Most places here only serve sweet mango lassis, but let me tell you, salty is where it’s at, especially with spicy food. Mistry has a sweet and salty version (the Sassy Lassi), with the prized Alphonso mango, plus cumin and lime ($4). I also dug the nimbu pani ($4), a lemonade with cilantro, cumin, and black salt. The next time I am hungover, I am convinced this would fix it. You can also order some Indian bevvies (Thums Up cola, Taj Mahal beer) or local beers on tap—although they clock in at $6-$7 (about a buck more than I’d like to see). Wine on tap (four kinds) run $9-$11 for the glass—or go for the carafe (the food-friendly rosé from Cultivar Vineyards is $24).
Do you even have any room? Wow, impressive. There’s some soft-serve ice cream ($4) with toppings (75 cents each) like chai-spiced candied pecans, or the classic anise and fennel candy sprinkles, which exactly match the colors of the restaurant. Juhu is in a funky mini mall at Telegraph and 51st and 52nd streets, but as soon as you walk in, you get a major hit of Indian color, like hot pink, orange, and yellow, and the fun monkey wallpaper is fantastic. The music is always cranked, with Princess Superstar, Missy Elliott, and MGMT keeping the vibe youthful and lively. (I also spotted parents with kids—there’s a kids’ menu, with no lightning bolts.)
Mistry watches over the room from the open kitchen, and her servers are friendly and foxy ladies who want to make sure you’re enjoying your meal and clearing your plate. Speaking of, I love the plates here—they look like picnic plates (ditto the clear cups that look like classic Solos), but they’re actually reusable. So fun, and clever. Like Mistry’s food.