Sunday, March 18, 2012

Naya Sunset / Lounge: A Whole New World, Parts 1-3 in Silverlake (CLOSED)

How did it take us this long to get to Naya?

I vaguely remembered reading about Naya, back in November when it opened. Within that haze was something about incredible, inspired interiors - some blurry impression of it being a cinematic, palatial space, accompanied by the assumed inaccessible prices.

So recently when a great friend, Subliminal Rabbit, offered to take me anywhere I'd like to go for a birthday dinner,  Naya came to mind again (she is vegetarian, so Indian is always a good choice as a SR-friendly cuisine that doesn't skimp on flavor!).  I was shocked when I finally took the time to look, that prices at Naya were not outrageous (and happily fine for our dinner excursion!)

As with movies, often I intentionally avoid detailed reviews beforehand in order to have a pure experience (plus, I love surprises).

With Naya - beyond press coverage of its launch, I didn't do any research other than a quick glance at the menu/prices. So it was that its location also took me by surprise - I don't know why I 'remembered' it being in Hollywood when really it's in Silverlake.  An unassuming stretch of Sunset Boulevard in Silverlake.

A pleasant surprise - it meant, hopefully, lower risk of being in company of d-bags and scenesters (hipsters though could be another story).

I got there uncharacteristically early, so set out to explore the grounds a bit.  From the moment I set foot inside, I felt like I was transported to another world, like I was stepping into a succession of what would be several very different movies.  The hostess stand was a barely lighted island surrounded by dramatic floor to soaring ceiling curtains, thick, lush and dark velvet panels that beckoned with a thrilling sense of (Eyes Wide Shut style, before all the sex) mystery.

Which path do I choose first?  Left or right?  Pulling back the curtain to the left revealed a cavernous lounge, dark with soaring ceilings criss-crossed by Moroccan-style arches with jagged ridges, enclosed by exposed brick walls. It was Gotham City meets Casablanca.  The space was breath-taking.  And then to find out I still had a few minutes left to catch Happy Hour (6-7:30pm daily)?  With super friendly bartenders? I was in love.
When Subliminal Rabbit arrived, we lingered at the lounge for a bit: I had a Spa in Goa cocktail - tequila, lime juice, agave nectar, jalapeno, cucumber - and Subliminal Rabbit had a red-colored drink that I can't remember the name of.  Both were fairly good, refreshing drinks - and they didn't skimp on the alcohol either - I felt it as soon as I stood up later.

Despite dinner reservations, we also had to try one of the bar bites to take advantage of HH pricing: we got the Goat Cheese Salad ($5) sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, red onions, mixed greens, fried goat cheese. An interesting presentation with skewered fried goat cheese balls over greens.  It wasn't mindblowing, but a fairly decent bar bite.

So on this visit, while drinks and food were not bad, in the lounge anyway it was more about enjoying the space.  But there are other items on the HH menu that sounded enticing - from Tandoor Drumsticks to lamb burgers, to naan pizzas.  Will have to come back and try.

For dinner, we could choose to eat in the more formal dining room, or the casual back patio, complete with luxe looking metallic upholstered stools and open fireplaces.
Since it was a little cold that night, we decided to see what's behind the other curtain (to the right).

The dining room was a complete 180 from the lounge - light, airy, serene, with flowing translucent floor to ceiling veils and softly glowing, seemingly floating blocks of light - paired with soothing ambient music, the space felt and sounded (and, with an aromatherapy-like fragrance, smelled) like some ethereal, soul-restoring spa in some remote island resort in Southeast Asia. Or some luxury liner asail in outer space (a la Serenity - if Inara's ship had been done in all whites & creams with punches of red).  
Candle holders at each table, with flecked designs casting a lovely starry-night like glow, like hearts of mini-galaxies in their own imperceptible orbits all over the dining room - were a nice finishing detail that added to the beautiful ambience.

With decor this amazing, there's got to be a catch - their food must be awful and a rip-off, right?  Happy to report that Naya (Hindi for 'new') deviates from the expected here as well (for most of the items we tried).

[Sorry for the dark fuzzy pics in this post  - the ambience was amazing but not point-and-shoot-friendly!  Someday I'm going to save up for photography class and better gear...] 

Our meal started with Indian chips & dips: a plate of papadum - wafer-thin, beautifully brittle seasoned cracker/ flatbread fried and sun-dried - with a trio of chutneys for dipping. All were delicious: we had to drag ourselves away from these, knowing there was still a meal to come!   

As appetizer, we got the Samosa Platter ($7) - you can choose 3 out of 4 varieties; we picked spinach and tofu, potato and peas, and feta with arugula and walnuts.  As far as I know, these aren't typical combos for samosa stuffing - but while we liked the innovation with ingredient combos, which were tasty, I did want the shape and preparation to take more from the traditional - the thin fried dough wrappers made them feel more like triangular spring roll patties, when what we love about samosas usually is the golden brown crisp but hefty 'shell' yielding to steaming hot, soft and flavorful bites inside.
We fared much better with the mains: Patagonia Chilean Sea Bass apricot curry, black rice ($26) - LOVED this.  I don't think I've seen this combination of ingredients in Indian cooking before. The fish was incredibly fresh, tender and juicy, its natural sweetness enhanced by smokey char from searing, and a surprisingly pleasing combo of subtle tartness and heat from the apricot curry. Served with a dramatic tower of black rice, and a delicate yet bold fuschia colored flower that I've never seen before for garnish - according to our server, this is a "Firesticks" flower.  Love the name.
Of course, an Indian meal would not be complete without baked flatbread - we got Garlic Naan ($4).  I wanted to love this, and perhaps had taken too long with picture-shooting, but by the time we got to this it was sort of cold, not very soft and fluffy, but more chewy and not much flavor.  It does not compare to the naan at Great India Cafe in Studio City - my fav so far from places within short driving distance (disclaimer: I have not made my way to Artesia yet) - which comes steaming hot, and super fluffy with fragrant dough flavors (even if it does take me a while to commit it to memory (card)).

For her main, Subliminal Rabbit got an off-menu item: Paneer Tikka Masala?! (price unknown) we loved this as well - lush, creamy tomato sauce over Indian cheese curded at just the right consistency.
For the sweet finish, we chose the most unusual looking item on the menu: Cardamom Infused Rice Pudding & ice cream ($6) you get to choose from a list of flavors, and we chose rose.  There was some confusion over what elements would be rose flavored - but turns out rose would be used in the fresh made syrup that they drizzle over the rice pudding, and the ice cream would be the chef's choice as to what would pair best with those flavors. In this case, pistachio, with a sprig of mint on top.  

We wanted to love this original sounding dessert as well - but while the cardamom and rose were nice additions to the rice pudding, the pistachio ice cream was...not creamy at all.  There were actual bits of ice in there - I forget which one of us joked at one point that it would make a nice shaved ice treat instead.

Despite the menu being hit or miss, the space was amazing - we really enjoyed our delicious chips & dips and mains, and they did not cost second mortgages on houses we don't have.
 
Skeptics may say, this doesn't look authentic, and still costs a lot compared to your favorite neighborhood hole in the wall spot. And they would be right - but I think there is room in LA for elevated ethnic cuisine, that takes inspiration from traditional dishes and takes them to the next level, both in terms of creativity and raising the bar with a fine dining experience.

In a way, it's like reverse discrimination/snobbery to automatically dismiss ethnic cuisine that is presented at a higher level based on concept and price alone.  If the quality is there, and they are doing something new (just like Shanghai No. 1 Seafood is doing with Chinese food) I say give them a shot.

And again, not every dish is going to be a hit - anytime a chef is willing to take a risk to try something new, there are going to be successes and things that miss the mark.  But I respect them for taking the risk at all - without risk, whether in food or other areas of life, there can be no worthwhile accomplishment.  I'm trying to learn that lesson for myself as well.  And we like what we saw at Naya - a solid start.

Looking forward to visiting again soon!

[Note: We were there early on a Friday night, and were able to enjoy a serene dining room - note that they also have a DJ weekly in the patio after dinner hours, and the place turns into a club - so expect a different crowd after that time.]

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 95% 
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Naya Sunset / Lounge
3705 West Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026
Ph: 323.663.826


Website: nayasunset.com
OpenTable: Look for reservations (and points!)


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Naya Sunset on Urbanspoon

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