Ajanta, Berkeley

by Stevie on May 21, 2012

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Yippie!  We've finally made it to Ajanta

Yippie! We've finally made it to Ajanta

Heguiberto and I’ve been talking about dining at Ajanta for ages! It had almost become one of those things that people refer to frequently yet always remain just over the horizon—you know what I mean: “I’ll start that diet next week” or “We really should go back to Rome someday soon.” So I was amazed if a bit shocked when he suddenly announced that we were to meet some of our fellow bloggers at this Indian restaurant apparently named “one of Alice Waters’ favorite places.”

Ajanta is a bit obscure from our insular vantage point in San Francisco. Berkeley is literally just across the Bay, yet somehow it can seem a million miles away. (Is L.A. closer, do you think?) I’m joking a bit here and want to rein it in before I cause more offense. Actually, we heard about Ajanta on another Berkeley excursion, to Viks Chaat Corner. That’s where Hegui found the incredible Ajanta cookbook. He’s made many wonderful recipes out of it, like flavorful Kashmiri eggplant, and ajwain samosas. You can probably already see where this is going. We had high expectations for Ajanta. Perhaps they were a bit too high.

evening fog blowing across the Bay into Berkeley

evening fog blowing across the Bay into Berkeley

section of the elephant mural

section of the elephant mural

gorgeous ceiling lights at Ajanta

gorgeous ceiling lights at Ajanta

Ayinger brau-weisse Bavarian hefe-weizen

Ayinger brau-weisse Bavarian hefe-weizen

That night our group was eight. That included the two of us, Fer and her husband, Maryanne and her husband (they’re spending a month in Singapore right now!) and Priscilla and a colleague of hers from her culinary school (They’re both about to graduate. Priscilla and her husband have already located a marvelous spot for her to open her own bakery back in Brazil. That’s a place that Hegui and I’d like to visit soon.) The company was a real pleasure. Everyone had interesting things to share and seemed genuinely excited to be together once again after our visit to Clos du Val.

But back to Ajanta. It’s in the Berkeley Hills a bit, so the area is lovely. We had an 8PM reservation on a Friday night. I was worried about traffic across the Bay Bridge but really it wasn’t too bad. The fog was just starting to blow across the water. Berkeley was colder than Potrero Hill, which we hadn’t expected. San Francisco has a reputation for the coldest weather in the area but perhaps it is unearned. We were ill prepared as we hadn’t even thought to bring jackets. Fortunately parking was easy. I got a spot right in front of the place.

The décor here is gorgeous, sort of “modern Indian.” There’s this massive wooden door out front. Inside the dining room looked sleek. There was a large painting of some sort of fantasy elephant scene that caught my eye. It ran across most of one long wall. The lamps hanging from the ceiling seemed like an inspired sculpture of lighting.

Tandoori scallops

Tandoori scallops

vegetarian pakora

vegetarian pakora

The place was packed. Perhaps that explains the generally lackluster service. It took forever for our beers to arrive. The group ended up ordering a variety of small plates, which we generally shared. The monthly special, Tandoori asparagus was a hit. We also tried the Tandoori scallops and Tandoori Portobello mushrooms. These were okay. Hegui ordered the vegetarian samosas, like the recipe he made from the Ajanta cookbook, but didn’t really enjoy them too well—something about the oil bothered him. The vegetarian pakoras were more successful.

special baby squash medley

special baby squash medley

richly colored and flavored Badal Jaam

richly colored and flavored Badal Jaam

One thing that’s interesting about Ajanta is that they have “monthly specials.” I don’t think that I’ve seen that at any other Indian restaurant. The veggie special was “baby squash medley,” essentially zucchini, summer squash and yellow squash with peas and paneer cheese in a mildly spicy tomato, garlic onion curry. I liked it. Hegui tried the Badal Jaam, which is the Kashmiri eggplant dish. Neither of us thought it was as good as the version he made at home. Perhaps it was the excess of pomegranate molasses?

yummy Ajanta naan

yummy Ajanta naan

So we had fun. The company was excellent. And Ajanta is good, but it didn’t blow our socks off. Undoubtedly had we never had food we prepared ourselves from their fabulous cookbook, we’d be singing their praises more—hello Alice Waters!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Fer Guimaraes Rosa May 21, 2012 at 9:59 am

Stevie & Hegui, that was such a happy evening, mostly because of the company. It’s always so nice to see you! I got distracted with chatting, as usual, and didn’t take any pictures. But you did a good job registering what we ate. I hope we can get together again soon. :-)
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Krista May 21, 2012 at 8:43 pm

How interesting that your version was even better than the original. :-) I do love the looks of that naan though. :-)
Krista recently posted..Hauling Wood, Stacking Hay and A Maple-Glazed Pork RoastMy Profile

Heguiberto May 21, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Fer we had great time too. Sonoma im July?

OysterCulture May 28, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Sounds like a great evening with the company of friends. I am now very intrigued with this cookbook. Usually its the cookbook that is found lacking by the restaurant. They seem to have it backwards.
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Magic of Spice June 6, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Sounds like a lovely evening even is the food was hit and miss. Odd that the cookbook outdid the establishment, perhaps a change in Chef?
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