Orange County, California is often overlooked as a destination since it’s stuck between Los Angeles and San Diego. It has beautiful beaches, sure (lots of fine surfing in Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach is beautiful) – but inland is a suburban desert made famous only by Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures in San Dimas. Even in a place where nearly all the homes are laid out in well-ordered tracts circa 1980, where the horizon fades to brown in summer smog, and where nearly everyone drives an SUV or a Hybrid (and nothing in-between), you can find surprises.
The secret of Orange County is that just about everyone lives here. We’ve got a Taiwanese/Chinese enclave in Rowland Heights (with fabulous tea shops and dim sum), Little India in Artesia (blocks of sari shops, Indian grocery stores and restaurants), and the best Pho you can find outside of Vietnam in Westminster. Gastronomically speaking, the coast is boring by comparison! And don’t even get me started on 99 Ranch Market. It’s like Costco for Pan-Asian ingredients and some cooking schools even offer classes in how to navigate its mysterious aisles.
As much as I love these tucked-away hole-in-the-wall establishments – and I do – my new favorite OC restaurant is posh. And coastal. It’s in Newport Beach in fact, one of the ritzier areas in which even parking near sand costs you $15 bucks, and it’s called Tamarind of London. Yes, there’s another Tamarind in London, which has 12 years of Michelin stars and is Chef Gordon Ramsey’s favorite Indian restaurant.
Tamarind of London (in Newport Beach) is the exported version, and it doesn’t disappoint. Not one of the North-West Indian dishes is over-seasoned (yes, Indian food can be over-seasoned and definitely over-salted), and the spice combinations are the perfect blend of sweet, hot, and savory. As an Indian food veteran of many curries, there’s just naan to compare with Tamarind (sorry, had to go with the pun!). Which is why my husband is taking me there for Valentine’s Day tomorrow. <3
Best part? The London chef of Tamarind shares his recipes in cooking videos scattered around the web. Here’s his recipe for Kadhai Paneer.