Viva Goa

A plethora of vindaloos distinguishes this intriguing Indian spot on Lombard

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Mussels tikka at Viva Goa
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY RORY MCNAMARA

DINE In a nondescript space on Lombard Street — itself one of the more nondescript of the city's thoroughfares, a faded remnant of 1950s automotive delirium — a succession of south Asian restaurants has come and gone over the past decade or so. The latest arrival is Viva Goa, which opened late last summer and, as the name reveals, features the cooking of Goa, a region on India's west coast south of Mumbai where once there was a colony of Portuguese.

The best-known contribution of Goa to the world's experience of Indian food is almost certainly vindaloo, a spicy sauce of garlic, chilis, and vinegar — vinegar being derived from wine and wine pointing in the direction of the Portuguese. The Portuguese also, according to actress and cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey, "introduced chiles to India" — having brought them from their New World colonies — "in the late 15th century. Indians, already familiar with their own black pepper, took to them with a passion." Jaffrey's recent book, At Home with Madhur Jaffrey (Knopf, $35, 320 pages) is a trove of straightforward recipes, many of them Goan, that rely on a few readily available ingredients to produce stunning results. If you have space on your shelves for only one Indian cookbook, let it be this one.

Viva Goa offers vindaloo in a number of guises, along with dishes that tend to turn up in Indian restaurants of every stripe, including saag paneer ($8.99), ground spinach mixed with spices and cooked with cubes of fresh white cheese. Due to a circumstance beyond my control, this old standby seems to get ordered every time I find myself in an Indian restaurant, and, despite the utter predictability of the pattern, it never disappoints — and didn't here.

Viva Goa's vindaloos are made with ginger, garlic, potatoes, cardamom, fenugreek, cinnamon, black peppercorns, chilies, and vinegar, along with some form of flesh — beef, pork, lamb, chicken, shrimp — or no flesh. Lamb ($10.99) was fine, though the distinctive gaminess of the meat vanished in the fragrant blaze of the sauce. The sauce had a reddish thickness I would have guessed was the result of stewed or reduced tomatoes, but the menu made no mention of tomatoes. So perhaps this effect was achieved through some combination of the vinegar, chilies, and potato.

Although most of the Goan recipes in Madhur Jaffrey's book are rich in chili peppers, black peppercorns, cayenne, turmeric, and ginger, the evidence flowing from Viva Goa's kitchen suggests that Goan cuisine has a mild-mannered side too. A nice example would be the vegetable caldin ($8.99), with bits of broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, and zucchini stewed in coconut milk with coriander, turmeric, garlic, and cumin seeds. The coconut milk brought an element of buffering creaminess, and although the seasonings were formidable, it was as if someone had discreetly dimmed some harsh overhead lighting.

And at least one item from the menu is neither spicy nor mild: the chicken cafreal ($11.99), a half-bird slathered with a pesto-looking sauce of fresh cilantro and green chilies then simmered in a pot. No complaints about the meat, which was juicy and tender, but the coating did not quite convince. Because the bird wasn't cooked in the tandoor, the enveloping sauce neither reduced itself to a glaze nor firmed up into a crust or shell. Instead, it remained gloppy, like slowly melting spring snow. It wasn't quite as satisfying as tandoori chicken ($10.99), but, with its African heritage, it was different enough to justify a place on the menu.

Comments

Well shoot, I was going to say that they're easy to find at Bombay Bazaar on Valencia, but apparently this place was shut down last fall! I'm trying to find out what happened. Anyway, I think any Indian grocery store will have some, and they keep a long time in the fridge without going bad.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 03, 2011 @ 11:48 am

They are " very available " at the Indian Grocery on POLK nearer POST on the
west side betwn. POST n SUTTER across from I think METRO PCS ?
I think it's called INDIA BAZAAR - around the corner from MAHARANI's RESTAURANT ! It's much cleaner and smaller than BOMBAY BAZAAR used to be !!! Fresh lentils n Rice, variety of Mango/Lime Pickles and a good assortment of Indian cookies like "chocolate bourbon biscuits", Haldiram's Khara or savory
snack packs and a range of Indian Ayurvedic / Natural soaps, cosmetic needs,
toothpaste and CHAVANAPRASH !!!!!!!!!!!CK IY OUT FOLKS .....:-) !!

Posted by Guest Anwar Hussain on Feb. 07, 2011 @ 8:07 pm

'Vindaloo'? thats is not how it is pronounced in Portugal nor Goa (where it originated from ) and there is nothing indian in 'vinhdayo' lol - if you mean 'Vinhdayo' !!vinhdayo is a portuguese dish - it means - a pork meat dish prepared /marinated and cooked in portuguese spices which primarily has a strong red wine (Vinho) infused with garlic (ayos) Wine and garlic - hence the name VINHDAYO.

Posted by Guest Wanda on Mar. 02, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

Udupi Palace on Valencia at 21st Street has curry leaves in their food as well, there is no substitute and any effort at Indian cooking without them falls flat.

-marc

Posted by marcos on Mar. 02, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

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