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Chakra of Beverly Hills: Free-Wheeling Flavor for Big Spenders

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One of our deep-pocketed lawyer friends was in town this week, visiting from New York, where he actually manages to make payments on an apartment in the East Village - people are capable of that? How is that possible? Well, apparently it takes advanced degrees in mathematics and law, as well as a sixty-hour work week. We'll take our humble (but spacious!) apartment in North Hollywood anyday, thank you very much.

Anyway, that was kind of how it felt sitting down to dinner with him at Chakra - modern Indian food served in a sexy setting in a leafy, secluded neighborhood of Beverly Hills is really amazing and special, much like a $6,000/month Manhattan apartment, but we'd be perfectly happy with our tikka masala from the strip-mall place any day of the week. Which isn't to say that Chakra isn't worth the occasional - very occasional - trip. Chef Mel Oza has put a modern, French-influenced spin on classic Indian preparations like garam masala, rogan josh, and dals; you can also choose from an array of traditional dishes like lamb vindaloo and saag aloo.

The house specializes in cocktails called Chakratinis - they're cued to your particular chakric needs and are colored to fit each element, or some hippie bullshit like that. Whatever. We like beer. We ordered up some large bottles of Taj Mahal, which is quite refreshing with a spicy meal. We decided to splurge on a masala duck confit appetizer to start; moist shredded duck is layered on top of an uthapam crepe with sambhar chutney. The waiters brought out small squares of toasty, spicy naan and placed them on the dishes by our elbows. Maybe the beer was connected to our chakras as well, because we started feeling pretty enlightened and relaxed as we awaited our entrees.

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Although the specials looked promising, especially the garam masala roasted grouper and the king salmon in a coconut sauce, we decided to share three of the more traditional dishes family-style (although Chakra's food presentation isn't really set up in that way). The rice is a dream - light, coconut-scented, and creamy. The chicken tikka masala is tart but sweet, and moderately spiced. Honestly, though? The takeout from Gate of India in Hollywood could give that stuff a run for its money. Chakra doesn't seem to want to go overboard with the heat factor, which is actually a little disappointing. One of the most memorable dining experiences of our life is eating the extra-hot lamb vindaloo at Akbar in Santa Monica - we can honestly say that the heat sent us into a hallucinogenic state. It was awesome.

The best dish of the night by far was the halibut curry - the curry itself was light, fragrant, unctuous, and the halibut was firm to the fork but fell apart luxuriantly on the tongue. We ate small bites of it, with large portions of that coconut rice, in order to savor every tender bit of halibut. The seared duck breast with cherry-ajwain gastrique and an achaari mushroom puff was also excellent, although much closer to Paris than to Bombay, gastronomically speaking.

The restaurant was almost completely empty when our party arrived at 8pm on a Thursday - and it didn't get too much more full the rest of the night. One can only assume that the location - a mostly residential strip of Doheny - deters visits from weeknight crowds. The service was fairly good - probably because we were pretty much the only ones there, but our waitress was still accomodating, friendly, and helpful, although she stumbled a bit when we inquired further about the intricacies of the menu.

Chakra offers a "spontaneous" tasting menu for about $59-79 per person, and they have happy hours starting at around 4pm every day; you can get one of those Chakratinis for half-price (usually they're around $14) and indulge in some of their small plates, like scallops with avocado dahi and ajwaini peas, or paneer tikka with spiced red pepper coulis. The next time one of your fancy lawyer friends is in town and looking for a laid-back but impressive meal in a beautiful location, definitely give Chakra a shot. Just don't forget to let him pick up the check.

Chakra Indian Cuisine
151 S. Doheny Drive
Beverly Hills
(Online menu is different from restaurant's menu.)

Hours: Happy hour, Mon.-Fri., 4-7 p.m.; dinner daily, 5:30-10:30 p.m. Also open for lunch.

Photo by cmeathrell via flickr