In India there is a city named New Delhi, a bustling metropolis with modern buildings, wide boulevards and lots of traffic congestion. There is also one named Old Delhi, with ancient buildings, narrow streets and lots of traffic congestion.
Old Bombay and New Bombay are the same city, but the "new" was assigned 10 years ago. The name "Bombay" is derived from the Portugese "bom baia," meaning good harbor. The name of the city was changed officially to the Hindu word "Mumbai" after a Hindu goddess that is the incarnation of the "devi," the mother goddess.
San Diego also has its version of "old" Bombay and "new" Bombay. I'm referring to Bombay, the restaurant, located in Hillcrest. The restaurant moved into a new location, across the street from the original.
Rakesh Popat and his family of entrepreneurs own Bombay Restaurant. They have created a culinary empire in our city through hard and clever work, also opening Monsoon and Blue Ginger on Fourth Avenue and Masala on Fifth Avenue, all in the Gaslamp. They are creative in the menus they establish. Each Indian restaurant has its own appeal, in design and cuisine, and Blue Ginger offers upscale Chinese cuisine.
Bombay Restaurant's original location was too small to accommodate the demand. The location was great but there was no room to expand. Seizing the opportunity of a large vacancy across the street, Popat decided to move. In only a few months, the new location was ready for business.
Popat and his designers did a fabulous job creating unique décor and Indian ambiance. The front of the restaurant is very open and airy, and a patio is positioned off the sidewalk, casting a delicate glow on diners.
A curtain of falling water separates the patio from the interiors. The ceilings are very high, with delicate chandeliers hanging down to create a comfortable ambiance. Booths run along a far wall and tables surrounded by leather-backed chairs occupy the center. The bar runs along the other far wall, with columns and arches that resurrect memories of far-away Indian castles and temples.
A long, narrow passageway leads from the front restaurant to the back where private rooms can handle small- and medium-size private parties. The passageway has blue recessed lighting and paintings on the ceiling that reminded me of the Taj Mahal, a blue pool that leads to beauty. The back rooms are decorated with Indian paintings, include large comfortable tables for conferences and even feature a pull-down film screen for computer projections.
The new location had been opened for only a few days but it was already crowded with happy diners. Popat brought the executive chef from Monsoon to serve here. The original menus favorites are still served, together with new dishes from recipes developed for the current location.
The flavors of the food were as exotic as the setting. There was a long list of appetizers with tempting choices to whet my appetite. I selected the Lamb Samosa, with spicy ground lamb wrapped in a delightful puff-pastry dough, accompanied by two sauces. One was hot, hot, hot and the other was a cool yogurt-based sauce.
Made of special clay from north India, the Tandoor oven burns mesquite, which lends a subtle aroma to the delicately spiced food. Meats, fish and fowl are skewered and plunged into the 1,000-plus degree heat. The searing heat traps the spices and natural juices within the food. The food comes out cooked on the outside and moist on the inside, retaining the spices and its natural taste. In addition, breads (naan) are also baked quickly by slapping the dough against the sides of the oven, resulting in a small, round, leavened bread that is sometimes stuffed with lamb or other ingredients.
I usually order Garlic Naan; this time, however, I followed the recommendation to try the Sesame Naan, which was amazingly good. The sesame seeds gave the bread a flavorful nutty taste.
The order of Tandoori Chicken is a half chicken, with deep red skin and a moist center. I always have to sample this delicate dish when I dine at Bombay.
There is a full-page listing of curry dishes, each of which can be combined with chicken, lamb, fish or shrimp. Tikka Masala, a signature dish, is a blend of spices and garlic. Madras is a curry of southern India, made with mild spices, garlic, onions and cherry tomato. Kebab Curry, my personal favorite, was a spicy dish that included large chunks of minced lamb.
A full page of vegetarian dishes -- which includes Mixed Vegetable Korma, garden veggies, almonds, raisins and spices in a creamy saffron sauce -- makes the restaurant a haven for vegetarians. Several "aloo" dishes feature potato in a variety of sauces. Malai Kofta offers vegetarian meatballs simmered in a curry made of cinnamon, nutmeg, spices and cream.
The new Bombay is a wonderful improvement, with fabulous dishes and a dramatic, exotic ambiance. Plus, prices are exceptionally reasonable.
The restaurant is located at 3960 Fifth Ave. in Hillcrest. Call (619) 298-3155 for reservations and information.
So, what will happen to the old location across the street? Popat is about to open a Mexican restaurant -- Casa De Madera -- with a classic Mexican menu.
Rottenberg is editor of Dining San Diego Magazine and member of the California Restaurant Writers Association. Send comments to the email@example.com. All letters are forwarded to the author and may be used as Letters to the Editor.