Aditi was a surprise opening for us. Garçon, the long-time and beloved French bistro on the corner of Valencia and 22nd streets, had closed down – ostensibly temporarily – for earthquake retrofitting. I had spoken to erstwhile chef/bartender Jerome Rivoire just a couple of weeks before they closed, and he hinted that he might not be back after the retrofitting, but not that the restaurant would be closing.
I must admit, I was therefore crushed to see Aditi’s grand opening signage this past July. I love Indian food as much as the next person, but we now have nine or 10 Indian restaurants in the Mission (although we recently lost Dosa, too!) Do we need that many? For me, what we need is a stand-out Indian restaurant.
Aditi Indian Cuisine opened on August 3, and did little to no redecorating that I could see. That it’s a family-run restaurant is assuaging, so although we were still licking our Garçon-abandonment wounds, we decided to try it.
On our first visit, we went for all small bites and a dosa. We debated between the three chicken starters, all fried: Chicken 65, Chicken 555, and Chicken Imperial. Our server had a difficult time explaining the difference between the three (“This one is also deep-fried but has a different flavor.”) but did offer that Chicken 65 was a favorite of many.
Chicken 65 is a south Indian dish that supposedly originated in a hotel kitchen in Chennai, and there are purportedly many variants, but the common denominator seems to be chilies. Basically, these were fried tenders, nicely spiced with a bit of a kick, perfumey, crispy, and juicy. It’s the kind of thing I’d love to pick up after work and run home with for dinner, or as a late-night snack with cocktails.
Next we split the egg bajji, another dish that was new to me.
Unfortunately, we had less luck with this. Hard-boiled eggs were covered in a rice flour batter and then fried. We found it bland and uncompelling, despite the bowls of coconut chutney and ketchup for dipping that came on the side. The coconut chutney itself, however, was delicious.
Next, we went for something that clearly had “let’s-get-the-gringos” written all over it: masala fries:
The redeeming factors here are that a) they’re fries; and b) they were dusted with a masala seasoning, as opposed to being glopped on with a masala sauce. So, good flavor, good crunch. We ate them up.
Finally on this visit, we had a dosa:
Our server recommended the masala dosa, saying it was the best one. Potato filled, it was tasty, but not exceptional. And to be fair, by the time it got to our table we were pretty full, so most of it came home with us.
I had a very decent sparkling malbec with dinner, which our server let me sample beforehand. Served frosty cold, it was very refreshing on a warm evening. The service was friendly and attentive, and we were looking forward to our next visit.
We started our second meal with keema balls:
Keema refers to ground meat, and in this case it was lamb. The BF picked it, to my surprise, as he’s not a lamb lover. They came with a tomatoey/oyster-sauce kind of sauce and were delightful orbs of scrumptiousness. The outsides were crispy/crunchy – almost falafel-like – and the insides tender and meaty.
Next, we tried the samosas.
In my apparently limited experience, I’ve only ever had samosas that were stuffed with spiced potatoes, peas and onions. On offer at Aditi are samosas made with chicken or with spinach and cheese. We opted for the spinach and cheese. Light, crispy, airy, they’re my new favorite samosa. Think a lighter version of empanadas. Wonderful and served with tamarind and mint chutneys.
Our first shared entrée was a pistachio vegetable korma:
Oh my! I’ve had korma before, but not like this. The pistachios lent a sweetness to the dish, which was replete with potatoes, green beans, and cauliflower and came with buttery basmati rice. Another winner. You can order this in mild or medium, and we opted for medium, which turned out to be white people medium. I’d like the option for spicier, and perhaps if we’d asked … next time.
Finally, we split a biryani.
This really looked like no other biryani I’d ever had. My experience with biryani is a mixture of rice and meat, with the rice having been already cooked with the meat, or perhaps blended with the meat, so that when it is served, it is already soaked in the meat’s juices, and tends to be a bit oily. They’ve also had a lot more saffron – which, don’t get me wrong, I love. Here, the meaty lamb chunks were a layer in the middle of the rice, to be stirred in at the table, so that you were able to taste both the rice and the meat separately. The dish came with a side of a spiced sauce, redolent of cardamom, and raita to cool things down.
Once again, the BF ate lamb, and loved it. This was his favorite dish of the night, and while I couldn’t pick a favorite, it was fantastic. Part of it was that their rice is so perfectly cooked, each grain so separate and fragrant. But even their sauces are stand-outs. I was beyond full and could barely stop myself from shoveling it down. We did end up with leftovers to bring home, as the portions at Aditi are generous.
The wine and beer list is modest but there are good finds, and I had a perfectly dry French Bordeaux with dinner tonight, and the BF had a Taj lager.
Aditi for me qualifies as a stand-out amongst all the other contenders in the Mission and I hope the neighborhood welcomes and embraces this newest of family-owned Indian restaurants.
Aditi Indian Cuisine (Facebook page)
1101 Valencia St. (corner of 22nd)
San Francisco, CA 94110