Bollywood Indian Restaurant
500 E. Main Street, Ventura

Though Cafe Bariloche is gone, the South American restaurant in downtown Ventura, there is now reason to celebrate with the opening of Bollywood Indian Restaurant in the same location. Named for the informal term used for Hindi cinema, Bollywood is the fourth location of the family-owned series of restaurants (one in Westlake and two in Studio City).

We stopped in for dinner on a recent Friday night and found that not much has changed in the interior of the restaurant. Though the small countertop area has been altered a bit, the walls are still dark, offering a soothing backdrop to any meal. Indian artwork adorns the walls and Indian music beats softly in the background. The atmosphere offers a balance of upscale and laid-back.

The menu at Bollywood offers a standard array of Indian fare — dishes from the tandoori oven, curries, vindaloos and a long list of vegetarian dishes. Wanting to break away from our traditional orders of chicken saag and lamb korma, we were tempted by the mixed tandoori dinner for two. Not only did it offer great value, but also a tempting variety of meats. Plus, it came with two appetizers, a vegetable dish, bread, rice and dessert for $39.95. To us, it seemed a great way to try some new dishes without breaking the bank.

Our meal started with a plate of papadum, delicate Indian flatbreads that we snapped into pieces and topped with spoonfuls of sauce. The trio of sauces on the table included a vibrant green mint chutney, a thicker red sauce reminiscent of barbecue sauce, and a pungent onion relish.

Shortly after, the parade of food began, starting with the vegetable samosas and the onion pakora. The golden-brown samosas are filled with a dense mix of potatoes, onions and peas, offering just an air of spice, perfect for reserving the palate for the rest of the meal. The onion pakora are knotted fritters of thinly sliced onion with hints of nutty and sweet flavor tucked in. While they erred on the side of dry, we appreciated that they weren’t too oily and loved what the red sauce did to the dish.

Next arrived all of our meats from the tandoori oven, piled deep on an oval platter like Christmas on a plate for protein lovers. The tandoori chicken, marinated in yogurt and seasoned with tandoori masala and turmeric, is a vibrant orange color muted by a bit of char from the oven. The meat, served on the bone, was tender and smoky, a contrast to the chicken tikka, chunks of boneless chicken breast similar in color but with stronger hints of lemon flavor.

The lamb tikka is succulent, earthy cubes of lamb rubbed with a lush green herb mixture that sings of mint and cilantro. While all the items on the platter were superb, it was the seekh kebab that left us stunned with its juiciness and flavor. Finely minced lamb is shaped onto a skewer, producing a lush meat flecked with fresh herbs that literally melts in the mouth.

Since our server had mentioned that one of Bollywood’s specialties is its masala dishes, for our vegetable dish we chose the mixed vegetable masala, a mixture of veggies in a sweet tomato cream sauce. Whether we spooned it over the steaming basmati rice or tucked it into folds of pillowy naan bread, we couldn’t get enough of the soothing stew.

Though our bellies were full and our leftovers packed into a tower of takeout containers, we couldn’t resist sampling some of the desserts included with our dinner. We opted for the traditional Indian dessert gulab jamun (a ball of fried dough in a dish of syrup) and the pistachio ice cream, the latter receiving mixed reviews at our table. While I found the texture and flavor off-putting, my dining companion embraced it.

The beer and wine lists at Bollywood offer a good selection of beverages at reasonable prices. Beers range from $3 to $6, glasses of wine $6 to $8; and bottles from $18 to $29. Nonalcoholic beverage options include Indian tea, mango lassi and a selection of sodas.

The servers at Bollywood are attentive and prompt, scraping crumbs off the tablecloth between courses and topping off water glasses regularly. With each aspect of our order, we were asked how spicy we like our food; and manager Mohammad Hakim checked in with us regularly throughout our meal.

Though still very much a new restaurant, Bollywood already has its food and service dialed. Venturans will surely embrace the succulent dishes, the good value, the friendly prompt service and the tranquil vibe of Bollywood.   

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