I can’t say that I’ve ever seen an IPA at any Indian restaurant until tonight. The name aside, a nice fresh India Pale Ale works wonders with the cuisine; opening one’s palate, complimenting the creamy spiced food, and accentuating the heat. Vice versa, the food elevates the style by drawing some tropical-piney notes from the hops and some of the sweetness of the malt.
Behind the creaking door at Irvine’s Clay Oven Indian Cuisine, beer is winning. One of my predictions of 2014 was that local craft beer would soon start appearing in high end restaurants to compliment their line up of chef driven menus. Tonight? IPA’s, Belgian, German and local beers are being poured next to a custom menu.
The Clay Oven is hosting ‘Pub Night’, which consists of small plate Bombay-style street food paired with five beer distributor reps pouring their best. I snap a few shots and dig into my first bite: duck samosas (above) topped with a fruity/earthy tamarind mole. Uinta’s Hop Nosh IPA gets the nod to wash down the mellow cumin flecked bite, stoking the tamarind sauce’s sweetness.
For over 25 years, Chef Geeta, Husband Praveen (and son Tarun) have been running around the matchbox-sized restaurant with warm smiles, keeping guests happy. I get the sense they love what they do and it shows through with not only the longevity of the eatery, but in the high quality of the food.
Being familiar with the beer offerings, I’m more excited to adventure into the heart of Tandoori cooking. Some menu items unfamiliar, yet approachable. Ordering the ‘Airbags’ dish, for example…I can’t say I’ve ever seen one much less eaten it. “Try it with the sour beer and pour it inside before you bite” says Chef Geeta. I feel like a kid again, scooping in the spiced veggie puree into a pinkie-punched hole, then pouring in some Petrus Aged Red into the thin crispy sack of deliciousness. “I can see why it’s called an airbag” I say as the flavors punch me in the face, saving me from certain hunger death.
Other wild dishes like Tandoor roasted bone marrow have us drooling for more. Intense garlic and fatty marrow melts like butter. Beers like Piraat Pale Ale and Allagash Tripel do their best to clean up the rich bite and have me licking the bone clean.I can’t say I’ve ever eaten goat, but it ended being my favorite of the night. Chucky bites sitting on a yogurt salad topped puffy pita? So perfectly foreign yet familiar, tasting somewhat like a beefy lamb, moderately spiced and delicious.
My heart and cheeks warm from the afterglow of the Clay Oven, I can’t help but dream about coming back. The Clay Oven is near Irvine Valley College on Jeffrey/Irvine Center Drive.
Duck Samosas – Tandoor-roasted Mary’s Organic Duck Breast in cumin-flecked pastry, dash of tamarind mole
Bread Pakoras – Famous Indian Snack, minced lamb sandwich, chickpea-batter fried
Lamb-Stuffed Naan – Spicy lamb baked into a fresh naan bread
Airbags – pastry cups veggie stuff paired with sour beer
Mediterranean Naan – Feta cheese baked into a fresh naan bread
Tandoor-Roasted Bone Marrow with breat and accoutrements
Eggplant Pakoras – Ma-Zu eggplant fritters, batter-fried, pomegranate emulsion
Braised Goat Bites – Puffy pita topped with slow-braised goat and yogurt salad