I’ve mentioned before that I’ve never been a fan of Indian food, although I will go out and get it with friends. But I am a fan of the long-running “Top Chef” Bravo TV series, so I’m familiar with chefs like Preeti Mistry, who competed in season six in Las Vegas.
Mistry recently opened her own restaurant that pays homage to her childhood growing up in Mumbai. (Juhu Beach is the area in Mumbai that’s known for its street food.) The restaurant is in the popular Temescal neighborhood in Oakland, but it’s actually in a tiny strip mall off 51st Street on the way to the freeway onramp.
Still, the restaurant has a fun vibe, and on Friday night the place seemed ready to party with the pulsating music and the bright pink décor. True to the name, there’s a real casual beach atmosphere, even to the plates and cups that look like paper plates and plastic cups (but in reality the plates are ceramic and the cups are glass).
Authentic Street Food?
The menu is limited, just a page with five sections: starters, soups and salads, pavs (similar to sliders), curries, and sides. The place has had some criticism of whether the food is authentic to Mumbai street food, but since I said I’m not a regular eater of Indian food, it’s hard for me to judge. So my comments here are mostly how I enjoy the food.
Side note: My friend Vera did feel I needed a base to compare so that’s why awhile back she introduced me to Vik’s Chaat & Market in Berkeley, which definitely has a strong street food sense. Juhu Beach Club doesn’t have that bustling street food vibe as Vik’s, but the menu does include several small dishes perfect for eating on the street, even though it is a sit-down restaurant.
Mistry’s sev puri ($6) is probably a good representation of what she’s doing – Indian street food with traditional flavors but modern twists. In this case, the crispy puri cracker is topped with a mixture of green garbanzo beans and seasonal nectarines.
The cracker was a bit on the thick side, but I did appreciate the freshness and sweetness of the nectarines.
The pavs provide Mistry with the chance to experiment with different sliders. I got the trio for $13 and chose the “sloppy lil’p” (a veggie sloppy joe), vada pav (a potato puff) and the “Bollywood baller” (a lamb meatball). The sloppy lil’p was very spicy in taste, but a bit pasty in texture, just like the potato puff. Not surprisingly, the lamb meatball was my favorite because of the strong flavors of the meat.
The Last Bite
Juhu Beach Club is definitely a fun gathering spot (attracting several young families) and has great service, but the food seems to be trying to find its soul. The spices remind one of India (especially the curries, which doesn’t hold back on the spice) but some things fall flat (a play on mango lassi ($4), called the “sassy lassi” turned out a bit tart with the lime yogurt).
While Mistry’s cooking haven’t made me a convert of Indian street food, I applaud her creativity and hopefully the food will mature to capture some excitement in its flavors.
Juhu Beach Club, 5179 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. Tues.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5:30–9:30 p.m. No reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.juhubeachclub.com