Categories
Culture Features Feel Good Restaurants

Why One of 2019’s Most Hyped Indian Restaurants Doesn’t Serve Curry

Heena Patel is mad. 

As the owner of Besharam, an acclaimed San Francisco restaurant that serves cuisine from Chef Heena’s home state in India, Gujarat, she’s tired of the expectations for Indian restaurants. Buffets, chicken tikka masala, curry — this isn’t what Indian food means to her, so none of it is on the menu. 

“Why call it curry, if it doesn’t even mean anything?” she says, referring to the fact that “curry,” as most people know it in America, is a catch-all term used for a number of dishes that span the entire Indian subcontinent. Curry isn’t a dish, it’s a spice blend, and Heena wants her menu to reflect that. 

She refuses to use the umbrella term (or any others, like naan) on her menu for ignorance’s sake. And, when oft-seen Indian dishes do appear on her menu, she uses their traditional name. So, no, she doesn’t serve butter chicken. She serves murgh makhani. 

Indeed, she’s fiercely insistent on not indulging uncompromising customers. But, she has no problem educating them, and she’ll do so excitedly.

For serving such spicy food, Heena is remarkably sweet. She says your name constantly throughout conversation as if you’re lifelong friends, she sighs softly before talking about something that excites her, and she’ll tell you to give her a call if you’re ever in the area a mere 30 minutes after meeting her over the phone. She’s a mainstay at the restaurant, along with her husband, Paresh, who runs the front of house operations.

“I’m here everyday, to tell my food that I put on my menu… We are ready to say the stories. We are not just putting [food] in front of them!” she emphasizes before giving the background behind her shrikhand cheesecake, which is a hybrid of two childhood treats: shrikhand, a popular Indian yogurt dessert, and Parle-G, a crunchy biscuit sold in most Indian stores.

When Besharam originally opened in May 2018, this sense of homeliness wasn’t exactly the case. 

Initially opened in partnership with esteemed chef Daniel Patterson’s restaurant investment group, Alta Restaurant Group, Besharam was described as “Californian Gujarati cuisine.” The menu aimed Gujarati cuisine palatable towards those who would otherwise be thrown off by its distinctions, like its lack of meat options. While the restaurant received encouraging reviews, and business was good, conflict was brewing behind the scenes. 

For Heena, staying true to herself is of the utmost importance. Sometimes, that means going against the grain. Born and raised in Mumbai, the second largest city in India, Heena had a traditional upbringing. 

“In my household…  if you stay home, if you manage your house, if you feed your in-laws, your children, then you’re the best daughter-in-law in the world… If you decide to go out of that box, you are not. You are besharam, you are shameless,” she says, shining light on the name of her restaurant. “I always wanted to have a different life than my grandmother and my mom. It’s sad to say.”

Despite this, she followed in their footsteps. She moved to London at 21, where an arranged marriage was waiting, and, after spending five years helping her mother-in-law around the house, moved to Vallejo, CA five years later. There, the Patel’s opened a flower shop and liquor store. While their businesses provided enough for a comfortable life, Heena still felt unfulfilled.

“I wanted to have my own path. I won’t wait for someone else to give me my happiness, I realized I had to go for it.” she said.

During those 20 years, Heena delved into her culture’s cuisine, and learned how to make the childhood dishes she often craved. She began introducing it to her friends, who suggested she open a restaurant. 

Heena initially wanted to open a food truck. This meant joining La Cocina, an incubation group that assists underrepresented populations in the restaurant community in organizing a plan to achieve their restaurant aspirations. After a couple years of running successful pop-ups and catering events, the food truck idea became a restaurant idea that soon became reality.

In early 2018, Alta approached her. At the time the group was looking to support underrepresented chefs, most of whom it has since split with in highly publicized feuds, and offered her a space. Besharam opened later that year, in May, in the Dogpatch San Francisco neighborhood in which it still resides, as a partnership between Heena and the restaurant group. 

Often restricted by this agreement during the initial run, Heena found her restaurant, and herself by extension, pandering to those who only want to eat what they know. After not even a year, Heena and Alta split in April 2019. Backed by investors, she took full control of the restaurant space, and introduced a revitalized menu.

Since then, Besharam has excelled. In 2019, it was named Eater SF’s Restaurant of the Year and was featured in Thrillist’s roundup of the best places to eat in San Francisco, among other praisings.

“Not to show off, but it boosts my confidence… I wanted everyone to recognize me as a chef,” she says of the recent hype. “Because I don’t have any process, I don’t have any template to follow. I don’t have any… say, my mom or grandparents are in the hospitality business. I’m doing it because I know. All I have is me and my confidence.” she professed.

At the end of the day, that’s all any of us have: ourselves and our confidence in who we are and what we do. And Heena Patel, the chef unabashedly bucking her family’s traditional desires to fulfill her own, and carving a space for an Indian restaurant that scoffs at relying on popular Indian dishes, is living proof of what can be done with that.

Categories
Culture Features FOODBEAST Opinion The Katchup

Here Is How The Michelin Guide Can Make Angelenos Care About It

Earlier this year, the Michelin Guide, known by most foodies and insiders as the defining restaurant rating guide, made the announcement of its return to Los Angeles after a nine year hiatus in the city. At the time, former Michelin Guide director Jean-Luc Naret commented on the departure, “The people in Los Angeles are not real foodies. They are not too interested in eating well but just in who goes to which restaurant and where they sit.”

But times have changed since Naret’s verbal slap to Los Angeles, as it is now heralded as one of the most exciting food cities. Fast forward to now and you have Angelenos who are armed with adventurous and curious palates, all eager for a taste of authenticity and the previously unknown all at once. Such a groundswell of interest in cuisine has lead to a foodie movement in the city that’s been influenced by the culinary machine that is the Los Angeles of now. These days new restaurant concepts are fresh and exciting, chefs are emboldened to serve the food authentic to their personal experiences, and equal validity and fanfare is bestowed upon all kinds of eating establishments, whether it be a taco truck roving the streets or posted up outside a tire shop to fine dining restaurants that challenge diners’ tastes and invigorate inclinations.

With such a broad stroke of culinary offerings from all kinds, backgrounds, and formats coloring Los Angeles, is the typically stuffy, white table cloth-leaning, and archaic Michelin Guide even a good fit for the city? And frankly, should Angelenos even care?

The simple answer would be ‘no’, since the Michelin Guide outright called out LA diners and slandered the city on its way out. But being that Visit California has partnered up with the guide to come back to Los Angeles, it’s wise to consider the benefits that the added tourism and influx of dollars it could bring in. But beyond that, why else should the foodies of Los Angeles pay attention to the Michelin Guide?

Eater LA Senior Editor, Farley Elliott, helped answer that question on a recent appearance on Foodbeast’s The Katchup podcast.

“If they don’t put a San Gabriel Valley restaurant on there, if they don’t put a taco truck on there and give one of these places that are everyday dining options a star, people like you are just going to continue to laugh it off and rightfully so.”

Sure, the Michelin Guide has long been the culinary standard of excellence, but what it fails to do in tandem with its longevity is adapt to modern culinary norms. The rigidity in its preference for tasting menu, white tablecloth, European fine dining establishments reflects on a draconian and frankly problematic formula for its lack of inclusion of restaurants outside of such narrow standards.

But here in Los Angeles, the Michelin Guide has a chance to address such criticisms by taking the city for what it is. “Glendale is so different than Venice, it’s so different than Frogtown, and Silver Lake, and Downtown or the Arts District. So [the Michelin Guide] has got to be willing to meet these places where they’re at and understand and respect that obviously what they’re doing is working for the average diner.”

So until the Michelin Guide can start recognizing the Mini Kabobs and Sun Nong Dans of Los Angeles, places where they reflect the everyday dining habits of most folks, then the majority of Angelenos will simply not care or give credence to the merit of it at all.

 

Feature Photo: Steve Lyon
Categories
Hit-Or-Miss

Owned: Restaurant Uses Twitter to Put Blown-Off Reservation Guests on Blast

angryramsay

You know how sometimes you’re trying to make a dinner reservation but the restaurant you wanted doesn’t take reservations and your second choice doesn’t have the time you want and you end up calling a bunch of different places and making a bunch of different reservations just to be safe? And eventually as the day goes on and you whittle down your choices, you finally settle on somewhere but forget to call everywhere else to let them know you’ve cancelled? Ah well, after waiting a good 30 minutes to an hour, they’re bound to get the message right?

Wrong. Like standing someone up on a date or constantly switching around your Facebook RSVP just days before a big event, promising to be at a restaurant at a certain time and not being there is not only rude, it’s f*cking annoying. Which is why the actions of this Los Angeles restaurant owner probably seem totally justified, at least to anyone who’s been there.

According to The Consumerist, Eater L.A. recently interviewed the owner of the Red Machine restaurant, “which has been using its Twitter account to call out people who make reservations but don’t have the courtesy to show up or call to cancel.”

“Invariably, the assholes who decide to no-show, or cancel 20 minutes before their reservation (because one of their friends made a reservation somewhere else) ruin restaurants (as a whole) for the people who make a reservation and do their best to honor it,” the owner told Eater. “Either restaurants are forced to overbook and make the guests (that actually showed up) wait, or they do what we do, turn away guests for some prime-time slots because they’re booked, and then have empty tables.”

Check out just some of the passive-aggressive, albeit funny, tweets below:

twitterblast

Of course, there’s always a brightside. I mean, at least they weren’t Instagramming.

H/T + PicThx Consumerist, This is Money