Ravi and Sunitha Koneru don't much care for limitations. Not in their food, their decor, or their vision. When designing the menu for Chakra Cuisine they saw the entirety of India as a source of inspiration, from the tandoori of the North and the curries of the South to the street food of Bombay and the recipes of their native Hyderbad. And then they looked even further. What they found were ingredients such as banana leaves, scallops, and caramelized pineapples—ingredients rarely used in Indian cuisine that expertly matched the flavor profiles they dreamed up. The result is a blend of traditional and modern, where classic dishes such as chicken tikka masala segue into spicy reinventions, including a vegetable masala quiche.
The dining space is likewise a mix of old and new. Indian accents anchor the sleek, contemporary aesthetic of the dining room and private lounge, while colors drawn from the dishes themselves combine to create a cohesive backdrop. Red and gold dominate the interior, but brighter colors surround the bar, notably inside its seven specialty martinis. As for the outdoor patios, their tables center around a circular fire pit, whose flames tempt guests to sit amid the mandarin-orange trees and tell scary stories about hitchhikers with samosas for hands.
The complexity of Indian spices can be intimidating at first. Curries explode in a huge range of colors, bestowed by ginger, coriander, basil, and peppers. Cardamom pods, cloves, and bean-like tamarind look alien at first glance. Arun Puri, head chef at Royal Khyber, harnesses that intricacy, artfully folding more than 38 different herbs and spices into innovative north Indian dishes with healthy twists.
The chef, who has been lauded by publications including the Daily Pilot, uses cream, butter, and oils sparingly, instead whipping up lighter sauces and tandoori breads fortified with protein powder. As he works, mesquite charcoals blaze within an imported tandoori clay oven, grilling meat, seafood, and poultry dishes at temperatures of up to 450 degrees, hot enough to melt diamonds back into delicious carbon. Out in the dining hall, the dishes pair with fine wines and cocktails among cushy silk pillows and intricate Indian artwork.
"Niki's is everything fast food should be: unpretentious but good; cheap but plentiful; and fast, fast, fast," raved OC Weekly in 2010 when it awarded the restaurant the title of Best Fast-Food Indian Orange County. Speed isn't everything, though. At Niki's Indian Cuisine, the chefs specialize in coaxing the savory flavors out of items such as chicken and lamb by roasting skewers inside a traditional, clay tandoor oven. The majority of the menu contains vegetarian-friendly dishes?including entrees featuring lentils, eggplant, and curried chlorophyll?all of which can range from mild to pleasantly spicy.