When you think Indian food, you think naan aan wrapped in aluminum foil. The fragrant smell of toasted spices enveloping your car. Butter chicken and chicken tikka masala, generously poured over a plate of yellow rice. Etaan is all this, but more. It takes the same experience you have had driving back from a small hole in the wall Indian restaurant, and elevates it with creativity and quality ingredients. From a flavor bomb of a black pepper cauliflower to crispy and tender grilled octopus, Etaan keeps the authenticity while delivering with presentation and flavors.
The first dish we started with was the black pepper cauliflower. Cauliflower is a bland vegetable and can sometimes be mushy, but when cooked and seasoned right, it can be an incredible delight and discovery. As a replacement for meat, a whole head of cauliflower can be cut up into 1 inch thick slices, like a steak. This yields a delicate inside that can be cut with just a fork, but also allows the cauliflower to absorb all the seasoning on top. Although this cauliflower was cut into florets, it acted in a similar way to those steaks, soft and delicate on the inside all while containing tons of flavor. I also believe it was flash fried, giving the dish a crispy exterior, without making it too greasy. Going back to my point about authenticity,the main flavors in the dish were from black pepper, and two more uncommon ingredients, black mustard and curry leaves. Both these ingredients are vital in South Indian cuisine, regularly lightly fried in oil at extremely hot temperatures, bringing out the nutty aroma and bite of curry leaves.
The next appetizer that came our way was their signature Red Chili Octopus. I know Red Chili sounds spicy, but trust me it isn’t, at least for me. Oh, and also, forget all your preconceived notions of octopus, because this dish is something completely different. First let’s start with the base of this dish, the spiced yogurt. Yogurt is used to cool any spices in a dish, so this sounds a little counterproductive, but the yogurt is lightly spiced, giving it a salty and slightly nutty taste, but in the end, keeping it refreshing. The octopus in this dish was also perfectly cooked and seasoned. It had a natural saltiness from being a creature of the sea, but it was also spiced with red chilies and lightly fried, giving it a spicy and crispy exterior, with a slightly chewy yet tender interior.
The final dish I’ll be writing about is the “One Pot” Wild Mushroom dish, a medley of mushrooms, potato kurma and cauliflower rice. To start off, the cauliflower rice was served at the bottom of the “pot,” acting as a pillow of sorts to which everything else rested on, all while absorbing the earthy flavors of the mushroom and the spicy savory combination of the kurma. Mushrooms can be woefully misrepresented in many restaurants, but I am so glad Ettan knew what to do. When cooked at too low temperatures with too little or too much moisture, mushrooms can either become slimy and too chewy, or dry and impossible to swallow. The mix of mushrooms in this bowl were earthy and umami, the chanterelles and their potent flavor especially standing out in a medley of other delicious mushrooms. I’m just gonna skip over the potato kurma because I hate potatoes, but from what my family said, it seemed like a hit. Out of all the dishes at Etaan, this one stood out to me because it didn’t remind me of any familiar dishes or flavors. It was so unique, but in some ways familiar. It kept the consistent theme of rice, vegetable, and curry but putting a twist on each element to make a completely new dish.
I also want to give a shout out to the malabar paratha. Think of it like a flaky naan with a crispy exterior and a hot, fresh, and soft pull apart interior. This is a dish that many restaurants have, and in my opinion make very well, but something about the paratha at Ettan made it special. Try it out yourself to see what I mean at 518 Bryant Street, Palo Alto, California.