“You know what this used to be, right?” Chimed in Eddie Lin, who was seated next to me. “What?” “This was Ford’s Filling Station.” “Oh my God, you’re right!” I fully realized in the moment. I think it’s impressive when a restaurant makeover is so cleanly done that all remnants of what was in the space before are erased, even to previous diners. Sambar, the newest restaurant from Chef Akasha Richmond has opened in Culver City and it’s everything. Richmond's interpretation of traditional Indian Cuisine is out-of-box, but fits perfectly on the plate. Homage is paid to traditional flavors and various regions of the country, but they are presented in a fresh and genuine way, “through a California lense” as Chef describes. Everything is fluid: the modern dining room complete with a multi-colored, lamp-shade chandelier, sets up the craft cocktails and various dishes and shows them off exquisitely.
I loved sipping the Sacred Cow. A delicious cocktail mixed with a froth of yogurt, sloane’s gin, apricot liqueur, lemon, honey, egg white, saffron bitters and pistachio crumble. Innovative while telling a story true to Indian culture. I also tried one of the non-alcoholic options, The Tumeric and Ginger Lemonade. It definitely had a bite, but I like that in things that touch my lips. If you don’t like raw ginger, best to order something else. The Rose-Pomegranete Punch perhaps.
I also loved everything I tasted on the menu. I know that is so boring to say, but it’s true. I am a huge fan of Indian food in general. Chicken Tikka Masala has been a favorite dish since my dad made it for me when I was growing up. And don’t get me started on naan. I could LIVE on naan and naan alone. Clearly my expectations were subconsciously high, but thank God they were met.
I need to explain to you the head-on prawns. The sweet, plump meat snapped into my mouth with conviction. That prawn knew how good it was going to taste and couldn’t wait to prove it. I don’t know how long it had been marinading in mango-powder, but something magical happened to arrest such an addicting flavor deep in the layers of meat. I wished I didn’t have to share with the other guests, I could easily have eaten every single one of the prawns.
Let’s move onto the lamb kabobs. I’ve always thought that lamb was the sexiest of the red-meats. There’s something about its flavor that’s a little exotic and spicy. There’s always intrigue for me when I eat lamb. Sambar’s pistachio lamb sirloin kabob with punjabi corn roti, kachumber salad, mango chutney & eggplant raita made me a very happy lady. The meat was super tender and softly melted through my teeth. The next time you’re craving a gyro, mix things up and try this instead.
There are few things that comfort me more than a cheese plate and yes, Sambar has their own unique version. Cheese Thali, a wooden board with goat & cow paneer, yogurt cheese,naan, gujarati crackers, pappadum, chutney, lemon pickle and spiced pistachios. This is almost my favorite thing on the entire menu despite it’s simplicity. I just loved putting all of these different textures and flavors together in one bite. The coolness of the cheese, the warm softness of the naan, the perk of the chutney and the crunch of the pistachios. My taste buds were gifted with various sensations at once, that is my favorite way to experience a meal.
Another highlight for me was the Pork Shoulder Vindaloo with pickled radish pods & ramps, malabar hot sauce and papaya chutney. This dish was the ultimate sweet meets spice collaboration. The salty pork was enhanced by the heat of the hot sauce and sugar of the chutney.
My final note is to save room for dessert. There is an incredible variety of cookies that change frequently which can be enjoyed with a soothing cup of house-made chai tea.
I am truly looking forward to another trip to Sambar soon. Everything was “on fleek” as the kids would say. India offers us such a beautiful culture with a multitude of recipes to taste. Richmond’s execution of these ageless dishes from different parts of the country are carefully crafted and because of this, they are flawless.
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