I’m a huge fan of Restaurant Week. I love picking from a list of premier restaurants, each with a pre-pix menu that (hopefully) highlights the culinary strengths of every restaurant…not to mention the attractive pricing! I remember thinking that Restaurant Week would be one of the things I would miss the most when I left New York. So when I found out that I was in Guangzhou just in time for its very first Restaurant Week, I was pretty much beside myself. WOOHOO!
This past Saturday, which was also the day I was stealthily robbed of my iPhone on a crowded Guangzhou bus (another sad story for another time), I dined at Vaastu, a restaurant heavily praised by EChinaCities as a “top pick for most connoisseurs of Indian cuisine.” I had high expectations, and armed with my DSLR and my notebook, I was ready to be blown away by authentic Indian dishes put together by self proclaimed world class chefs.
More after the jump!
Vaastu was pretty empty when I arrived, so seating wasn’t an issue. I asked for a seat near a window so I’d have better lighting and was helped right away. I thought the decor was nice and clean, especially near the entrance. To my eye, eh sure, it was authentic, but I’m not the best judge of that. There were more tables in the back room, which had walls that were covered in that fake nature-y wallpaper stuff–not a big fan. I felt like it cheapened the feel of the room, but since there weren’t any windows back there and lighting was dim, it made sense…I guess. Mostly I was just struck by how empty the restaurant was! I arrived around noon and there were maybe four occupied tables, including the table next to me seating a middle aged Chinese woman and her very talkative preteen son. I spent a good portion of my meal listening (unwillingly) to the young man complain to his mother about how he wanted something with fried rice, how Indian restaurants only served curry, how Chinese people don’t like curry, how his dish was too spicy and how everything tasted like curry. I did notice people stopping in front of the door every so often, looking in curiously, perhaps contemplating whether or not they wanted to be daring for lunch, but ultimately walking away. I started feeling nervous…
I asked for the Restaurant Week pre-fix lunch menu, which included a beverage, appetizer, entree and dessert. The meal also included a side of plain naan and basmati rice or a serving of local Chinese rice. I have to admit I played it safe: Mango Lassi and Lamb Seekh Kebab to start, the Chicken Tikka Masala as my main dish served with Plain Naan without the rice, and Mango Kulfi for dessert. These were dishes I knew well from my days hanging out in the lower east side of Manhattan, and I was anxious to see if Vaastu could match up.
The mango lassi was thick. Much thicker than any lassi that I’ve had in the past. I could have probably eaten it with a spoon, it was a bit difficult to drink through a straw. It was pretty good, though. A little on the sweet side, but otherwise enjoyable. The mango flavor seemed closer to dried mango snacks than fresh fruit, but I think it worked given the tartness of the yogurt. I had a couple of sips, but put it aside so I wouldn’t be too full for the rest of my meal.
Lamb Seekh Kebab
Yeah…the lamb kebab was a definite miss. I just…couldn’t get over the presentation. It just LOOKED unappetizing. Here, see for yourself:
I was here on a mission, so I tried it. Texture? Dry and a bit like meatloaf, a little squishy and rubbery. It was also warm, like it had beens sitting for a while. Overall, I thought the lamb kebab was greasy, underwhelming, and under seasoned. I couldn’t really taste the lamb but seemed to pick up hints of pork so it really just reminded me of the filling in a mediocre potsticker. Honestly, I would have preferred if they just sliced the kebab into rounds and presented it that way, sans wilted bed of lettuce. Pseudo sausage just did not do it for me.
Chicken Tikka Masala
How here’s a dish I was impressed with. The chicken tikka masala was rich and creamy with just the right amount of kick. It reminded me of a bowl of creamy tomato soup bursting with flavor. The chicken was well cooked, buttery, tender and had soaked up the flavors of tomatoes, yogurt and myriad of spices. Spot on! Absolutely delicious with the naan and complimentary sides of picked onions, sauces and chips.
Kulfi is basically Indian ice cream, but it’s much denser than what you might be used to. It’s actually very delicious when made correctly! However, I have a sneaking suspicion that something went terribly wrong while the kitchen was preparing my dessert. Rather than being smooth and creaming, my kulfi was grainy, even sandy in texture, almost as if filled with some kind of powdery mix that had not yet disolved. It tasted sweet, but the mango, which was supposed to be the hero of this dish, was sadly masked. Overall, not impressed with this one.
For an empty restaurant, I’m surprised to report that service was very average and perhaps a little slow. The waiters and waitresses seemed more interested in talking amongst themselves than checking on their patrons. You will also have to explicitly ask for a restaurant week menu, if applicable, even if you tell them upon entering that you’ve made a reservation at this restaurant for restaurant week. I waited at my table for 15 minutes before I could flag down a waiter for the check. He forgot must have forgotten, because 10 minutes later I was still sitting there. Finally I got the attention of a different waiter, paid my bill and was on my way to explore TianHe.
Overall, the experience did not meet my expectations, especially given the reviews I had been reading about what a culinary winner Vaastu was. I might come back again for some chicken tikka masala, but definitely not the lamb kebab. Never again.
Vaastu: A Date with India
Address: 13-15, 475 Huanshi Dong Lu, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou (near Tianhe Lu), China
Opening hours: 11:00-15:00