BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — A group of young Indian American women walked up La Cienega Boulevard just north of Wilshire and hooked right up a few steps before disappearing into the former Gaylord’s restaurant on a cloudy Sunday afternoon. The dining establishment on Restaurant Row is now called Spice Affair. The casual passerby might not initially realize Spice Affair as an Indian restaurant, though the group of young women entering the eatery in colorful kurtas might be a give-away.
In the banquet hall adjacent to the dining room and hosting about 100 guests for Diwali were Spice Affairs owners Puneet Chandak and Sonia Batra, a husband-wife team with Bay Area ties but gaining a foothold in the shadows of Hollywood. Spice Affair’s location on the Restaurant Row district of urban Los Angeles means one of Southern California’s newest Indian eateries will host power brokers, celebrities, wealthy locals and anyone who merely wants to experience upscale dining.
Some of those power brokers, celebrities, wealthy locals and dining aficionados have already come through the doors of Spice Affair since the restaurant fully opened earlier this year. Chandak and Batra hope to win the hearts of its customers through service and loyalty.
Chandak told his guests during the recent Sunday afternoon luncheon, who included actor Manish Dayal, writer and producer Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla, and a few other dignitaries, that Spice Affair is a place to eat but also an establishment to connect and feel welcome.
“Come for the food, stay for the relationships,” Chandak said.
Spice Affair ultimately represents Chandak’s vision to be an ambassador of Indian cuisine and culture for Southern Californians.
To realize their vision Chandak and Batra brought a team of people to craft the restaurant’s menu, establish customer hospitality, and maintain a pleasant ambiance. On of those team members was Anupam Bhatia, who helped assemble people from the Bay Area and East Coast.
“We call him the culinary director. He has been able to get the best balance of food both for the Indian and non-Indian palate,” Chandak told India-West.
Service is Spice Affair’s priority number one, and Chandak, Batra and Bhatia hope customers enjoy the Spice Affair experience as much as the food.
“Service is first, food is second, and environment and ambiance is the third [element of the Spice Affair experience],” Chandak said. “We build relationships and tell about India through our food.”
Just as the restaurant’s exterior does not immediately scream “Indian restaurant,” the eatery’s interior, meticulously designed by Batra, balances modern design with comfort and culture.
“I did not want a typical Indian restaurant. I wanted it to have a modern twist,” Batra told India-West, adding the décor complements Spice Affair’s mission to serve traditional Indian food with a fresh point of view. “I wanted the décor to be modern. I did not want the interior to represent just one culture.”
Chandak, a physician, and Batra, a marriage family therapist, also own Broadway Masala in Redwood City in Northern California. Opening Spice Affair in Los Angeles, however, is an ambitious endeavor for the couple. Batra stays in Los Angeles and manages Spice Affair while Chandak shuttles back and forth between Southern California and the Bay Area. Through it all the Indian American couple hopes to have crafted a destination eatery for anyone craving Indian food.
The ambition seems to have paid off to some degree, what with diners giving Spice Affair high ratings on review sites and regular celebrity sightings. Celebrities who have graced Spice Affair since its opening include Brittany Spears, Stevie Wonder, Abhay Deol, Gulshan Grover, and Pooja Batra, according to the owners.
Perhaps some of the attraction to Spice Affair is how Chandak, Batra, and Bhatia developed the menu.
“We like to have newness, we like to keep our guests entertained, we like to keep them guessing. Anupam makes a trip to India or we invite a celebrity chef to come over here and we talk to them about the cuisine, take them around, and introduce them to California fresh ingredients,” Batra explained to India-West.
In this context the chef then creates a dish for Spice Affair. The dish is then given to Bhatia to be tweaked for Spice Affair customers.
Diners who visit Spice Affair should make a reservation to avoid a long wait for a table. Once seated, diners have a myriad of options within several sections playing on the word “affair” – Vegetable Affair, The Curry and Masala Affair, etc.
Some recommended items from the dinner menu include Cholley Masala, Trio of Mushroom, Nawabi Chicken, Kadai Ocean Prawns, Flash Grilled Sea Bass, Cottage Cheese Tikkas, and Mix Mix Bhel of Micro Greens.
Spice Affair is located at 50 N. La Cienega Blvd. in Beverly Hills; its phone number for reservations is (310) 400-6800; visit www.spice-affair.com for information about the restaurant, including its menu. The restaurant has an event and banquet hall for private affairs.