Wednesday, February 22, 2017

August 1 Five

August 1 Five  is a new indian restaurant located near Civic Center, serving modern interpretations of home cooking and street foods from central and northern India, using local Californian ingredients, at a mid-high price point.  It just opened in November, and I visited in January, about 2 months after opening.  I usually give restaurants a little longer to work out kinks before visiting, particularly with a group, but, I had a group in town and wanted to do something a bit different.  So, modern Indian it was.

I was able to make a reservation about a week in advance online for our group of 6 on Saturday night for dinner, which, of course was another selling point for August 1 Five.  They are also open for lunch, with a menu more focused on wraps and sandwiches.
Feast for 6.
As expected, it was not your standard Indian cuisine. Overall, there was interesting ingredient combinations and attractive plating.   Elements were all cooked well, and the sauces were good. But flavors weren't as complex as I hoped, and nothing was particularly memorable.

Service was awkward and incomplete, and didn't quite match the decor and ambiance. It was odd throughout, with strange hovering at times, and complete neglect at others. Sometimes our server very awkwardly filled our water glasses, other times she just left us a big bottle on the table.

Pacing of dishes was off.  No dishes were described when they were placed before us.  Serving utensils were an afterthought.  They are clearly working out some kinks in service still.  I'd give the restaurant another few months before trying again.
The setting inside August 1 Five is decidedly trendy.  It is huge, with a mix of bar seating, high tables, booths built into the walls, communal seating, and regular tables.  Lots of colors, textures, and materials used, like leather chairs and teal velvet booths.  Clearly, designer.


The cocktail menu looked intriguing, and certainly stole the attention of most of us when we first sat down.  There was a "pk negroni" with coconut campari that I almost went for, except, um, it was made with rum instead of gin.  I liked the name of the "Dark and Foamy", but was amused when one of my fellow dinners ordered it, and it was ... not dark.  There was even an alcoholic lassi.

Every cocktail had some kind of interesting element to it, but, I think they were trying a bit too hard.  Not one got very good reviews by our group.

Our drinks came in a relatively timely manner, but, our first small plate did arrive about 5 minutes before the drinks.  Minus a point on the timing.
Moneypenny G & T. $13.
"Gin, yellow chartreuse, pineapple juice, lemon, combier rose, tonic."

To start, I ordered their special G&T.

It was not successful.  I was annoyed with it at the first sip, as the little roses floating on top made it hard to drink.  It reminded me a bit of the cocktail at Longrain in Sydney with the lemongrass sticking out of it, that made it impractical to drink.  That cocktail however was still delicious, and it was easy to remove the lemongrass, whereas this was not tasty, and picking floating flowers out didn't seem appropriate.

The main reason I didn't care for it, once I got over the annoying flowers, is that I couldn't taste the gin.  Nor the tonic.  I expected it to have more going on that a standard G&T obviously, but this just had too many elements taking over entirely.  I ordered it because I wanted to taste the gin at least, and here, it was just lost.

While there were other interesting cocktails on the menu, I was so put off by this one, and the lack of enthusiasm towards any others by my dining companions, I didn't bother with a second drink.
Mint Lemonade.  $4.
Non-alcoholic options included soft drinks, tea, mint lemonade, and mango lassi.  Another diner opted for the mint lemonade to start, and said it was fine.  It had a very generous amount of mint sticking out, which, looked sorta annoying to me too ...  He moved on to the mango lassi, but I forgot to ask how that was.


The food at August 1 Five is all served family style, with a large focus on small plates (14 options), plus some large dishes (9 choices), and a few sides.

For our group of 6, we opted to order 4 small plates (one of which we doubled up on, so I guess 5 small plates), 3 patiala plates, one side, and 3 desserts (again, doubling up on one).  Some dishes arrived with serving utensils, others did not.  Timing was off throughout.

Small Plates

Small plates make up the largest segment of the menu and had considerable variety.  The options included a mix of expected Indian chaat, samosas, and kebabs, fusion-y dishes like panko coated fried bori shrimp with cranberry chutney, crowd pleasers like pork belly and ribs, a salad for good measure, and totally out-of-place seeming arancini.

We went for a mix of everything, opting for 4 different dishes, doubling up on one, and having one order increased so we could each have a piece.  Our server offered good advice on how many items came with each dish, so we could increase or double up as necessary.

The timing of our small plates arriving was off.  The first arrived 5 minutes before our drinks.   We all sorta hesitated, but, seeing no drinks in sight, decided to eat it while it was hot.  Then, the rest of the small plates didn't arrive for another 15 minutes.

The small plates were better than the larger ones.
Palak Chaat. $10.
"Baby spinach, garbanzo, tamarind, yogurt."

I love snacks and munching on things.  I knew the palak chaat was basically like a plate of crispy chips with sauces, which is so very appealing to me, so I ordered it, even without the support of the rest of the group.

And I'm glad I did.  I really liked the crispy fried baby spinach, and the complimentary slightly sweet tamarind and cooling creamy yogurt sauces.  I thought it was a really fun dish with great textures and flavors, but, the others were all pretty bored by it, and only took a bite or two.  Oh well, I gladly polished it off.

My favorite dish and a nice snack to get started.  I've heard it described as "indian nachos", which, really does sum it up nicely.
Bison Keema Pao. $18.
"Ground bison, caramelized onion, bacon, quail egg."

Probably the most famous dish at August 1 Five is the bison keema pao.  It has all the hallmarks of a signature, hyped dish: an approachable play on a familiar American comfort food (sloppy joe), egg porn (and a quail egg no less), hot ingredient (bacon), exotic meat (bison), and a DIY component.  Yelpers, Instagramers, and the link are very into this dish.  We ordered two servings, since each came with 4 buns.  Nearly every table around us ordered it too.

The presentation was nice, on a wooden cutting board, the keema in a hot stoneware bowl.

The pao weren't very good, and they weren't even served warm.  Really, quite boring and plain.  They could certainly stand to improve the quality of this essential element of the dish.

The keema was ... fine.  The ground bison meat was nicely spiced, and it was fairly juicy.  On top was two slices of bacon, one was flabby, and one was burnt.  Both not good, but in opposite ways.

So boring bread, decent meat, bad bacon.  Fairly lackluster overall.  The rest of the group liked the flavor of the meat, but did not like it with the rolls, and wanted it served over pasta instead (like a very thick, Indian spiced bolognese I guess?)  I think the rolls would have been fine, if they were just fresher and warm.

An interesting dish, but not really worth repeating.
Paneer Kebab. $12 for 4.
"Red chili, mustard dust, yogurt, mint."

I love paneer, so I wanted the paneer kebab.  There is also a paneer dish on the larger plate section, but, I had seen photos of the kebab, and I knew it would be just what I wanted: tandoori chunks of paneer with sauces on the side to dunk it in.

The presentation was pretty stunning, on a slate, each square of paneer topped with a square of red onion and a sprig of mint, with complimentary squares of peppers (red, green, and orange) opposite the slices of paneer, dots of the green puree, and sprinkled with what I guess was mustard dust.

This dish is normally served with 4 pieces, but we were able to have them add 2 more so we could each have one.

This was a decent dish.  The paneer was nicely cooked, soft, clearly fresh chunks of cheese.  The onions and peppers were fine.  The green sauce was very herby, I think perhaps yogurt and mint based?  Overall, it was fine, well executed, but, not flavors popped.

My second favorite dish, mostly because I really just appreciate good paneer, and I'd get it again.
Pork Spare Ribs.  $14.
"Ginger, garlic, jaggery, vinegar." 

I ordered the ribs for the others, looking to have a crowd pleaser in case some of my other selections were a bit too different.  I didn't try them, but the group seemed to like them, and commented on the good flavor.

We all found the accompaniments a bit odd though, why were they served with brussels sprouts and onions?  The onions were tasty, but, an odd pairing.  And why did the menu not mention these?

Patiala Plates

The next section of the menu is the larger plates, 9 choices.  Here, nothing really called out at me.  I actually considered just ordering all small plates, since there were other small plates that interested me, but, the rest of the group did want some of these dishes, even if I didn't.

This section had a paneer dish as well, two lamb options (shank or chop), seafood (lobster or sea bass), crowd pleasing filet mignon, two types of biryani (chicken or veggie), and a fascinating sounding soy kofta.  I opted for one biryani to have a filling dish, and the group picked one lamb option.  After we received these and no one seemed very satisfied, I added on the soy kofta, mostly out of curiosity.

Timing was a bit off here too.  These plates arrived all at once 6 minutes after our small plates, while we were still finishing those, and had a table full of food.
Chicken Biriyani. $22.
"Basmati rice, saffron, yogurt, aromatic spice blend."

I don't really like rice, or chicken, so I didn't try the biriyani, but, the group seemed to like it, and appreciated a ricey dish.
Lamb Shank. $29.
"Red chili, cloves, tomato, caramelized onion."

For the main meat option, lamb was really the only interesting one to the group.  Because I dislike lamb, I abstained from the decision making, but they asked the server to describe both options, and then settled on the shank.

I thought it was a bit odd to serve the big hunk of meat in a bowl like this, but it did make it look pretty impressive.  The others seemed to like this too, but, I didn't try it (besides a bite of the crispy sprouts on top and the flavorful sauce).
Soy Kofta. $21.
"Soy, monterey jack cheese, melon seeds, tomato, fenugreek."

I added the kofta to our order after the other dishes arrived and it was clear that we needed a bit more, and, I wanted something that I'd like, even though I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this dish.

It was an interesting dish, sorta like ... big falafel balls stuffed with cheese in a butter chicken sauce?  Which sounds like a very strange mix, and, was a bit odd.

The order came with two huge kofta, one of which was already cut in half, revealing its cheesy contents, which, actually, didn't look that appealing, as the cheese looked kinda congealed.

The balls were well fried and crunchy, made from chickpea batter (which explains why I thought they were falafel-like), but I didn't like the soy flavor to them.  The cheese inside the un-opened ball was super melty which was good, but monterey jack felt out of place in Indian cuisine.  Maybe that is just because I dislike it.

The sauce however was totally delicious.  Yes, this is why I like Indian food, I'm in it for the sauces.  I have a severe watermelon allergy, and didn't notice the "melon seeds" in the ingredient list until I went to write the review, but, I guess I'm not allergic to whatever melon seeds were used.

I liked the crunchy things (sweet potato threads?) on top.

I'm glad I ordered this, for the sauce alone, and I wanted to lick the bowl clean.


Side dishes were pretty simple: rice, daal, raita, and pao, plus plain or a trio of naan.  We opted for the trio.

With our sides, again, the timing was off.  We received the main dishes a full 7 minutes before our naan, the last item to arriev.  Members of my group kept asking me, "wait, didn't we order naan?"  I called over our server, assuming it was forgotten, but was assured that it was fine, it was coming.
Trio of Naans. $9.
"Cheese & basil, potato & sage and minced bison."

The naan arrived long after the main dishes.  “This is your trio of naan”, the server said, without saying which was which.  They all looked identical from the outside, but one was filled with cheese & basil, one with potato & sage, and one with bison.  Since they were all small, and we wouldn't all get a chance to try all three, we really wanted to know which was which.  I called over another server who was able to tell us.

I didn't get to try the bison one, but I did get a small edge of the potato & sage, although it was the edge and didn't have any potato.  The main chunk I selected was the cheese & basil.  It was good, flavorful, although not super cheesey.  The naan all had a good texture and were served warm.  Better than a lot of naan, although, really quite small.

On the side were two chutneys, which thrilled me.  The orange one was spicy and reminded me a bit of butter chicken sauce, which was perfect, as usually when we get Indian food, Ojan orders butter chicken because he likes it, and I support the move, not because I want the chicken, but because I intend to dunk my naan in the sauce.  The second one was mashed roasted eggplant, and was also good.

Of all the savory food, the naan and chutneys were my favorite.


The dessert menu had 6 items, a mix of updated spins on classic Indian sweets (like kheer made with quinoa rather than rice and ghevar with milk "foam"), and Indian ingredients injected into crowd favorites (like saffron making its way into a seasonal fruit tart or greek yogurt served on the molten chocolate).  All desserts were priced at $8.

We almost just ordered one of each, but, decided we weren't actually interested in a few, so instead, ordered 3 different items, but doubled up on the one I was most interested in.  Desserts were a mixed success, containing my favorite dish of the night and the universal least favorite.
Decaf Coffee.  $4.
To go alongside my dessert, as usual, I ordered decaf coffee.  I was provided a plunger pot, but it was set down without any indication if it was ready to press, or if I should let it go a while longer.  I waited a minute, took a gamble, and pressed it a little, only to see very clearly that it was not ready yet.

Minus one point on the service here, but besides that, the coffee was fine.  Not particularly good nor bad.
Seasonal Kulfi (kumquat). $8.
"Seasonal fruit, milk."

I was planning to skip the kulfi, but several others wanted it, so, we ordered it for the table (and really, when do I turn down ice cream, even if it sounded like a boring option?).  When we asked what the seasonal flavor was, our server didn't know, and needed to go ask.  Again, still really working out some service kinks.

The flavor turned out to be kumquat.

It was creamy, sweet enough, but, kinda boring, just ice cream.  They did garnish it with a few slices of kumquat, 2 segments of a citrus, 4 blueberries, and a piece of chocolate, but together these things didn't really add up.  No sauce, no cream, no crunchy element.

And ... it was served in a mini cast iron skillet?  That sort of serving vessel would be cute if it were, well, a hot dish, but ice cream in a cast iron skillet?  It just didn't make much sense to me.

My second favorite dessert, but I see no reason to get it, unless you really just wanted some ice cream.
Kheer. $8.
"Quinoa, cardamom, coconut milk, jaggery."

I was fairly excited by the kheer.  I adore puddings of all kinds, and a comforting rice pudding can really hit the spot for me.  I was a little worried by the cardamom since I don't tend to like cardamom that much, but I wasn't scared off by the quinoa.

I should have been scared off, although I'm not sure by what.  It was not good.

The flavor was really strange.  No one liked it.  It was funny watching each person take a bite, think it wasn't good but not understand why others were saying it was so bad, and then wait for the aftertaste to hit them.  The aftertaste was just awful.  I can't explain what it was, but, it was not good.

The quinoa also gave it a crunchy texture, which no one really enjoyed inside the creamy base.

On top was a bunch of random fruits.  Two more segments of citrus (just like the kulfi), pomegranate seeds, a skewer with blueberries on it, and ... rose petals?  They really were trying with the garnishes, but, they again didn't really make sense.

Universal least favorite dessert, absolutely do not recommend.
Royal Mousse. $8.
"Bread, bavarian cream, pistachio."

And finally, the dessert I was excited by, and insisted we order two of.  This was the right move.  We probably could have taken down three or four.

Of course, I knew what to expect from this one as I had done my research, but the others hadn't.  "Bread" doesn't exactly sound exciting, does it?

I think they were a little surprised when this showed up, looking more like two fried doughnuts than a slice of bread.  It certainly didn't taste like it looked though, it was not a doughnut at all.  I think it may have been made with chickpea?  It was really crispy, really oily, very fried.  The others mentioned it was too crispy for their liking, or too oily, but I strangely liked it, even though I acknowledge it was oil soaked.  I particularly liked cutting off a chunk and dunking it in the mousse.

The mousse itself was rich, creamy, a good thick consistency.  It made for a fine pudding, but really was excellent with a bite of the "bread".

The menu said "pistachio" was an ingredient, but we didn't find any pistachio.  It came garnished with two crispy things, one I think was white chocolate, but I'm not sure what the other was.

Definitely the winning dessert, and probably my favorite dish of the night, mostly as it was more unique than I expected.
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