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By Anita Felicelli

About this blog: I grew up in Palo Alto and now live in Mountain View with my husband, daughter and two corgis. After about a decade grappling with the law, first as a law student at UC Berkeley and then as a litigator around the Bay Area, I left ...  (More)

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First Impression of Chennai Kings

Uploaded: Jul 30, 2014
Chennai Kings is a small restaurant just finishing its soft run over at 856 El Camino Real in Mountain View—its hard opening is next week. The restaurant is in an unassuming space that faces El Camino. It has lacquered wooden tables and chair, twinkle lights, black and white pictures of cricket players and a big screen television that was showing cricket games both times I went. The restaurant was not busy during its soft open and it was clean. My only gripe was the pulse of dance music during the weekday lunch hour (it had a pleasant low-key ambiance during dinner).

I learned of Chennai Kings because my family members—Tamilian Americans— have taken a shine to the place and it wasn't hard to see why. The food I've had there has been solid, authentic genuinely spicy Chettinad cuisine. To start, I recommend the pepper chicken sukka, which was succulent marinated chicken in a thick spicy gravy made of crushed peppercorns, chili, ginger-garlic paste, coriander powder, and other spices topped with slices of red onion and cilantro leaves. Also excellent to start was the Marina Beach Milagai Bhaji, which is a set of six green chilis covered with chickpea batter and fried.

Another delicious item there was the parotta, a fluffy layered flatbread, with a fragrant vegetable korma. My brother loves the Madras Mutton Masala, a goat curry dish with onion sauce.

The menu is a little bit quirky, with items that could be common to restaurants in Chennai but which I'm unfamiliar with, such as enormous square pesto dosas (exactly what it sounds like—an extremely crispy dosa with pesto inside it instead of the conventional masala potatoes). I wasn't crazy about the taste of pesto with dosa, although the dosa itself was delectable.

Perhaps most exciting for me was that this is a restaurant that hasn't tamed its spice for non-Indian tastebuds. It's kind of rare, even in Silicon Valley with its large Indian and Indian-American population, to get delicious food that has the level of spice and the type of food that you might get in Chennai. At one point, Mountain View was home to an outpost of the chain restaurant Saravana Bhavan, now in Sunnyvale. Further along on El Camino Real used to be Udupi Palace. The fancy North Indian food in the area concentrates on cuisine in central and north India. The price point is reasonable for the portion size, quality and location near Castro Street—expect to spend about $25-30 for two people.

Chennai Kings has a wider range of South Indian non-vegetarian options—chicken, fish and goat—more flair and more hospitality and warmer service than most of the other Indian restaurants in Mountain View. If you're not Indian, but have an adventurous palate, I'm pretty sure you'll like this spot. With its hard opening next week, it's still a little rough around the edges, but this is a promising start and I hope it will be around for a while.

On another note, this is my last blog post for the Mountain View Voice for the foreseeable future. This is the right time for me to focus on my family and work, and less on leisure pursuits. I hope that those of you that have communicated with me outside this space keep in touch and continue to let me know about new restaurant openings, movies, music events, and books that you think might interest me. Thank you to the Mountain View Voice, Embarcadero Media and to the readers of this blog for making it a fun and illuminating year of blogging.
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Posted by Sea-Seelam Reddy, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jul 31, 2014 at 3:32 am

Best wishes to Chennai Kings for opening an authentic Madrasi/Chennai food offering!

Let's give them a chance!

Also, best wishes to Anita.


Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 31, 2014 at 7:50 am

Ok, Anita, since i am a music producer and your reader, I have to ask you, personally, and digressing slightly from the Tamil restaurant you describe, do you prefer M.I.A or Bhi Bhiman?

Also, now the Aquarius has a double feature (separate admissions), two movies that to me are about my generation of music and music people, "Boyhood" by Richard Linklater and "Begin Again" by Jon Carney.

And I've done it again, atomized into four or five topics, like I did in discussing, under your post, Llweyn Davis and 1961, "the upside down year" -- I was actually writing indirectly about Tom Parkinson the U.C. professor and that wave of McCarthyism mixed with bloodlust.

Bhi Bhiman is a Sri Lankan who went to Paly High, has been reviewed favorably in New York Times -- but never Palo Alto Weekly -- and is married to Palo Altan Katie Ross. Katie also works for a firm that manages the more popular Josh Ritter -- who incidentally has his book favorably reviewed by Stephen King -- and is run by a Gunn grad, Josh's college classmate, Oberlin, and his former drummer.

Is this a pop-culture, name-dropping masala?

Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Jul 31, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

Mark - tough question. They're both fantastic artists. I have to say that I was very taken with M.I.A. back in 2006/2007- her innovation and her influences (Boney M, the Pixies, Bjork) are my speed. But Matangi didn't interest me - maybe I'm getting old? - and I don't listen to her work at all anymore. I like Bhi Bhiman's voice and music - my husband and father really love his work and we've been thinking about going to one of his shows, but it's a little tough with a toddler. I didn't know he went to Paly - I thought he was from St. Louis. I actually know Darius (who manages Josh Ritter) - he and I went to high school together, and I've known his lovely wife since childhood.

Boyhood and Begin Again - both pretty great in a year of not-so-great movies.

Look out for I AM CHINA, which is a book by Xiaolu Guo that is going to be released early this fall. I just read an advance copy, and I think based on your liking of The Flamethrowers and being a music person, it might interest you.

Thanks for reading and your comments.

Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Jul 31, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

Thanks Sea-Seelam Reddy.

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Gunn High School,
on Jul 31, 2014 at 7:26 pm

I thought Katie told me that Bhi lived in Palo Alto for part of high school but I could be mistaken. I went to Gunn by the way.

I am trying to process Linklater and his moving point of view from "Slackers" to re-filming the same characters year after year in "Boyhood"...

Also, since I spend a fair amount of time in Austin, I was pleased by the geographic and actual cameos: Continental Club, Charlie Sexton.

We will try this restaurant you mention. (And duly noted the book).

See Reddy somewhere I posted he should have a campaign song based on Nina Simone "See Line..."

I am also running for Council. And blogging about it.

Bhi has a great song about Kimchee, the food.

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Professorville,
on Jul 31, 2014 at 7:29 pm

I met Darius Zelkha when he and Josh played Public Theatre Joe's Pub in New York on the same night as my then-client Mark "Stew" Stewart who is no sukka, and later created a Broadway play on his life "Passing Strange" I think I mentioned Bhi to Mark around that time, in 2004 or so.

How did Josh Ritter get Stephen King to review his book??

Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Aug 1, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

Mark - I think Stephen King blurbs a lot of books. Maybe he's a fast reader? Good luck running for Council!

Posted by Carole S., a resident of Gunn High School,
on Aug 4, 2014 at 10:01 am

Thanks for telling us about this place. My husband and I saw the signage going up at the restaurant over the last month, and have been telling ourselves that we'll have to have lunch there sometime.

I do hope they can correct the problem of the too-loud music. It's such a simple problem to fix, and yet it never gets any attention whenever it's mentioned.

I googled and found their website: Web Link

Now I'm looking forward to trying the Madras Mutton masala that you mentioned in your review.

Posted by KIM, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Aug 6, 2014 at 12:39 am

Awesome place Chennai kings.we visited & great food W/ reasonable price.The Owner Michael is a Veteran in Indian Restaurant.Overall anita ,it was great review.

Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Aug 6, 2014 at 7:54 am

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

Thanks for reading and your comments, Carole S. and KIM!

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Aug 6, 2014 at 9:38 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

We did eat there Sunday and enjoyed the chicken dish more than the lamb marrow soap. Also, great chance to catch up on Cricket action, on two screens. Friendly staff, almost over-staffed.

Plus, I ran into See Reddy at council and urged him to check it out.

Interesting conversation starter: have you tried the new Tamil-nadu in Mountain View?

My own blog will have some photos of our meal. I will have to read this more carefully, Anita's post, and try the food again. I said, to Reddy: I like Anita's movie and book recommendations so tried this cuisine based on that.

Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Aug 8, 2014 at 8:55 am

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

Hi Mark - feel free to post your blog link over here so people who read this can see photos. Should have noted that my brother's tastes and mine are different - e.g. he likes heartier, less subtle dishes. Glad you liked the chicken though. I've been meaning to go again and add any dishes I liked to these comments, but have been cooped up with the flu. Thanks for your comment.

Posted by Sea Reddy , a resident of College Terrace,
on Aug 20, 2014 at 8:45 am

I went to Chennai Kings last night around 8pm.

My impression:

For a small place, modern looking, bright colors, you get the best of Madras food, I will rate a 9 out of 10 and best value.

1. First of all, one needs a little background of south Indian and Madras food. I come from Telangana/AP a next door state and still do not know all about their 'Madras' food.

2. The best bet is 'biryani'. It comes with vegs/chicken/fish. The good thing is you get 'cooling' youghart to absorb the hot and spicy element of indian cooking.

3. The ambiance is great. new colors; cricket channel and music.

4. They are trying hard. Please give the owners/operators a chance!

5. And it is on El Camino; to the east side a few miles past Palo Alto; a small place. Hope you do not miss it!



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