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By Anita Felicelli

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.