Red-hot flames leaping from the side of a restaurant on Ventura Boulevard catch your eye as you drive by Copper Chimney, a 7-month-old Indian restaurant in Woodland Hills -- but it's just a faux fire, crafted from lights and fabric (an old theatrical stage technique) and meant to draw customers. The gimmick is attention-grabbing, but what might the place add to a part of the Valley that's already home to a surfeit of northern Indian restaurants?
As it turns out, Copper Chimney is a top-drawer addition, thanks to the chef's imaginative dishes, whimsical presentations and sophisticated spicing.
Trained at New Delhi's five-star Ashok Hotel, chef Dewan Bisht, most recently at Nawab in Santa Monica, also cooked in Bahrain and Japan, where he spent 13 years at a restaurant in Kobe. "He had to accommodate Indian food to Japanese tastes," says Kamala Bisht, his wife, who works the front of the house.
But that's not what Dewan Bisht is doing here. Instead, his cooking reflects a disciplined training in northern Indian classics to which he adds his own flourishes, expanding an approach he developed at Nawab.
There, he came up with graceful Indian-American fusion dishes such as Indian chicken salad. Baby greens tossed in a clean, fruity mango dressing and sprinkled with nuts are topped with sliced tandoori chicken that's a juicy, tender testimony to Bisht's skill with the 800-degree oven. The salad is garnished with a crisp fried potato-spiral garnish that unfurls like a Slinky over the chicken.
Spicy tandoori chicken wings are a delicious wedding of American bar food and Indian ingredients and techniques. "Chilly chicken" is a punningly named super-spicy combination of lightly battered, deep-fried chunks of white meat and tandoori-toasted bell pepper, ignited by a spicy, glaze-like sauce.
The restaurant's long, narrow room has a semi-open kitchen running nearly its entire length, and a few of the tables are squeezed awkwardly between the buffet area and the plate-glass front window. But chic tableware, starched white linen on the tables, the availability of beer and wine and, of course, the festively presented food, compensate for these slight inadequacies.
Every meal at Copper Chimney begins with a basket of warm crisp papadum, the deep-fried lentil wafers that not only whet the appetite but also showcase the chef's chutneys and pickles.
Tandoori dishes shine and go beyond the expected with creative marinades such as a purée of homemade Indian pickles that brings a bright tang and subtle heat to the Achari chicken. Mint chicken is outstanding too.
Don't overlook the stuffed nan, which you can order filled with roasted spinach, cauliflower, nuts and cherries, seasoned ground lamb and more.
There's a lengthy list of vegan and vegetarian offerings, such as a dish in which Bisht replaces paneer cheese with dense, bite-sized squares of tofu and adds them to masala-spiced vegetables simmered until they've melded into a sauce.
The best desserts are the house-made ice cream-like kulfis. A pistachio version, encased in a crust of ground nuts, mixes creamy and crunchy textures in every bite.
Copper Chimney may seem an offbeat name for an Indian restaurant, but it's a common one worldwide and signals a connection to Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, a city known for its metal crafts.
Bisht's Moradabad biryani is named for his hometown. Gently seasoned basmati is loaded with lean, falling-apart-tender lamb chunks and shaped into a pyramid. Festooned over the top like party streamers are strands of raw beet.
This angel hair-fine garnish, cut with one of those hand-cranked Japanese slicers you see in sushi bars, is one of Bisht's trademark touches and one more reason to welcome Copper Chimney into the already crowded Valley Indian scene.
Burum is a freelance writer.