In India, Masala literally translates to “spice.” You’ll get that and much more at this Indian-inspired restaurant on Fifth Avenue. As you enter from the chaotic streets of downtown, you are instantly transported to a far away place. The space exudes warmth with its lighting, and delectable colors that mimic India’s traditional dishes such as Mango Chutney, Saffron Rice, and of course, Curry. On the menu is a Spicy Mango Salad which comes with perfectly sliced slivers of mango with greens, onions, tomatoes, and cucumber. You’ll also want to try their Masala Mix which marries the spices of India with a mixture of onion, tomato, cucumber, and cilantro. A generous helping of lemon juice adds a nice zing to the earthiness of the spice, which enhances the crunch of the main ingredients. A plane ride to India takes close to 20 hours, and will put you out approximately $800 round trip. If you don’t have the luxury or time to visit this beautiful country at the moment, I strongly encourage you to visit Masala. Chef Ashley Popat will scratch your travel bug with her delicious and aesthetically pleasing cuisine while you dine in a little slice of India.Read More ...
It’s rare to find the kind of brilliant fusion of old world and new world that Masala delivers. Chef Ashley Popat has created a restaurant where earthy colors drape modern designs, time-honored spices meet exotic presentation, and India and America collaborate to throw a celebration of the five senses.
Located near the end of Fifth Avenue, near the Convention Center in the Gaslamp Quarter, Masala has been a wise choice for Indian cuisine since 2006. The restaurant is family run, with Chef Popat responsible for the creative end and her brother, Rakesh, taking care of administration. Named for her special version of Gharam Masala, which consists of 30 different whole spices she grinds herself, Chef Popat envisioned the restaurant as a destination for Indian cuisine with a touch of fusion, in a fun and modern setting. And that’s just what we experienced.
The idol Ganesh, surrounded by warmly flickering candles and an array of spice dishes, welcomes us into Masala and hints to the variety of flavors we will soon be enjoying. Immediately, the creative utilization of space strikes me. The walls are covered in long, luxurious fabrics, great mosaic columns in red tones support the very high ceilings, and festive beads hang in an intriguing “S” shape directly to the back of the restaurant. The curly, silver chandeliers throughout the restaurant cast a romantic glow over diners, enhanced by the candlelight dancing on the tables and in the lounge. The modernly chic ambiance with its rich textures and crimson colors provides a lush setting in which to enjoy Chef Popat’s culinary achievements.
There are many areas to sit, all with well-spaced tables and classic leather-backed chairs, providing a comfortable, spacious and personal experience. Part of the main dining room has the option of being enclosed by curtains to create an interesting semi-private space. . An upstairs level, with a lit wine display and more mosaic columns, is used for private parties of about 50 or nights when the restaurant gets really busy. If you prefer to enjoy San Diego’s fresh breeze, you can also opt to eat on the patio.
Our very helpful waiter, Ravi, began the evening by bringing us a sampling of their most popular martinis from the bar. The bar itself, resting just beyond the lounge, adds to the décor with its stone surroundings and subtle waterfall, bringing the lush colors and sparkle of the restaurant back down to earth. We tasted the Passion’tini’, composed of passion fruit juice, fresh lime, vodka and pomegranate liqueur with a slice of strawberry, the fruity smell of which tipped us off to the loveliness of this tasty drink. Second, the Mango’tini’ offered a more subtle fruit taste, with its Blue Ice Vodka, fresh mango pulp, Triple Sec, and a splash of lemonade. The Taj’tini’, my personal favorite, was composed of gin, fresh cucumber and mint. It is a wonderfully refreshing summer drink I’d like to appreciate poolside!
While we were enjoying our delightful martini sips, our first appetizer, Desi Chatt, arrived. These samosas, or triangle-shaped fried pastries, were stuffed with potatoes and peas and topped with spicy yogurt, a salsa-like mixture of cilantro, onions, and tomatoes, and tamarind chutney. My fork was like a battalion trying to break the fortress of the towering samosa with its yogurt and tomato camouflage. Upon first taste, there was a burst of flavors and textures, the starchy potatoes, tangy salsa, and crunchy samosa all mingling together. It was a refreshing combination of comfort and excitement, all expertly blended by the neutralizing powers of the spicy yogurt.
Our second appetizer, cleverly named Bombay Ganoush, was yet another exquisite combination of spices and textures. In the center of the plate was a bowl that contained the hummus, which was mixed with tomatoes and onions, offering a fresh bite to the otherwise simple chickpeas. The small bowl was surrounded by garlic naan, thin, chewy bread topped with crunchy garlic, to serve as delicious spoons for the ganoush. Hidden underneath the naan was the secret pleasure to the whole dish: roasted eggplant. The texture was brilliantly done, with a crispy skin and a soft center, and the toasted seeds brought with them nostalgia for the comforts of autumn. The seasoning was simple, allowing the true taste of the eggplant to star.
To accompany our main entrees, a bottle of Raymond Reserve Merlot was suggested. A 2005 vintage, this Napa Valley wine offered smooth flavors of ripe cherry, currant and raspberry. It was a well-balanced, rich accompaniment to all our dishes and offered a delightfully smooth finish. The wine list offers many varietals, but is still very select with bottles from Santa Barbara, Napa Valley, Monterey, and also Italy, France, and even one from South Africa.
The Cheese & Basil Kulcha and the Poori arrived to the table in woven baskets. The Kulcha, or leavened stuffed naan, was thick and quite dense, and the spices freckled along the top brought out the flavors of the cheese within. Alternatively, the Poori, which was deep fried and very puffy, was thinner and more chewy. Since it was plain, it was great to top with extra sauces from the different dishes.
We were served three entrees: one chicken dish, one lamb, and a vegetarian option. My personal favorite was the Butter Chicken, and Chef Popat affirmed that many of her customers agree, consequently making it the most-ordered dish at Masala. It was delivered on a rectangular-shaped dish, which supported large pieces of red tandoori chicken covered in herbs and spices, topped with cilantro and fresh onion. The slow-cooked, tender chicken was covered in so many wonderful spices it was hard for my taste buds to settle on just one. Since Chef Popat uses her secret masala, I guess we’ll never know all of them, but there’s definitely ginger, chili, and turmeric, which create a dish full of spice. The sultry flavors explode in the mouth and are all tied together by the crisp, fresh onion.
Next, as the menu describes, the Pudini Lamb was indeed “a delectable lamb dish” with huge chunks of lamb sitting comfortably in a thick curry sauce, all topped with several fresh mint leaves. The smell of the mint was the first enticement, and the flavor of the lamb, enhanced by the exotic curry sauce, didn’t disappoint the senses either. The tomato-based curry was creamy and the whole mint leaves erved to bring out the natural flavors of the lamb, overall providing a quite flavorful experience.
Saag Aloo, one of the most popular dishes in India, is simply composed of spinach and potatoes. It was served on a long, rectangular dish garnished with more carrots and limes, and also leafy sprigs of cilantro. This dish becomes a comfort food even for those who haven’t grown up eating saag aloo. Its earthy potato pieces fell apart in my mouth and the spinach gushed with flavor. It was an automatic success at our table.
Initially thinking we couldn’t eat another bite, we quickly changed our minds upon seeing the dessert sampler, complete with Saffron Kulfi, Mango Mousse, and Chocolate Samosas. The Kulfi, a homemade Indian ice cream, resembled a marble sherbet with its orange swirl of tantalizing saffron. It was icy and composed of actual pieces of crumbled saffron, a rare pleasure.
The Mango Mousse was presented in a large wine glass stuffed with clouds of whipped mango pulp and fresh cream, all topped with fresh mangos. The mousse was like eating mango-infused whipped cream, it was so creamy, smooth, and fluffy. The sweet, fruitinessof the mango paired with the lightness of the mousse make this an excellent summer dessert.
We saved the Chocolate Samosas for last and were happy to end on such a high note. The fried turnovers were filled with Ghirardelli Chocolate Cheesecake, drizzled with chocolate and finally topped with strawberries and powdered sugar. The cheesecake was creamy and sweet—a great offset to the bitter chocolate. Finishing with the Chocolate Samosas reminded me of the Desi Chatt we had enjoyed at the beginning of the evening, bringing our lovely dinner full circle.
A meal at Masala resembles the alluring mosaic columns throughout the restaurant—fresh ingredients and enticing spices all pieced together into a presentation that sparkles. Expect Chef Popat and her excellent staff to make you feel welcomed, and prepare to enjoy a tour through the spices of India.
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We made reservations for two on for Saturday night at around 7 and were seated right away upon arrival. All of the employees were extremely friendly and accommodating. The food here was honestly the highlight of my night. I have only had food this great one other time in my life at 'Lucille's", and had never even tried Indian food. Now I'm hooked! The atmosphere definitely deserves note- the decor and ambiance worked perfectly. The Masala is fairly quiet compared to most restaurants in the Gaslamp, which allowed for dinner conversation. A little pricey for a regular dinner, as are most restaurants in the Gaslamp, but I am certain that I will make a reservation there the next time I have any extra money, a special night, or an event. If you don't dine here at least once, you are missing out.
The food was great, well presented, friendly atmosphere and a nice and elegant decoration which makes your dining experience enjoyable.
Excellent food and ambience. Highly recommended while in San Diego!
I went there the day before Valentines Day and the restraunt was packed. The staff seemed like they did not know how to handle the crowd and were unorganized. However, i am easygoing and wasn't bothered by this. The food was delicious, and the service was soso. The whole dining experience was about an hour and a half. So if you're in a hurry not the place, but if you have time it's worth a try
Our experience on V-day 2010 was okay. The tables were really close together. The kitchen served a set menu and we didn't like two of the four entrees served to us. They have a limited beer selection and we are beer drinkers. The chicken tikka masala was so delicious though! Would try this restaurant again on a regular day.
Ate at this restaurant on a Friday evening, I was glad that it was not too busy. The service was great and the food was excellent. I strongly recommend this restaurant.
The resturant is very good and the food is great,the waiter was very helpful with his suggestions. I was a little disappointed that there was not amaretto in the bar nor was there any white zinfandel wine; I probably did not need that anyway, so it did not ruin my dining experience.
Food was great, service was great. Very satisfied with this place. Recommend it 100%
Top flight Indian food, charming waiter, a little slow on service outside because restaurant was slammed inside hour of a Padre game. We made it in time, after informing waiter, but it was tight. Would definitely dine there again.
The food was excellent, the atmosphere was very good, and the prices were very reasonable. I highly recommend this restaurant.
Very good variety of spices and how it complimented the dishes, waiter very knowledgeable of what spices go with different meat/seafood dishes. Tasty Martini's, could play continious Indian music. overall geat experience highly recommended!!!
I went to the restaurant for the first time and it was my idea to suggest this restaurant for our team dinner. I did a lot of research to select this restaurant. Everything about the restaurant was great but food. Food really sucked. We order almost everything in the menu and none of the items were good. This supposedly the best and most expensive Indian restaurant disappointed me in terms of food taste. And drinks - I ordered three non-alcoholic drinks and every time the waiter brought me the same drink in different glasses. They all tasted and looked exactly the same.
We had a party of 6 for dinner and our server started off attentive and kept trying to hurry us to order. Once we ordered, it took over 45 minutes just to get our appetizers, and another 30-45 minutes to get our meals. Once we received our meals, we had nothing left to drink and we could not find our waiter to request more. This pretty much ruined our meals. Once he served the meals, he was gone, we had to ask the hostess to retrieve our check for us. The food was great thou! The ambience is nice, but it was really hot in there and the service was terrible.
Don't go here if you have high standards for service-cause you're not getting anyone.
The food is OK and very pricy. Not Authentic Indian flavor. If you are looking to have Indian cuisine then definitely not this restaurant.
The lotus martini and ambiance were excellent but the food was expensive and definitely less flavorful than the average indian restaurant. We asked for an 8/10 in spiciness and received a 2/10 at best. The food was unfortunately bland.
It started with a wobble table and surly waiter and didn't improve. We waited about 15 minutes before the waiter even offered us a beverage. Once we had our wine he quickly took our order. We waited and waited, finally it came, tepid and not great. Perhaps because we're from Vancouver, B.C. which has excellent India food but take a pass and try Monsoon.
The menu for the night we went was completely different than what was online. They served a buffet option or a choice of only 5 dinner meals. Food was ok. In my opinion not worth the money.
I can't remember the last time I experienced 'service' like this. I went to Masala with my husband on a Saturday night, after making a reservation online. The greeter wasn't out the front, but once we found him inside he was friendly and polite and showed us to a streetside table for 2. It was a little chilly initially and unfortunately the heaters are sparse and ineffectual (very small area) so by the end we were freezing. Eventually, a waiter came over and took a drink order, very unfriendly, rude and abrupt. Another waiter drifted by 15 minutes later and took our order. After 30 minutes we had not received our drinks or seen either of the first 2 waiters that served us. When the drinks arrived, mine wasn't the drink I ordered and my husbands mojito contained exactly one half of a mint leaf - pathetic for a $$ drink. When they eventually brought me the drink I ordered it was watery and horrible and tasted like kool aid. I didn't send it back, I should have, but I didn't want to wait 45 minutes for another one. The food eventually arrived. It's ok Indian food - the naan tastes like they use frozen dough and the texture isn't fresh and slightly chewy like it should be, it was dry and crumbly with a 'freezer burn' flavour. The rogan josh is good, not spicy enough and it's supposed to be tender, which it was though only slightly. Because we were sitting outside and had no heater close, the food went cold really quickly. I can't say it was bad food, it's just not memorable in any way, the total lack of service is what stands out. We were left alone, never ordered another drink or dessert because we were never asked if wanted to. The 3 times we had a waiter at the table, it was a different one. We watched numerous people come to the greeters stand and wait for service. Occasionally a waiter would drift over and promise them a table and direct them to the lounge inside which filled up pretty quickly. Then people started standing in the door ways and aisles which makes for a pretty unpleasant experience when you're trying to eat dinner. The frustrating thing was that there were plenty of empty tables ! Most of them remained uncleared after customers left, the table next to us remained covered in dirty dishes for 40 minutes and was still uncleared when we left the restaurant. They could have seated and served four customers in that 40 minutes ! Noone ever brought us the check, so we stood up and joined the throng of people milling around the doorway, thinking that a waiter would at least notice that we had left the table. No such luck. We stood in the doorway for 20 minutes, until the 3rd waiter we asked finally brought us the bill. Our fellow would be diners who were waiting for a table were encouraging us to leave without paying. I've never done that, but for the first time I was sorely tempted - I really don' t think they would have noticed. We paid, no tip and we won't ever go back.
Lousy restaurant ... don't bother stepping in! Dingy, hot and humid place. Food is at best mediocre - failry bland and flavorless. The lunch buffet is organized in a dingy corner. The stairs are steep and ready to trip you up. The carpet is old and stinking. The staff are in general quite spaced out and untrained. The service is very slow as a result. Someone is running a budget place here but charging high market prices. There are many other better Indian restaurants in town. Avoid this one - not worth your time and money!
What a piece of work this place is. Quite a dump. SUCKS HARD!
The worst indian food I have tried. If you want good indian food then visit Ashoka the Great off Black Mountain Road, the chicken is not dry and their shrimp is not fishy!
Very noisy restaurant. even though we made a reservation and requested for a booth they did not honor it and put us in some other seating area. very pricey and the taste was horrible. would not go another time.
my boyfriendand I had reservations for valentines we waited there to be served for over two hours and the restaurant wasnt busy at all the waiters were very rude we asked for beer and they never even brought it to us i recommend no one go there an there fod sucked