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East Meets West

[whitespace] Paul Lenick
George Saakestad

Woking on the Sun: India Joze chef Paul Lenick woks up a variety of well-spiced creation like this lamb pad thai.

The legendary phenomenon that was India Joze is recalled by spicy seasoning, fresh entrees and atmospheric patio dining

By Christina Waters

AFTER COUNTLESS dinners out on this patio, I still feel the magic of India Joze's exotic vibes. The banana trees surrounding the peach-linened tables, the enormous trumpet blossoms dripping over the tiles, the palms and little white lights--no one ever sat out here and felt that it was the wrong place to be.

The little sambal condiments still arrive with the explanation that one is a tart lemon pickle, another is mango chutney and the hot stuff is a blaze of tamarind and chiles. Served with crispy cassava chips, they form an impromptu trio of wonderful dipping sauces as we wait for our main dishes.

While enjoying the summer breezes we sipped two fine wines, available from Joze's substantial by-the-glass list. One was a soft, rounded Vichon Merlot 1996 ($5), the other a Clos du Bois Marlstone Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 ($7.50). The cab was an elegant choice that stood up nicely to the complex spicings of the multicultural menu.

It's always hard to make choices at Joze, where you can just as easily gastronomically wander into Southeast Asia--with forays into the worlds of tamarind, ginger, lemon grass and chile--as you can hang out in the Middle East, or head south into India. My companion Jack adores every Indian import he's ever encountered, from Hindu goddesses to silver candlesticks. So he was all for an entree of lamb tenderloin woked with a fiery Madrasi curry of spices, tomatoes and cilantro ($14.95 a la carte).

I loved the idea of fresh salmon, but I also craved the house Javan Djawa sauce of basil, ginger and tamarind. So I asked if the two could be combined, and my waitperson obliged. Both the entrees arrived with substantial dressings of basmati rice, peanuts and either yogurt or gado gado--depending upon culinary origin.

We were more than ready to feast when our appetizers of calamari tighanite ($5.95) and fattoush salad ($2.25) arrived. The fattoush, a robust Lebanese spin on the Caesar salad, proved over-dressed for the occasion. Garlic blared, a tangle of bell pepper rings threatened to dominate the whole salad, and there were but two crisps of the famed pita triangles used to help absorb the dressing.

The calamari fared worse. A dark-brown hue, it was so heavily breaded and so over-cooked that it destroyed any detectable flavor and any semblance of texture. The skordalia served with it was thin in every respect.

A house mezze platter ($7.95) fared much better. Great Greek olives and artichoke hearts, we thought, munching happily on a lovely creation of spiced cauliflower and a world-class eggplant ratatouille. The skordalia, again, was lackluster.

When our entrees arrived, they brought with them steamy fragrances of the East. Enormous portions practically spilled off the plate--is it really necessary to ladle these sauces right to the edge? The basmati rice nicely soaked up the tomatoey curry that bathed Jack's lamb. Everything was complemented wonderfully by the cool yogurt also provided on the same plate.

My large cubes of fresh salmon had been deftly woked with the brilliant Javanese spices, and worked well with the gado gado sauce and handful of peanuts provided. Both entrees were well-spiced--medium, as requested--and delicious.

Our plates remained uncleared throughout our meal, but coffee arrived swiftly, as did a slice of lemon cheesecake that looked and tasted as if it had been made and then left to sit in the Joze refrigerator case a week before. Dry, stale and old, it was inedible. Guess we should have chosen one of the preponderance of chocolate desserts that our server had stressed.

India Joze
Address: 1001 Center St., SC
Phone: 427-3554
Hours: Lunch Mon.-Sat. 11:30am-2:30pm, dinner 5:30-9:30pm (till 10pm Fri.-Sat.), brunch Sun. 10:30am-2:30pm.
Service: * Never up to the quality of the cuisine, staff support here is haphazard if well-meaning.
Ambiance: ** A great patio garden is inviting, though the stripped-down interior can feel, well, minimalist.
Cuisine: ** Entrees are wonderful, desserts can be a gamble and appetizer presentation could use a whole re-examination.
Overall: Entrees still bear the stamp of the longtime Santa Cruz legend, but slippage appears on many other fronts, from service to execution.

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From the July 9-15, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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