A Michelin-Level Chef Fuses Indian Flavors at This Long Beach Hotspot – Eater LA
“Indian cuisine has a depth,” says chef Manjunath Mural of Long Beach’s newly opened Cali Chilli. “It has history, traditions, ingredients, and techniques — but it is still common to define it as ‘niche.’ It’s often kept to the genre of ‘family restaurant’ in many parts of the world, where it’s not real Indian food if it isn’t cheap and doesn’t have some type of chicken tikka on the menu.”
Mural should know. The globetrotting chef has spent the past decade-plus opening Indian restaurants around the world, mostly with a modernist bent. In 2015, his Singapore restaurant the Song of India earned it first of several consecutive Michelin stars, and he has since gone on to open projects in Brisbane, Australia; Jakarta, Indonesia; and beyond. Now he’s landed in Long Beach, California for his first Stateside partnership, Cali Chilli, a purposefully “unauthentic” restaurant that blends the flavors of India, Mexico, Italy, and Los Angeles.
For this latest endeavor, Mural has teamed up with area restaurateur and chef Sanjeev Kapoor, who also operates a handful of worldwide restaurants in addition to Tustin’s Yellow Chilli. Kapoor felt that Long Beach lacked in Indian representation (both in its residents and its food), with a singular, fast-casual space and a couple of formal restaurants and steam table lunch buffets serving the hundreds of thousands of area residents. Artesia, the heart of LA’s Indian restaurant scene is not far away, but for Long Beach locals, Kapoor felt that there was room for more growth, particularly a restaurant that would speak to the flexibility of Indian food’s wide-reaching flavors.
Together the pair opened Cali Chilli in late May in Lakewood Village, crafting the space to be a dinnertime destination — think brass-trimmed glass bar shelves, color-changing LED lights beneath the barstool seats, and tall, industrial ceilings — that didn’t take itself too seriously. The restaurant’s unique menu is meant to play on the American tendency to insist that foods from other countries must be served “authentically,” loosely defined as strict adherence to tradition or, more often, cultural tropes.
Butter chicken beneath puff pastry
Here, Mural plays with chicken tikka by adding parmesan and white truffle oil, eschewing heavy chili pepper and ginger in favor of warm Italian flavors. Elsewhere the chef plays on lasagna by stuffing slivers of eggplant — in lieu of pasta —between layers of paneer, drizzling butter masala across the top to create a complex dish that is both filling and playful in its inspiration.
This being greater Los Angeles, Cali Chilli also offers nachos and quesadillas, American comfort foods, flatbreads, and Korean spins across dinner and brunch. The oft-traveling Mural says that while the restaurant is still finding its footing and its audience, he expects to update the menu every six months or so. More than anything, Mural says that he’s eager with each new update to push the boundaries that he feels have often been imposed by …….