Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tikka Bytes - Tikka Masala Rice Bowl with Paneer

I am always in search of good Indian food, so when I saw Tikka Bytes at the Newpark Mall during the Summerfest festival, I jumped right in line. What to order was actually a very hard decision because they have a pretty extensive menu, but for my first try I went with a tried and true favorite - Tikka Masala. But this was nothing like I have had before!

Tikka Bytes is a gourmet Indian food truck that serves up Indian street food to the Bay Area tech workers. (Get it, bytes?) They aim to use healthy, local ingredients and give 10% of their profits to various charities. They have a blog on their website where they chronicle their charitable efforts, and I have to say, it's heartwarming to read about how they donated $250 to an orphanage in India which bought blankets and sweaters for 22 kids. When I read stories like this it's always a good reminder for me to be thankful for what I have and that I have the luxury of supporting such food trucks.

The nice part about their menu is that it's completely customizable. You start with a base that is either a Naanwich, a rice bowl or a burrito, fill it with a protein (veggies, paneer, chicken, lamb or tofu) and then add a sauce. If I remembered high school math better I could tell you how many theoretical combinations that makes, but let's just say it's enough not to get bored (anyone want to post the answer in the comments?). Plus they have a bunch of extra sides, and today they even had some other small appetizers on display in the front of their truck. No Indian truck would be complete without the requisite Mango Lassi, and they also sell some bagged Indian snacks.

I chose the rice bowl with paneer and asked the guy who took my order for his advice on the sauce. He told me to go with the tikka masala, and I readily agreed, having lots of other sampled masala sauces to compare it to. My order was served promptly and accompanied by a raitha chutney. For $6.00 it was a huge portion, and I couldn't wait to dig my fork into it.

So here is the unique part. Some dishes are either really fantastic, some are really awful and a lot lie somewhere in the middle. But it's the dish as a whole which garners the ranking. Here, the individual components were completely at opposite ends of the spectrum, which makes it really difficult to rate the dish as a whole. First off, the biriyani was fantastic. The basmati rice was perfectly cooked so that it wasn't too crunchy or soggy, and by itself it had a wonderful blend of seasonings. I loved it. The paneer, too, was really tasty, and my dish had loads of it. The paneer was cut into small rectangles that were firm and creamy. So these two components were both winners.

Then came the tikka masala sauce.

Looking at it blanketing my dish it seemed fine, but one taste and I furrowed my brow, holding the fork to my mouth. This wasn't any masala sauce that I was used to! First off, it was sweet! Masala sauce might have a subtle sweetness from the tomatoes, but this was actually overwhelming. Plus, it was super thick and pasty. I was really disappointed and had a twinge of regret that I didn't choose the korma. I had been so looking forward to a nice, creamy masala, and what I got was completely in the opposite direction. I wonder, then, could it be that since I arrived late the sauce was just sitting too long? All of the other components of my dish were so tasty, it seemed an anomaly that the sauce would miss the mark.

I didn't finish my meal and saved the rest for the next day, but that didn't improve matters either. I would like to note, though, that the paneer and rice still held up nicely after a brief visit to the microwave. Tikka Bytes still has two more sauces, so the next time I will give one of those a try. Or perhaps I just need to arrive early and ask for the freshest batch of sauce.

Rating: 2/5 (ratings guide)

Tikka Bytes (@TikkaBytesTruck) $6.00 for a rice bowl

Does reading this make you want to try this vendor? Tell them that you saw them at I Left My Cart in San Francisco and support San Francisco street cuisine!

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