Notice E Street has been a little spicier since November?
Recent addition to the neighborhood 21 and Seven from the Californian and Texan chain Chaat café, is heating things up, serving fiery Indian cuisine with a twist, as well as a plethora of beverages.
Next to Pita Pit on E Street, between Second and Third Streets, the restaurant-bar ticks all the boxes location wise, situated in the heart of Davis‘ downtown dining scene.
With the miserable weather getting us cold and down I thought this week would be the perfect time to sample some eastern warmth, so I headed here for a late lunch with a couple of friends.
Mid afternoon is never the busiest time in any restaurant, no matter how popular, but on this day 21 Seven looked like a set from a post-apocalyptic movie. A few men huddled around the bar, seemingly to share heat, as the spacious restaurant was chilly in its emptiness.
A jovial waiter-bartender was the sole employee in the front of the house and was quick to seat us and gets us some drinks.
The place itself was not badly decorated but lacks the sense of character that I have come to expect in Indian restaurants. The fact that the restaurant is part of a chain is all-too-clear given its modern, sterile decor, and although the place is half-a-year-old it still carries that just-painted air.
Our first impressions left us cold, but we were hopeful that the food would rectify this and live up to their “fast, fresh, casual” advertisement.
We began our meal with a selection of Chaat, or Indian appetizers. Ranging in price from $3.50 to $13.99 we stuck to our student budgets and optioned for the lower price range of appetizers, taking some Samosa and Papri Chaat, both at $3.99.
The service was quick, but given we were the only customers we took this lightly.
The appetizers were a pleasant surprise. The samosa’s were crisp on the outside and just spicy enough to warm us on the inside. Served with two refreshing dips and some spicy garbanzo beans it was a dish that catered to many tastes.
The Papri Chaat came, rather unexpectedly, as a bowl of mixed lentils, beans, potatoes, chips, yogurt and spices; and although it did not look very appetizing it was tasty, although the portion was only enough to make you hungry for more.
Our main meals were also quick to arrive, although our friendly waiter-bartender seemed to be needed in five places at once and therefore made a few mistakes with the order, but these were cleared up without drama.
I ordered the a la carte chicken curry for $7.99 which comes with either a plain naan or basmati rice. Meanwhile my friends took the chicken wrap and the Desi chicken wrap respectively, for $6.99.
The chicken curry had a tasty balance of spice and cream that was delicious when taken with the naan that I opted for. The chicken pieces were large and succulent and I have to admit that at this point the food was starting to make up for the lack of atmosphere.
The chicken wrap also garnered our praise. Craftily made with a piece of naan bread wrapped around a generous filling of tandoori chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes and mint chutney sauce, served with a small salad.
It made an unusual alternative to the lunchtime staple of the wrap: a bit of east meets west fast food.
However I cannot say the same for the Desi chicken wrap. Similar to the chicken wrap, only replacing the cucumber with green chillies and onion, it lived up to its name as the “spicy version” of the former. My friend finished it all, only it became more of a challenge than a treat.
To quell the fire however, the café offers a small selection of yogurt based drinks, or Lassis, for $2.29-$3.39, which were a soothing way to end the meal.
The highlight of the café, and its redemptive point, was the way in which it formed a fusion in it’s food between the two cultures: American and Indian.
21 Seven makes no effort to evoke any Taj-romance, which some may see as a negative, but successfully makes Indian food that is appropriate for Davis, including stuffed naan, pakora, salads and tandoor pizza. Everything is available as take-out.
By night the place transforms into a drinking hole so we decided to head back later to check it out.
Although slightly fuller than before, there was still a conspicuous amount of space, which made us all feel a bit awkward.
The bar itself is comprehensively stocked with the menu offering a selection of martinis under $10 with a happy hour between 3 and 6 p.m.
Bar service was again fast, but a lack of warmth and liveliness put us off so we left after one drink.
I have to say that as far as the quality of food and drinks go, 21 Seven is a success, but realistically we go to bars and cafés for that extra something that 21 Seven lacks. Bottom line: Try the take out but don’t stick around.
CHRISTOPHER BONE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.