Open the door at Naya, an India-inspired fantasyland restaurant in Silver Lake, and enjoy exotic cocktails and cuisine from a land half way around the world.
One of the mysterious and chameleon qualities of a life in Los Angeles is our ability to shed the chaos and cacophony of the streets and urban clatter for the tranquility of a delightful foreign world just by walking through a door — like the one at Naya Sunset — an Indian fusion restaurant and lounge located on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake. When you enter, it’s like taking a surprising step into what could just as well be an exotic film set.
We step into Naya’s cocktail lounge through soaring brocade curtains hanging from 20-foot vaulted ceilings. Are we in India? Is that Indiana Jones in one of the dark corners sipping a Dancing Lotus cocktail made with lychee and pomegranate juice? Did I hear a bubbling hookah? Surely, there must be a resident cobra enchanted by a flute, dancing over there …
Romantic notions to be sure, but the impossibly high Gothic carved wooden arches, low golden lighting, subdued murmurs of guests in a cleverly designed and comfortable cinematic setting, certainly sparks one’s imagination. Discreet servers come by bearing spiced peanuts and other small bites — crunchy samosas with spinach and tofu, potato and peas, feta and arugula — along with cocktails made with ingredients worthy of fanciful legends.
My friend opted for the Scorpion Rose, made with Anejo tequila, grapefruit soda, lime juice agave and a hint of rosemary. We shared sips of the Kiss of Naya, made with rum, pineapple juice, crème de coconut, lime, ginger and basil — an enhanced piña colada. My favorite was the Dancing Lotus, potent yet subtle enough for a cocktail lightweight like me. Although we were seated at one of the low-lying tables with square leather settees, I could see that the expansive marble bar at the other end of the room would make a lovely place to hang out or meet friends.
Grateful for the 15 minutes in Naya’s lounge to recover from the traffic and reality, we were ushered through the curtains into the dining room, from darkness into light. Once again, we found ourselves in a fantasy. White billowing, gauzy curtains were gathered aside white leather banquettes and comfortably elegant tables. Lighting was golden and low key.
In spite of the soaring ceilings, the noise level was contained and carrying on a conversation with my table mate was pleasantly effortless. Naya, which means new in Hindi, lives inside a vintage Wells Fargo bank building. From the back of the dining room, you can see the armored door of the old bank vault — which gives the sense that you’re on a ship, headed for an exotic destination.
As soon as we took our seats, the freshly crisped and hot papadums arrived. These were definitely a welcome note to open the meal — super light and delicious, they were good on their own, but better when dipped in the small spoons of chutney that accompanied them, a tamarind tomato pickle and an herb Indian “pesto.”
The Sprout Street Potato Salad was next to catch our interest, made with crunchy sprouts, chick peas, potato, tortilla chips and a touch of sweetened yogurt, it emphasized not only taste but texture. The Sascha’s Garlic Prawns were next and easily became one of our favorite dishes that evening. The giant prawns were super fresh and charred just enough to enhance the Tandoori spice, served with mild pomegranate chutney.
These starters were the stars of the show, along with a Butter Chicken Masala, a traditional Indian dish of velvety smooth tomato sauce served over chunks of tender Cornish game hen. The Masala sauce was complex but subtle and very enjoyable. The plating was sophisticated and whimsical. Our other two entrees, Coconut Prawns and Everest Lamb ossobuco were rather one-note and all of the entrees we tried could have used more spices and less repetition of creamy textures. I would order the Chicken Masala again and was told it’s a favorite among frequent diners.
Dining at Naya was a tranquil and welcome interlude from the chaos outside the door. I would just like to see some dishes with a dash more daring — perhaps to show another side of Chef Imran Ali Mookhi’s personality. It’s undoubtedly a great place for happy hour “small plates” and cocktails, or dinner with a special friend. Naya also features a large private dining room and a patio garden, which would be lovely on a sultry evening.
Naya Sunset Restaurant and Lounge
3705 West Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles (Silver Lake), CA 90026
Naya Lounge: Daily from 4 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Naya Sunset: Serving dinner 6 p.m. – midnight nightly