“Welcome, welcome, welcome,” a bubbly Padmini Puthanpurayil greets us at the door, a vision in a bright orange sari, looking quite unlike the Ph.D. professor that I had expected. We have driven over a hundred miles to sample the buffet at Mayura restaurant in Culver City. She ushers us to a booth and directs us to the sumptuous buffet whose aromas wafted invitingly into the parking lot.
We approach the buffet and tentatively try a teaspoon of each item—white appam, yellow mango chutney, red pickles, brown sambar and rasam, a colorful smorgasbord that looks like any buffet found in an Indian restaurant in North America. But just one bite and we could tell the difference. “I fly to India every three months to bring fresh spices directly from the farms,” says Padmini.”You won’t find anything that has been sitting in a warehouse here—everything is absolutely fresh and that’s what gives it the special taste. I bring back cardamom, ginger, cloves, turmeric, star anise and black pepper every trip directly from the farms.”
Mayura’s philosophy has been simple since Padmini and her husband Aniyan Puthanpurayil took over an existing Pakistani restaurant in 2006: serve simple, authentic items and do it well. While the menu is mainly specialty Kerala and South Indian cuisine, the menu has been expanded to include some North Indian items, though the kitchen is segregated into vegetarian and non-vegetarian areas. Padmini is a bundle of energy, directing the smiling staff to make sure each table has hot dosas delivered to the table, chatting with everyone and welcoming each person by name. Her sister Sathi and brother-in-law Venugopal manage the kitchen along with assistant chef Abel Fernandez. Padmini has a Ph.D. in commerce and used to be a researcher and teacher at the Sri Narayana Mangalam College near Cochin, but chose to run the family business when the whole family decided to migrate to the United States.
Aniyan and his family come from a family well-versed in the restaurant business and own similar eating establishments back in their hometown in Kerala. They are Sri Narayana followers and follow their guru’s words to the letter, though they employ staff from all religions and regions. Padmini spends part of her morning in prayer and every festival is celebrated with special traditional foods at the restaurant—so Mayura is packed with loyal patrons even on weekdays. Her spirituality and beliefs are the essence of their success—she tithes a portion of their earnings to charities. “I believe it gives us a lot of energy and gives back to you,” says Padmini.
We dig into the sumptuous buffet. True to Padmini’s word, the hot masala dosas are paper thin and the amvade is delicious. The chutneys compliment every dish and the banana poriyal andaviyal are amazing. I expected everything to have a heavy coconut taste, but am pleasantly surprised. The impressive buffet at Mayura boasts of over 23 dishes with three appetizers, four vegetable offerings, three meat dishes, five chutneys, various types of rice, salads, fresh fruit and dessert with hot dosas brought to your table by smiling staff.
On special festival days, like Vishu and Onam, the staff at Mayura takes great pride in sharing stories about the beauty and culture of Kerala and other parts of India. There are huge feasts, with the menu hewing to tradition. “Most Indians who have migrated to the United States tend to forget important festival dates since there is no public celebration here, so we remind them with these special foods and atmosphere. Our website is updated with the information and our customers come here for the nostalgic experience,” adds Padmini.
The family’s philosophy of “doing good to receive good” has held them in good stead. The small restaurant boasts of hosting President Abdul Kalam, Minister Vayalar Ravi, Consul General Susmita Thomas, music maestro A. R. Rahman, and several others. I talk to a family from Apple Valley who is visiting the restaurant. For the Menons, a trip to Mayura feels like coming home. “We can’t go to India often,” rues Radha Menon, “but this is the closest we come to enjoying the food and hospitality from Kerala. The food is so authentic. Padmini puts her heart into it—she takes our suggestions and makes additions to the menu.” The Menons have also been happy with Mayura’s catering services that they have used several times.
Mayura’s success has translated to the opening of another branch, Mayura Amrit, a compact 35-seater restaurant close to the USC campus. The restaurant hires students from the university. “It’s our small way of supporting the community,” says Padmini. Her children Anju and Ajith pitch in and help out whenever they can.
“Now that my restaurant is established, I would like to write about how important spirituality is in business,” says Padmini, as we wind up our exceptional meal. She has a group of like-minded friends who believe that faith in God will lead to sustainable success. “I believe that every person who comes in is a VIP guest—I see God in them and serve them with the same love I would show a member of my own family” she adds.
We certainly feel special. Our long trip to Mayura has been well worth the drive.
Harini Narasimhan is a freelance writer who actively volunteers at various nonprofit organizations and is based in sunny San Diego, CA.
10406 Venice Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
Open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.