Last year-end, while we were in Los Angeles, we tried Aladin - LA's Bengali restaurant.
My general observation for all these restaurants is that the food is mediocre, at best. That, too, lacks consistency of quality. One day your Shorshe Ilish is so delicious that you rush back next weekend only to find a different tasting Shorshe Ilish that is so, um, bad that you would think that you have come to a different place. Also, these places lack any characteristic decor (Charulata had the best decor among these, though that doesn't say much), some are outright dirty by western standard. The service is homely but unprofessional. Overall, not a good eating experience.
That makes me thinking, why Bengali restaurants do not make good business? I think, there are valid reasons from different level.
- Bengali food is generally bland compared north Indian food. Bengali food requires developed palate. Compare Lau Ghonto with Aloo Gobi
- Bengali non-vegetarian specialty is fish cooked in such a way that it keeps the fishy flavor, which is synonymous to smelly for non-initiated. Any place that cooks fish in Bengali way smells repellingly fishy
- Bengalis want to eat only exotic or semi-exotic items in Bengali restaurants. I have heard Bengalis saying, "I can cook and eat those daal and lau ghono at home. Why would I pay for those. I will go to a restaurant to have Paturi, Daab Chingri, Koi Gonga-Jamuna. If insisted I can even try Shorshe Ilish, but that better be excellent."
- Bengali entrepreneurs who take the risk of opening these restaurants ignore aspects of a restaurant business other than the food quality. There also they try to cut corners. Without requisite amount of cash infusion to put up a comfortable place with good service and food, its hard for Bengali restaurant business to run successfully. If you have a already established cuisine with unlimited pool of customers who are addicted to that kind of food, you can forego the frills. Take Pakistani-Indian restaurants like Shalimar, Pakwan for example.
I would say, if you want to start a Bengali restaurant go with a good investment and for a longish haul. Hire the best Bengali cook. Get him or her from India or Bangladesh. Don't just make your mother-in-law toil in the kitchen pretending to be the head-cook. She may cook excellent Mochar Ghonto, but she definitely lacks training to manage and run the show in a busy restaurant. Set up a good ambiance. Use good plates and silver. Have enough and properly trained servers and busboys. Get a trained manager and steward. Make it a legitimate business instead of looking at it as a part time source of extra income with some spare-change investment. Respect the business and get the respect and patronage of the customers.