Concentrated Indian flavors require a palate cleanser

When I go out to eat at an Indian restaurant, I end up feeling very full and slightly amnesiac. There was probably a saag paneer here, a chicken dish there and maybe, just maybe, chai. I noticed that people might disagree with my experiences since this Slate journalist loves saag paneer.

Small plates are becoming more popular in Indian cuisine, including in New York City’s Little India with Graffiti (Thanks for the pointer, Eileen!). D.C. is a part of the bandwagon, too. I was worried that the small plates would bring similar flavors to my previous experiences, but the small plates couldn’t have been more different. That’s a good thing. I would recommend drinking tea to wash it all down, though. The flavors are really strong.

Indique Heights

The small plates option is available from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m., every day of the week. I went there on a recent Saturday afternoon, and I found the place devoid of clientele. Hostess Jillian Justice said that the lack of patrons was because later times and weekdays invite larger crowds.

The Executive Chef, Silvaraman Balamurugan, was my bartender that afternoon, so I asked him about the pairings I could combine with the dishes I ordered. He suggested a tamarind margarita because it’s hot and sweet and would match the tamarind flavor in the dishes I ordered. He also suggested a drink called hot passion, which features jalapeño and passion fruit flavors.

However, alcohol doesn’t sit well with me, so I opted for a mocktail. The chef made a mango-tini for me. Here’s the sound:

I ordered tamarind shrimp and bhel puri.The shrimp had a warm-colored marinade and looked nicely grilled.  Underneath the shrimp, the small bed of mixed greens helped sop up the leftover marinade that didn’t stay on. The bhel puri was arranged in a circle and had blobs of tamarind sauce and green chutney alternating all over the square plate.

Bhel puri

Bhel puri (Photo credit: Selma Khenissi)

The shrimp’s flavors were hot and sweet, with the chilies dominating my palate. The mango-tini was a welcome cooling element. The drink’s fizziness lifted my spirits and reminded me that this is happy hour, after all.

The bhel puri reminded me of the onion, tomato and cucumber salad that many countries have a version of, including Morocco and Afghanistan. However, this dish only had tomatoes and onions mixed into the dish. The chutney and chopped herbs could act as the cucumber.

The tamarind sauce was prominent inside the bhel puri, but it didn’t make the puffed rice soggy. However, with the drink I had, the dish was too sweet and it needed more herb flavors.

Where: 2 Wisconsin Circle, Chevy Chase, MD 20815

Price: Inexpensive ($4 per plate)

Drinks to try: tamarind margarita, hot passion and mango-tini

Mango-tini

Mango-tini (Photo credit: Selma Khenissi)

Rasika

I went there on a Tuesday night, and it was pretty crowded. All of the formal dining seats were occupied, but the casual dining area still had an available seat for me, a patron who came in without a reservation. The casual section reminded me of a sushi bar because the star, in spite of a wine list, was the food.

My seating area had a few pleasant surprises in store. I really got the chance to see the kitchen staff at work. No windowpanes blocked my view of the kitchen, so I heard the sounds that were going on in there, too.

I also tried to playing a guessing game with the décor of spices. I think turmeric and cinnamon sticks were there, but the other spices were a complete mystery to me.

The casual dining area at Rasika's, where the kitchen is right in front of you

The casual dining area at Rasika’s, where the kitchen is right in front of you (Photo credit: Selma Khenissi)

The menu was hard to read, with terms like “Tawa – Griddle” and “Chaat – Savories” to deal with. But I figured it out and made wise choices.

The first dish I ordered was a spinach dish called malai palak. I am sure I would have overlooked it if it wasn’t for the TripAdvisor and Yelp reviewers who raved about this dish. My waiter, Ahmed, told me that it’s the chef’s signature dish, which he said is supposed to be unique and not like other dishes.

The spinach dish turned out to be a salad, but the greens are lightly fried. The fried spinach seasoning had the right amount of salt and would be appropriate to eat near the sea. The dressing had a chili flavor, but it also tasted creamy and a little sweet.

Malai palak, the raved-about spinach dish

Malai palak, the raved about spinach dish (Photo credit: Selma Khenissi)

The lamb kathi roll  was warm and comforting, but I wasn’t sure how to eat it at first. It was rolled up in roti and had diced tomatoes and onions. The dish also included mint chutney on the side. The question for me was: how do I use the chutney? For the rolled up bread and its lamb filling, do I use a fork and knife or do I use my hands? I asked my waiter, and his answer was that it didn’t matter that much.

“Make yourself at home,” he said.

The manager, Haque Zahirul, told me that the lamb is cooked in garam masala and in a tandoor oven. The garam masala would explain the warm spices I tasted from the lamb.

If you would like to order an alcoholic drink, my waiter suggested a champagne cocktail with ginger in it because it pairs well with Indian food.

Where: 633 D Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004

Cost: Moderate (Each dish I ordered was $10)

Drink to try: champagne cocktail

 

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