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Ananda: Indian Delight in the Suburbs

30 Apr

When you have friends that live in Baltimore, it’s a bit challenging trying to determine a restaurant to meet in the middle between Charm City and our nation’s capital. But then I remembered reading Todd Kliman’s glowing review of Ananda, an Indian restaurant located in Howard County, last fall in Washingtonian. Only a few months later, Ananda was named the 16th best restaurant in this year’s Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants list, prompting Rachel to book a table for four a few weeks ago.

It turned out that Ananda was nearly equidistant from Fells Point and Silver Spring in terms of travel time, and while the restaurant is nestled within the Maple Lawn planned community of townhomes, storefronts, and traffic circles in Fulton, Maryland, once you step inside you nearly forget that you’re dining in the ‘burbs.

The interior was rather lavish, with tables adorned with white tablecloths and formally-dressed wait staff bustling around the dining room as if you were having dinner in Penn Quarter.

We started our meal off by opening with the avocado and roasted corn salad. Blended with red peppers, white balsamic vinaigrette, and topped with a thin, crispy papadam, it was a refreshing appetizer to say the least.

Avocado and roasted corn salad

Up next was one of their appetizer specials, Gobinda. It was a roasted, slightly spicy cauliflower dish that was both crispy and delicious.

Roasted caulifower

Three out of four of us ordered the almond-crusted lamb chops as our entrée, not only because of the acclaim from Mr. Kliman’s review but also based on the waiter’s recommendation. The endorsements from both gentlemen rang true after the best bite. Accompanied with mint chutney and masala, the quartet of succulent lamb chops were perfectly cooked and praised as a terrific dish by the entire table.

Almond-crusted lamb chops

Meanwhile Rachel opted for the roasted wild salmon with a spicy tomato coulis (Fish Tikka). It was another excellent entrée which also had a good amount of heat. While it was probably at the upper end of Rachel’s tolerance for spice, I personally loved it. We also ordered naan for the table, which is always a given, but the cucumber raita was superb and really stood out.

Fish Tikka

To round out the evening, we got the saffron poached pear with cardamom ice cream for dessert. There’s nothing better than melted ice cream atop a pear cobbler, or any type of cobbler for that matter.

Saffron poached pear with cardamom ice cream

Our entire table was not only impressed by how good the food was, but that there was a restaurant of this caliber right in the middle of a suburban town center between D.C. and Baltimore. And that’s not a knock on Fulton – in fact, I’d be pretty jealous of being walking distance to this place if I lived there, especially for happy hour. Anyway, Ananda is worth the visit if you’re driving up or down 95 just for those amazing lamb chops.

Ananda on Urbanspoon

An Anniversary Dinner at Rasika

27 Mar

Like many in the D.C. area, Rachel and I have enjoyed wonderful meals at Rasika and its West End counterpart several times over the last few years.  But when we were researching a Washington restaurant to celebrate our five-year anniversary that not only offered exquisite food but also didn’t break the bank (date nights now require a babysitter these days), chef Vikram Sunderam’s Penn Quarter establishment was a perfect match.

Between the outstanding consistency from each prior visit as well as the countless dishes we still had yet to try from the menu, we felt that Rasika was an ideal destination. We started the evening off with some cocktails at the bar while waiting for our table. On top of that, we brought along a bottle of Dom Perignon Vintage 2000 that we received as a wedding gift five years ago. We felt that it was the ideal time to finally pop it open, plus the $25 corkage fee was rather reasonable and would pair up nicely with some of the dishes we would soon be having.

Before we even ordered, our waitress poured us two complimentary glasses of sparking rose since they knew it was our wedding anniversary – a very nice touch!

Mattar Pudina Tikki

We kicked off with the Mattar Pudina Tikki – minced green peas shaped into two patties and blended with mint and mozzarella. This was only our first dish of the evening but even with that initial bite we could tell we were going to have a memorable, enjoyable dinner. The combination of flavors works wonderfully yet you’re still able to distinguish all the ingredients with one forkful.

Mango shrimp

Next was another popular dish, the mango shrimp. Perfectly cooked, the quartet of shrimp was prepared with fresh mango, cashews, ginger, and coriander while the mint chutney made for a great dipping sauce.

Palak Chaat

The following dish was one that has been previously covered on this blog and needs no further explanation, the Palak Chaat. Fine, it was amazing. As always. Just an essential D.C. dish.

Chicken green masala

For our main course, we decided to be a little more adventurous and order the chicken green masala. Our waitress warned us that it was spicy, grading it a 7 out of 10 on the unofficial spice scale. While I’m a lover of all things spice, Rachel had some slight trepidation. Let me tell you, this dish is spicy! I would probably grade it an 8/10 myself in terms of spice, but unfortunately it was too much heat for Rachel. Having said that, I still really enjoyed it although I did need a few rehydration breaks (the champagne helped!). I sopped up the extra sauce with the garlic and truffle naan we ordered, too.

Wild mushroom korma

We also ordered sides of the broccoli cashew nut poriyal and wild mushroom korma. The latter was very rich but helped balance the spice of the green chicken masala thanks in part to the coconut milk base.

Apple jalebi

For dessert, we opted for Rasika’s bestselling dessert, the apple jalebi. Basically an Indian beignet, it’s the cardamom ice cream that’s the real star of the show. They also threw in a complimentary dessert to celebrate our anniversary which was another nice touch.

There’s a reason why Rasika is continuously rated as one of the best restaurants in the District year in and year out: the food is consistently exceptional. This is probably the fourth or fifth time we have dined at Rasika and after each visit we are wowed by the cooking. It also helps that they not only take reservations, which makes it much easier for when we have to hire a babysitter, but that it is also very reasonably priced. Honestly, I would be happy rotating visits to Rasika, Red Hen, and the Corduroy bar whenever Rachel and I have a date night in D.C., because these are the places you know you’ll have a good, filling meal without spending an inordinate amount of money. I’ll just make a mental note that the green chicken masala is really, really spicy on our next visit.

Rasika on Urbanspoon

Rasika West End

22 May

Rachel and I have always loved Rasika, and with her brother in town from Seattle, we wanted to show him that Washington D.C., just like the Emerald City, is a dining destination.

Rasika West End, just like its Penn Quarter counterpart, has been in high demand since it first opened its doors. In fact, we had to book our reservation nearly a month in advance to lock down a table for a Saturday night.

After toying with the idea of ordering the four-course tasting menu, we ultimately decided to share a bunch of plates and go the a la carte route instead. That turned out to be a very wise decision since there was so much we wanted to try from Executive Chef Vikram Sunderam’s kitchen.

Palak chaat

Of course, one cannot visit Rasika without ordering the trademark palak chaat. There is a reason why this is one of the top dishes in the District. Featuring crispy baby spinach, yogurt, tamarind, and dates, the combination of ingredients amounts to a memorable first course.

Honey ginger scallops

Just as good were the honey ginger scallops. Typically two to a plate, our waiter was able to accommodate an additional scallop for our table for an additional fee. The scallops were large with with a nice blend of flavors from the honey and ginger with just the right amount of sear from the kitchen.

Banana avocado chaat

Not to be outdone was the banana avocado chaat. Just like the palak chaat, this was an exceptional dish. Prepared with cumin, red chili powder, tamarind, and date chutney, the combination of crispy banana and creamy avocado made this my favorite plate of the evening so far. You wouldn’t think these flavors would go well together, but they blended perfectly and we couldn’t get enough of the grilled banana.

Khatta Meetha black cod

We decided to share two entrees amongst the three of us after a trio of fantastic first courses. First was their signature Khatta Meetha black cod. Unlike the Penn Quarter location, it’s prepared two ways at West End. The first preparation uses their classic recipe of fresh dill, honey, star anise, and red wine vinegar. The second preparation, however, incorporates a cheddar and tamarind glaze. In short, both pieces of fish were absolutely stellar.

Salli Boti

Next was another West End exclusive — Salli Boti. This savory Parsi dish features tender chunks of lamb, onions, tomatoes, apricot, and straw potatoes. It was essentially an Indian stew and made for great comfort food.

Ringana Nu ShakGobhi MattarDal Dhungaree

On top of all of this, we also ordered a trio of vegetarian sides to share which ranged from eggplant to smoked lentils to cauliflower. Oh, and you can’t have an Indian meal without an order of naan. Rachel and I opted for the garlic naan while David, Rachel’s brother, went with the spicier chili olive variety.

Garlic naan

There’s a reason why both locations of Rasika are one of the toughest tables in town – they serve up the area’s best Indian food. All three of us were incredibly happy with what we ordered, and there were no regrets once we finished. On top of that, our waiter was incredibly knowledgeable with the menu and actually recommended the Salli Boti to us after debating what to order with the magnificent black cod. Between the exquisite food and wonderful service, it’s no question why Rasika is so cherished in the District.

Rasika West End on Urbanspoon

Masala Art - A Taste of India in Uptown DC

6 Dec

While Rasika gets a lot of pub for its wonderful Indian cuisine, Masala Art is nearly as good and even better priced. Located right in the heart of Tenleytown off Wisconsin Avenue, Masala Art offers an extensive menu that ranges from four varieties of naan to more than a dozen vegetarian entrees.

Sarson wali Gobhi

With our friends Brian, Kim, and their baby Micah, we kicked off our Indian dinner with an order of their garlic and black pepper naan as well as the Sarson wali Gobhi (tandoori cauliflower). The naan was terrific – it arrived piping hot and was not dry at all. It also helped sop up the sauce from the gobhi which featured a coating of spices punctuated by mustard seeds.

Garlic and black pepper naan

Meanwhile, I couldn’t resist ordering a personal favorite, the Chicken 65. Our friends Keith and Casey, who live across the street from Masala Art, turned me onto this appetizer and I have been hooked ever since. A stew-like dish that features chunks of chicken in South Indian masala, it had a nice kick and wonderful flavor. Highly recommended.

Chicken 65

As for our entrees, we decided to order a trio of dishes to share amongst the table. We went with the Murgh Makhani (chicken in tomato cream sauce), Channa Masala (chickpeas), and Baingan Bharta (Tandoor roasted eggplant). Otherwise knows as butter chicken, the Murgh Makhani was very good although there could have been a little more meat with all that delicious sauce.

Murgh Makhani

Meanwhile the Channa Masala, another traditional dish, was a crowd-pleaser. It was nothing extraordinary, but it was well-executed and well-suited for sharing.

Channa Masala

As for the Baingan Bharta, between the smoky eggplant and creamy texture, it was the favorite out of the three entrees we ordered that evening. Like the Murgh, it had fallen victim to an out of balance entrée to sauce ratio, but whatever eggplant I could scrounge up was indeed delightful.

Baingan Bharta

All and all, Masala Art served up some excellent Indian cooking that night. We didn’t have any issues with the service, though we felt slightly rushed given the small dining room as well as those waiting for a table at the front of the house. If you live in the area, I should note that Masala Art offers takeout – a nice plus if you want to chow down on an order of Chicken 65 while sitting on your own sofa.

Masala Art on Urbanspoon