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Curry Mantra, Owner Asad Sheikh's Indian in Fairfax - Falls Church and Vienna Locations Have Closed

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I am the world's worst writer when it comes to descriptions of food (I need to take Monica Bhide's class!), but tonight we went to what we thought was Star of India formerly India City Grill in Fairfax City and apparently it has been sold again! They have retained the same chef Surendar Kumar (formerly of Connaught Place) plus added someone else who has added southern Indian food to the menu as well. Like I said I am awful at describing but I am great at eating. They have added Indian street food to the menu which I had never seen before. A puffed rice, slightly spiced cold appetizer that was unlike anything I have ever had before at an Indian restaurant. It is something I will definately have again. They also had a wrap called a Kati Roll which had chicken tikka, onions, green peppers and other assorted vegetables which made for a delicious combination. We weren't adventurous ordering so we had butter chicken, chicken vindaloo, and a vegetable korma but all were out of this world.

The shopping center where this is located is ugly as sin, but the new owner has done a wonderful job of redecorating the inside. Fairfax City does not have many restaurants which you would go twice to, much less write about. This one deserves to stay... Anyone else want to check it out and give their opinion?

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The shopping center where this is located is ugly as sin, but the new owner has done a wonderful job of redecorating the inside. Fairfax City does not have many restaurants which you would go twice to, much less write about. This one deserves to stay... Anyone else want to check it out and give their opinion?

The dining room is definitely a fire room, bursting with oranges and reds and very cozy. I liked this place as India City Grill and missed its incarnation as Star of India, but hopefully Curry Mantra will stick around for awhile. It won't be for lack of trying, as they are promoting the bejeesus of the place and it seems to be working - Tom S. has been by for a favorable first bite mention and T. Kliman gave it a long mention in a recent chat. Plus, we were there redeeming a Restaurant.com coupon, they seem to have had a Living Social promotion going on at some point, and I've seen advertisements/coupons in the Clipper, its affiliate Double Take Deals, and in this year's Entertainment Book. So someone there is doing their homework! I only looked up the reviews after we got home, because the very attentive and kind staff kept asking (different people) if we were there because of the mentions in the papers. The staff are well-trained, providing by far the best and friendliest service I've gotten at a suburban Indian eatery. I don't know if they are on their best behavior because of the recent reviews, but we felt incredibly welcomed.

Now the food...the menu has a smattering of both northern and southern indian dishes. We started with the dosa, which was perfect. Lightly crisped but springy with a simple potato and onion filling, served with a cool coconut dip and a big bowl of moderately spicy sambal. Really fantastic!! Our curries, however, were merely fine. Well, they averaged out that way. The bangain bharta is actually pretty interesting - much less mellow than I'm used to, which I think surprised and dismayed me at first, but I ended up liking it quite a bit for its tangy and picquant character. The lamb korma, however, was boring. The sauce was thin but fine for dipping and the lamb wasn't tough or stringy, but none of the flavors stood out. Also, I didn't care at all for the rice, as it was too moist, maybe? I guess I prefer my basmati to be very dry. The curries are cutely presented, though, on their own holders over a candle flame. The mango lassi is nice - adequately mango-y and not too terribly sweet, but expensive at $4 (that was noticeable because everything else was quite a bargain). The naan is slightly blistered, fluffy, and buttered, and the gulab jamun is served warm in a big bath of syrup, and both were quickly gobbled up.

So there is a lot to like about this place. The staff are certainly working very hard to make it thrive! We were encouraged to come try the weekend buffet, which apparently features more diverse offerings than the weekday buffet, and I think we might just take them up on it sometime.

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Four of us had a "meh" dinner there tonight. I used a $50 Restaurant.com discount which I paid $10 for. What a deal! It even included alcohol, which is how we got over the $100 minimum bill.

The puffed rice app mentioned above was just OK, we all thought. I enjoyed my Chicken Tikka Masala, although there was very little spice. The chicken was cooked well, although the meat portion seemed a little skimpy to me. Mrs. DrX's Shrimp Tikka included tasty sauce, but tough and inedible shrimp. She said if it has just been us at dinner, she would've sent it back (this is saying a lot because she doesn't send food back at all). A friend ordered one of the specials which included several Southern Indian dishes. I don't remember them all, but he enjoyed the sampler very much. It came with a young coconut with a straw, so we all felt festive with it on the table.

The restaurant was very warm, so it wasn't pleasant to loiter after the meal. Maybe this was the plan. Service was gracious and everyone was very friendly.

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According to Wapo, Curry Mantra 2 (now open in Falls Church, 1077 W. Broad St.) has an open kitchen.

And Curry Mantra 3 is will be open (was it later this year?) in Cedarpark Shopping Center in Vienna. This is literally around the corner from me, so I'm looking forward to it's opening. It'll be interested to see how this site fares because the shopping center is a shithole with no redeeming qualities. Many people avoid the center due to the loitering dudes and uncomfortable looks they give. Either Curry Mantra will be the turnaround, or they'll be closed in 1-2 years.

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And Curry Mantra 3 is will be open (was it later this year?) in Cedarpark Shopping Center in Vienna. This is literally around the corner from me, so I'm looking forward to it's opening. It'll be interested to see how this site fares because the shopping center is a shithole with no redeeming qualities. Many people avoid the center due to the loitering dudes and uncomfortable looks they give. Either Curry Mantra will be the turnaround, or they'll be closed in 1-2 years.

I am not sure if you mean that if Curry Mantra is not the turnaround, then it or the shopping center will be closed in 1-2 years. Either way, I am not convinced.

While Curry Mantra might turn out to be a positive influence on the Cedar Park Shopping Center, it is unlikely to be a make-or-break influence on the fate of the shopping center.

Don, you may take this down or figure out where else to put it based on what follows...

I agree with you that there is an unnecessary amount of loitering, and there have been a couple of incidents at hispanic-themed restaurants that give cause for concern.

On the positive front:

Neighbors has its "local" cigarette-smoking clientele in a separate bar area, but has become something of a community meeting place (Vienna Youth Inc. Football, Vienna Little League baseball, other groups) for league-wide events such as meetings and player drafts. The menu, reflective of what I believe to be new ownership, includes a couple of pretty decent kabob platters. Cedar PC is a very respectable family-owned computer repair facility. I would go, and have gone, there, gladly over visiting the Geek Squad at Best Buy, or equivalent. Awardstore Sports (think trophies, etc.) is a family owned business that has been there for probably over 20 years. They could probably do well elsewhere, as they do not rely so much on walkup business, but possibly the rents there are helping them stay viable as a brick and mortar operation. Pizza Boli's is probably getting a run for their money from Donato's up on Maple Ave., as they both serve and deliver thin crust pizza, but they have been pretty viable for a good number of years. The food places obviously do not rise up to the expectations of where you prefer to eat, but there is a market for them.

All said, Curry Mantra may add to these relative "positives", which I hope it will, or it may come and go without otherwise affecting the fate of this shopping center as much as the generally prevailing demographics do. If it is good enough, it will survive as has Neighbors, and may possibly thrive. The negative vibe coming from the immediately surrounding populace is not as bad as you make it out to be.

If you want to discuss how much of a mecca the shopping center could be, absent the current "negatives" and what might be done about it, that is another topic entirely.

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On Friday we visited the newest Curry Mantra location on Route 7, next to Bikram Yoga, and preceded by various middle-eastern cafes/restaurants. A close inspection reveals that the menu at 2 is slightly different than the menu at the original, with the prices maybe a tad higher at the new location. We were there at noon, the buffet won out because it looked good and was more economical. Since I don't know Indian names for some dishes, I'll describe some in English - (i) vegetable pakora, (ii) lentils, (iii) spinach and cheese cubes, (iv) and (v) two different mixed vegetables, if I recall, there were green beans and potatoes, and there other seemed awfully similar but didn't have potatoes, (vi) butter chicken, (vii) goat curry, and (viii) tandoori chicken. Flavor wise, I thought the food was good. Some observations, the only piece of butter chicken I had was from the breast and it was a bit dry, and the goat curry had quite a bit of connective tissues (which might scare off some people). Since this joint is just down the street form Haandi,which also does buffet for lunch, one would probably compare the two. I think the prices are similar, but I don't ever recall having protein other than chicken at Haandi.

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Tom, if you ever need to get laidissimo, take your date to Curry Mantra 2. Look to your right when you walk in - I've never seen a name written larger than yours except at Lustine Chevrolet (I went to high school with Amy Lustine, incidentally).

I had back-to-back, reasonably identical meals at (the Falls Church) Haandi and Curry Mantra 2, last night and this evening - I could have made them more identical, but I just didn't. For emergency carryout, I've been to Haandi no less than 20-30 times in my life, and have a great deal of respect for it as a neighborhood restaurant; I'd never been to Curry Mantra 2 before.

Haandi's Mehti Paneer ($12.95) vs. Curry Mantra 2's Saag Paneer ($16.00)

Haandi's Hyderabadi Aloo do Peeza ($10.95) vs. Curry Mantra 2's Aalo Gobi ($15.00)

Haandi's Raita ($2.95) vs. Curry Mantra 2's Raita (Unknown)

Plus, Curry Mantra 2's Naan ($3.00) - I've had Haandi's a gazillion times in the past.

First, note that Curry Mantra 2's prices are 30-40% higher than Haandi's. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that Curry Mantra 2 might be the most expensive Indian restaurant in the DC area other than Rasika. I emphasize "might be" because I really don't know, and haven't researched it, but my goodness this restaurant is expensive considering the real estate, boldly cracking the $20 barrier with many a dish.

That said, the two dishes I got from Curry Mantra 2 this evening were better than any two dishes I've ever had from Haandi, and I say that with some regret given that I have a soft spot for Haandi as a Rescue Restaurant - but it is what it is, and it's really not a close call. Both of my dishes from Curry Mantra 2, as well as my naan and raita, were in Passage To India territory, and I believe Passage To India has always had the best traditional Indian cooking in the DC area (and yes, that includes Rasika, which leans toward the modern, but excludes K.N. Vinod who is more of a restaurateur than a cook right now).

Curry Mantra 3 will be opening soon in Vienna. Indian cooks don't appear out of thin air, so it's going to be interesting (but most likely unrealistic) to see if consistent quality can be maintained across-the-board. That said, whoever cooked my food at Curry Mantra 2 is one of the best Indian chefs in the area (and I would love to know who it was) - based on this one meal, I just can't see picking up the phone and calling Haandi anytime soon.

To the left of Curry Mantra 2, as you're walking in, will be the second Fro-Yo place in teeny-tiny West End Plaza (the first being a Robek's, which counts as Fro-Yo in my book). This establishment will be called either "Orange Monkey," or simply, "Monkeys." I know that sounds weird, but the "Orange Monkey" sign is crossed out with a black magic marker, and "Monkeys" is hand-written right next to it. Your guess is as good as mine.

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Someone on Chowhound said that to get the prices down you need a coupon from Restaurant.com.

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The buffet is reasonably priced but watch out for small bones in the goat curry.

Another reason why the price is high is that they participate in iDine, which provides 10% off?

Edited by Ericandblueboy

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This food is so good that it's scary.

Remember I said this down the road.

The cooking at Curry Mantra 2 right now is breathtaking.

Wow.

I accidentally phoned Fairfax instead of Falls Church this evening. As I feared, Curry Mantra 1 right now is nothing like Curry Mantra 2 - oh, it's good all right, but not mind-blowing good. Follow these chefs, wherever they go - it isn't the restaurant; it's the cooks. One (or both) of these people is an incredible talent.

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There's a Groupon right now. $20 for $40 worth at Curry Mantra 2 (see various conditions on webpage, such as no lunch buffet, dine in only).

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There's a Groupon right now. $20 for $40 worth at Curry Mantra 2 (see various conditions on webpage, such as no lunch buffet, dine in only).

Buy it. This is the best Indian cooking in the DC area right now.

They also deliver to my house, and the one time I ordered delivery (umm, last night actually), the gentleman showed up in a black server's vest and tie and made me feel like a hobo! It's also hard to believe they valet park.

Right now, I would take the long-cooked food at Curry Mantra 2 over Rasika, and maybe even Passage To india. Maybe not the experience as a whole, but the curries? A clear winner in my eyes - there is magic coming from this kitchen.

If you want just one example of what I'm raving about, try the Chicken Badami and Aalo Gobi with an Onion Kulcha (this should probably be balanced with a green of some sort).

It pains me that I'm the one doing somersaults over this place, and then they have this. (Well, not really, but I'd be lying if I said I haven't noticed, especially when Rasika has this (which I really appreciate)).

In case it's not obvious to everyone ... go here, not to Curry Mantra 1. And go here before they open Curry Mantra 3. This is a fleeting opportunity that may not be here much longer - enjoy it while you still can. I've been going here at least once a week because I know it's not going to last forever.

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Anyone try the Palak Anar? Does it compare to Rasika's Palak Chaat? Will it hold up on a 5-7 min car ride home?

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Anyone try the Palak Anar? Does it compare to Rasika's Palak Chaat? Will it hold up on a 5-7 min car ride home?

I am sad to say that they are day and night. At Curry Mantra you get a large platter of lightly battered spinach with a sparse amount of sauce drizzled across the plate and a smattering of pomegranate seeds. More sauce would have helped, but the biggest issue is that some of the leaves clumped together because of the batter and were leaden. This is not a bad dish, just not in the same ballpark as Rasika's.

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Went two weeks ago and used the above mentioned Groupon. We got the Palak Anar and agree with Sthitch. Needed a bit more sauce and I think much less batter. I haven't tried Rasika's version so can't compare. We had two entree's off the 'Seven Wonders' section of the menu: Kofta Curry and Chicken Badami. Portions were huge as each dish came with rice and a side of chickpea stew. YMMV, but we were stuffed with 1 app, 2 entrees, a side of naan and we got 4-5 more meals out of the leftovers. My +1 and I both thought the Kofta Curry was the winner. The ground lamb balls were covered in a tomato-based sauce and everything was nicely seasoned with the ginger and cilantro. The boiled egg in the middle provided a nice texture change-up. The chicken badami was good as well, but thought the gravy flavors a bit muted. The chicken chunks were ample, yet the breast meat further limited the potential of the dish. In the end, quality and quantity together make this worth a repeat visit even without a coupon.

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We ventured to Curry Mantra 2 on a busy weekend night. The place was hopping, and we were lucky to be seated at dinner prime time without a reservation.

Mushroom Tikka ($6): We could not get past the monotone presentation. The occasional fleck of chopped cilantro and adjacent chutneys failed to alter the big, heavy thud of brown patties and brown mushrooms. Rather than beige, a brightly contrasting plate would make all the difference with a first impression. Beyond looks, the temperature was ideal, and the seasonings of the potato patties deliciously balanced and interesting. A hearty and satisfying starter. Those chutneys, by the way, will blow your mind. The tamarind was the best I've ever had.

Okra and Goat ($19): From the "combination of vegetables and protein" menu, I selected okra and goat. Assembled to order, I may have inadvertently bypassed the long-cooked protocol. The texture of the okra was outstandingly chewy, but the goat more chewy than I prefer, and the seasoning lacked slow-cooked depth. Next time, I'll orient towards the entrees noted above and especially Seven Wonders selections for the experience most indicative of the chef's capabilities.

Lamb Curry ($18): Deep, rich heat, with fall-apart tender lamb. The visually interesting, clear glass bowl somehow kept the warmth of the dish throughout dining, a boon. An outstanding rendition, and enough food for two or even three meals. Like the okra and goat, this arrived with a heaping mound of tri-colored basmati rice, haldi aloo (tumeric potatoes), and chana dal (yellow lentils).

Bread Basket ($12): Absolutely worth ordering, and another candidate for the next day's savory lunch.

Service was attentive, although understandably rushed given the frantic pace of the dining room. We noticed that nearly all patrons had the door held open for them on the way out, a gracious gesture making us feel noticed and pampered.

With tremendous value via large portion size, lots more to explore on the menu, and the giddy delight of two more Groupons to spend, we will be back.

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According to Todd, 3 just opened in Vienna.

You know what? I've heard somewhat lukewarm reviews from friends eating at Curry Mantra 2 in the past couple of weeks (after I was doing somersaults, urging them to go), and this may be why. People whose palate I trust went, and didn't rave about it. I myself have gotten some less consistent cooking from Curry Mantra 2 recently (I've had the Chicken Badami at least three times, and last week, it just wasn't as good - nor was the Saag Paneer) - it made no sense to me; now it might.

Follow the cooks, not the restaurant.

I guess ... consider my glowing recommendations ... expired, or at least tempered (but not with fenugreek). Curry Mantra 2 was like a comet, sailing through the night sky. :(

Any restaurant writer will tell you that this is one of the most frustrating things that can happen - you feel like your reputation has been sullied, your judgment questioned, and you find yourself scrambling to hedge and explain that yes, it really *was* that good. I swear it was! No, really! As your friend says, quietly, "It's okay. I believe you."

I hope Curry Mantra puts their Chefs de Cuisine on their menu from this point forward - it matters, and it matters a lot, or at least it matters to me. This is one of the reasons I'm not a bigger fan of Passion Food Hospitality - it's challenging to keep up with their game of Musical Chefs (although to their credit, they *always* list their chefs on their websites, so I'm in a unique position, having to keep the thread titles updated). I understand the need to build a brand, but it's hard to be enamored with a company. That's why I don't love baseball anymore: free agency loused up everything for fans wanting to identify with a team. 1970 Orioles, sigh.

But Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic step up and save the day.

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Steve and I went last Friday night and we didn't find it special. Most upsetting is Maharaja beer selling for $7 per bottle. The Palak Anar came out immediately after we ordered and it was cold.

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I hope Curry Mantra puts their Chefs de Cuisine on their menu from this point forward

Speaking of menus, Curry Mantra's reads as if someone had written a bad parody of an Indian menu. Scanning over it I cannot shake the voice of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon reading it to me.

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According to Todd, 3 just opened in Vienna.

I called to get the opening date for Curry Mantra 3 (to add to the list of restaurant openings). No one answered at Curry Mantra 3 so I called Curry Mantra 1, and the staff person said Curry Mantra 3 isn't open yet. I asked when it will be opening, and the person said the end of this month or first week of July.

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So, I went, even after reading the review that were recently posted and was disappointed that I wasn't going to get in during the heyday. But, I was still happy with my meal because I was with a good friend, but would rather just go to Kohinoor Dhaba in Crystal City, b/c it's closer and better. The space is really nice and has an open kitchen, which is unique for an Indian restaurant. It's in a plaza that has a very nice Indian grocery in the back, as well as a Pakistani store with halal meat.

We ordered vada pav, a fried potato patty on a buttered bun. This is probably "the" Mumbai street food (along with the frankie sandwich). In Mumbai, it is hot and very spicy, and served with a cilantro and/or tamarind chutney. Here, it was not at all spicy, but still was the right texture - it was fried perfectly and the potato was nice and soft inside. But, they should really make it spicier, it was seriously bland. They also give complimentary papad with the cilantro and tamarind chutnies. The papad must have been out for a bit, b/c it was chewy instead of crispy. I'm not big on it anyway, they way they give it in Indian restaurants in America. Back in India, papad is served as masala papad, more like a bruschetta with onions/tomatoes/lemon juice/chili powder on top.

For mains, we ordered the Goat Vindaloo - spicy and the Saag Paneer. The goat was good, there was a good amount of meat pieces, some fatty and gristly. The sauce was spicy, but not overly so, I think my friend was happy with it, but I'd have wanted it hotter. It had that nice acidity that vindaloo has. I liked it a lot. The saag was good, too, not my favorite dish in general and a little mild for my taste, but it was good enough. The paneer tasted good. We ordered naan that was made to order (as far as I can tell) and it was better than most. The rice that comes with it is very good - more like biryani rice (not like a biryani dish), with the yellow and orange dye from the saffron.

All in all, not what it was hyped up to be (sorry, Don, not your fault). One thing I do want to comment on is the prices. Yes, it approaches Rasika. But, the difference is that you do get more for your money here in terms of volume. That's the difference. Not that I'm a business person, but Indian diners (especially those not born here) are extremely cheap. I think they should offer two portion sizes - and for example, instead of just $18 for a large, offer 2/3 the size for $14. I will guarantee you that if my mom or dad (or comparable Indian couple) went, at the current prices they would order 1 app and 2 entrees and complain about the value. But, if they had the 2/3 portion for more than 2/3 price, they would share one app and get 3 entrees, and be happy with the value (even though they spent more). There is a line at or above $15 that when crossed makes people feel like it "costs too much for food I could make at home".

S

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So has the chef from 2 gone to 3? There was a write up about it in Arlington Magazine and it looked good, so I would like to follow the chef- if we know where he is?

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