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Mem Sahib, Lexington Market and Rockville

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Some co-workers are planning to have a big dinner at this place and I'm trying to decide on whether or not the food might make up for the company I'd be with.

Mem Sahib

Apparently, the menu is prix fixe and they wash your hands for eating sans flatware.

Has anyone been?

I've never been myself, but some friends of mine keep trying to get me to go with them too. They say the food is good -- I wonder though. You know they have belly dancers right? :P

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I have to admit I rather like Memsahib, but that's because it's an event, not just a restaurant. I go about once every six weeks or so with a group of friends. Possibly we get great food and service because the friend who organizes the outing is Indian and on very good terms with the staff.

At any rate, they do wash your hands, but it's a ritual - warm water poured over your hands into a basin - rather than actual sanitation. You get a largish towel to place over your lap. The food is brought on ginormous platters and placed on the coffee-table height round table that you and your buds are lounging around (on banquettes). If the movie screen isn't down, it will go down soon, and you can watch hours of Best Of and Remix Bollywood video (including some fairly edgy modern ones, one of which has been dubbed Ass, Ass, Guns by our group). The screen goes back up when the belly dancing starts. Most of the dancers will try to get a few customers to dance with them. One time four of us women kicked off our shoes for an impromptu lesson, much to the amusement of everyone else. And I wasn't even drunk!

Anyway, for $22 (not including drinks, tax, and tip), you get the following: a salad course consisting of cucumber-tomato, spiced carrots, and eggplant; chicken kabobs; tandoori chicken (served whole but strategically scored to make dis-assembly easier); lamb curry or fish curry with rice; fresh fruit; kheer and chai. There are vegetarian options available, and they're delicious, but it's been too long so I can't remember the details. The chicken kabob is replaced by paneer, I think.

The reason it's been too long is that tandoori chicken. It's fantastic, spicy and crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside.

They also serve papadum with the salads, and naan with the curry. And various condiments, including pickled onions.

They make a very good mango lassi. And the chai is utterly unlike (and better than) anything you've had at a tea or coffee shop.

For some reason, it always seems better with at least six people. We've had as many as twelve at two adjoing dining areas. It is a good place to go with a large group.

Does Memsahib serve the best Indian food ever? No. But it is very good, and if you want to kick back on sofas for 2 1/2 to 3 hours with your friends and watch kitschy vids, and take in some belly dancing, and eat, too, well, it's pretty damn good.

So, Al Dente and DCFoodie - did you ever end up going?

Oh, one more thing - last night I got carryout lamb rogan josh from the regualr menu for my husband, who couldn't join us. It was excellent, very gingery. My Indian friend had to have a taste, of course, and pronounced it authentic and very good.

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After more than a year away, I shared a buffet lunch today with a fellow rockweiller, cjsadler, at Mem Sahib in Baltimore. It is owned by the same people who own the one in Rockville, to which I've never been. When the Baltimore space first opened about three years ago, I was surprised by the high quality of the selections, but despaired that the place wouldn't survive. I dragged everybody from my office who I could convince to try it. After all, it's a white tablecloth place located in a corner of the Lexington Market, in a neighborhood that is somewhat sketchy. OK, really sketchy. And they were charging a whopping $8 for the all-you-can eat buffet. Plus, Indian food is not exactly a common sight in that part of town, it did not have a liquor license and closed at 3:00pm every afternoon. How long could they last?

Well, it's still there and looks even better now - with an expanded selection of dishes, and an even lower priced buffet - $7. They also serve dinner now, on nights when the Hippodrome Theater has shows. Smart move. During lunch there is a steady stream of professionals arriving from the nearby University of Maryland campus. At the next table I was delighted to spot the dean of the law school, dining with a couple of law professors, so I did a little grippin' and grinnin' before tucking into lunch.

I didn't sample everything (though I tried), but there was a cucumber and bell pepper salad with yogurt, tamarind and cilantro sauces, a hot pickle chutney, samosas and onion rings (not so great) three kinds of bread, including very fresh nan, pilau rice, several vegetarian entrees - chickpea stew, aloo palak spinach, a very good dal tarka - lentil dish, as well as lamb and bhuna chicken curries, and one other dish that may have been bhaigan bhartha: a roasted eggplant in tomato sauce . For dessert there was a saffron rice pudding and some cubes of cantaloupe. Everything I tried was fresh and tasty, although mild. The vegetable pakora and spicier tandoori dishes that were there in the past were gone, but perhaps the selection rotates.

If you happen to be in the neighborhood, and someone suggests a trip to Lexington Market, check it out. It's located on the southeast corner (on the right as you stand in the parking lot looking at the market) with an outside entrance only. Also, if there's time, go into the market and score some Berger cookies and Rheb's chocolates for the walk back. I would definitely head there before a show at the Hippodrome.

Edited by crackers
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I've been to the Mem Sahib in Rockville a few times for their lunch buffet. Most recently, I went last week and there was a salad, samosas, pakora, naan, poori, rice, butter chicken, tandoori chicken, eggplant, chick peas, a lamb curry, a carrot dessert, there might have been rice pudding unless I'm confusing it with another time I was there, and I could be forgetting other dishes. There's a good variety. Nothing was particularly spicy, but it's decent for a buffet. During lunch, they have Bollywood videos going and there's no belly dancer. They also don't wash your hands for lunch as mentioned above for dinner. It's a quick-ish restaurant lunch. The service is friendly, and they're pretty efficient about taking your used buffet plates.

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Went today for the first time for the lunch buffet in Rockville on a friend's recommendation that he goes there with his family all the time. For those who don't know where this a bit off the beaten path place is, it is right next to Kosher Mart (used to be Katz's grocery store) down the road from what used to be Lotte asian supermarket (now a latino supermarket) - note unlike some of the places in this shopping center Mem Sahib is not kosher to my knowledge.

Anyways, it was an excellent buffet with a large selection of different dishes and cheap at around $11. There are the usual chutneys (although the mint was labeled hot and did have a kick), yogurt sauces, homemade pickled veggies, naan bread, but also puffed poor bread, rice pilau, several chicken dishes - butter chicken, flavorful and moist tandoori chicken, a handful of vegetarian dishes including a really good eggplant bharta, and for dessert -very good rice pudding (and I'm not usually a fan) and a carrot dish labeled raita (although unlike any yogurt/cucumber sauce raita I've ever had).

The service was quick to refill drinks and take away plates. Also unlike posts above on the dinner, you don't eat with your hands, there is silverware provided. I highly recommend this place, great food, quick, and cheap, what more could you ask for. And the atmosphere is fun too with the bollywood movies and the couch-like seats.

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... Mem Sahib is not kosher to my knowledge.... yogurt sauces, homemade pickled veggies, naan bread, but also puffed poor bread, rice pilau, several chicken dishes - butter chicken....
The yogurt sauces and butter chicken mean mixing of milk and meat in the kitchen so it can't be kosher :lol:
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Tonight was another fun and Bollywood-filled evening at Mem Sahib Rockville. The six course, prix fixe menu (roughly $30 after tax and tip) included their standard trio of salads (smoky eggplant, peppered carrots, cucumber/tomato) with chicken skewers; an entire tandoori chicken with marinated onion, lime squeeze, and mint chutney; goat curry (not often part of the regular menu, usually this is lamb); fresh fruit course with an absolutely perfect watermelon; and cardamon-infused kheer with sweetened chai. Vegetarians have a six-course option as well.

Perhaps because it's summer, but all dishes were exceptionally flavorful and fresh tonight. Delicate seasonings, high quality base ingredients, delightful across the board. Food quality has not always been consistent on numerous previous visits, but tonight was a Best in Show.

The 8:30 belly dancer provided the usual zill-worthy diversion, including sword and veil numbers. In addition to the movie screen at the front of the restaurant, a second high-def TV now appears on the back wall. This means that all members of a large party can now get their Rani Mukherji and Amitabh Bachchan fix. (Before the new flat panel, half of a big group was left craning their necks to see any video clips, not comfortable.)

It's important to clarify that Mem Sahib Rockville is a venue best suited for parties of 6 or more. The restaurant would also work well for couple to share a casual, yet more intimate and relaxing, meal. This is a scene for celebration in a fun environment, not a destination chef showcase experience.

And good times will be had by all. Just come prepared to spend at least two hours with the parade of food, keep an open mind to the live dance performance, and bring your camera for group photos. Dark couches and brightly colored mandalas offer an intriguing backdrop for snapshot-worthy moments.

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