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Masala Art, Tenleytown and SW Waterfront - Owner Atul Bhola and Chef Surinder Kumar Come From Heritage India


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I had dinner here two nights ago. They'd only been open for three days at the time, and though the service sometimes showed some inexperience (it took a while for the food to come out), the food most certainly did not. I don't know if I was in a particularly good mood, or if the restaurant was somehow perfectly suited to my taste, but I thought the food, from entrees to dessert, was excellent.

The menu was unusual for an Indian restaurant, no familiar chicken korma or chicken tikka masala that I saw, so we just ordered using the descriptions. Nothing disappointed. Someone in the kitchen seems to really care about flavors and texture, and it showed. And even the dessert, which I usually find uninspiring at Indian restaurants, was absolutely delicious. The bread pudding was amazing.

I really hope this place stays around. If you're around Tenleytown, be sure to check it out. It's at 4441 Wisconsin Ave.

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And they deliver! Veggie daughter was especially happy with the selection. Spice palette is different from what we're used to, which I appreciated but my husband didn't. He's still partial to Indique Heights for takeout. (They don't deliver but you can pick up.)

I'm always on the lookout for a good mushroom based curry and Masala Art had an interesting contender -- Karwari Mushrooms which were breaded with rice flour and fried prior to saucing. Brown basmati rice was nicely spiced as was the garlic naan.

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We had a very nice meal at Masala Art last night. The menu is a good mix of some familiar standards and many dishes that are not the standard fare in every Indian restaurant. Everything that we had was very nicely prepared. (Be sure to try the cilantro/rock salt nan, and the bread pudding dessert, among other things). And the service was very friendly, helpful, and prompt. Check it out.

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An enjoyable first meal at Masala Art last night. There were a handful of customers and the manager said that word was spreading about the place.

we sampled:

Dahi Papri (fried flour crisps with diced potatoes, chickpeas, topped with yogurt, cilantro and tamarind chutney) Nothing too special, everything was drowned out by the chutney. would not order it again.

Aloo Aur Pyaz Ki Bhaji (juliennes of potatoes and onions in chickpeas batter) Five golf ball sized bhaji, perfectly fried to a crisp, definitely would order again.

Tiranga Paneer (exotic kabab made with home made cottage cheese and layered with tri colored stuffing) we had this as our main entree, paneer cooked in the tandoor was excellent and sliced open and smeared with cilantro chutney, served with onion, peppers, tomato, rice and a cup of dhal makhani. we very much enjoyed this dish.

A nice feature of the menu is being able to order the veggie dishes as a half portion. The serving comes in a small bowl (think about the size of a cup of soup)

Baingan Bharta (tandoor roasted eggplant, mashed and tempered with onion, tomato and cilantro) A solid effort but wasn't wowed by this dish...just didn't have much punch to it.

Dal Makhani (black lentil rich and creamy) If we had known the paneer also came with dal makhani we would have ordered something else, but this dish is very rich and creamy...almost too decadent!

Naan. we went with the regular naan, perfectly cooked the way I like it, very crisp on one side, still pillowy on the other.

Based solely on one visit, exactly one week after they opened, a very good meal. I can see this place, while not in the top tier of DC-area Indian restaurants, certainly being at the next rung down. A great addition to the neighborhood.

2 apps, 1 entree, 2 half veggie orders, naan, lassi, and a beer ran us $50 with tax and tip. Plenty of food for two, with enough leftovers for dinner for one tonight.

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MrP and I spotted this while driving along Wisc Ave last weekend, so we stopped in for dinner. The space is very pretty but echo-y when half full; it's going to be loud when all the way full. We had lamb rogan josh, which was spicy delicious, but so unlike any rogan josh I've ever had that I almost wonder if we weren't served lamb vindaloo instead. Or maybe rogan josh is the chili of India - one of those dishes where every cook has a strong opinion about what it's supposed to be.

At any rate, I love the fact that you can order half sizes of the vegetable dishes. We also shared dal makhani, paneer makhan masala, and lassani corn palak. I'm not good at describing Indian food, other than to say too often I find the flavors muddled, and sometimes all the dishes taste the same as a result, instead of working together as a harmonious whole. Each of these was in the latter category.

The rock salt and cilantro nan was really interesting: the rock salt is actually the slightly sulphurous smelling black salt. The flavor is a little strong at first, but if you swipe the bread through any sauce it's totally lost. The nan is at its best eaten by itself.

I disagree with the previous posters about the desserts. The bread pudding was the most bland and uninspired thing I've ever eaten in an Indian restaurant, and the khulfi with faloodi was just weird, lacking that sweet condensed milk creaminess, and flavored with something I almost but couldn't quite identify; it seemed faintly like cologne. I just didn't like it, but that doesn't necessarily mean it was bad.

All this plus a mango lassi and a soda came to a little over fifty dollars before tax, and left enough for lunch the next day.

I think Tweaked is right about it being one rung down, at least for now, but Masala Art could end up being in the top tier. They're certainly off to a great start. I intend to go back soon to find out.

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Had an extremely enjoyable meal here on Friday night. Happy to say this place is in the top range of my favorite Indian picks in town, up there with Rasika, Heritage (actually it is probably better than Heritage, and way less expensive) and Bombay Curry Co (for butter chicken). The menu is fairly large and has a lot of interesting new dishes that I have never had before, including a selection of tawas. We really enjoyed that you can get 1/2 portions of the vegetarian dishes, which is great for my wife who loves to try different ones. In particular, we found their version of the makahani sauce to be very good. It lacked the depth of Rasika or smokiness pf Bombay Curry's makhani but was very good and one of the better ones in town. My wife found the vegetable curry to be excellent. She remarked how the vegetables still had a little crunch, unlike the mush you often get at other restaurants in town. I also had the Gaulati Kabab With Ulta Tawa Paratha, which was a lamb tawa. It was a few lamb patties, lightly spiced with a little hint of smoke. It served with some lentils and tawa bread (which was excellent). Overall, the prices are reasonable and the food is high quality. I'm pretty sure this will be a busy restaurant in the neighborhood.

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Masala Art has apparently been discovered. And when people are standing three deep at the bar and two deep at the door, it's not a good time to try it for the first time. We were seated immediately (with reservations) and ordered appetizers and entrees. Forty-five minutes later everything arrived at the same time. Whoever was running the FOH asked if we wanted everything at once. We asked if the entrees would be recooked. He responded that they "would be kept warm for us". We took everything at the same time. The appetizers - Aloo Aur Pyaz Ki Bahji (juliennes of potatoes and onions in chickpea batter) and Murgh Tikka Ambi Chaat ( tangy chicken tikka salad) were both served cold ( not room temperature, but cold). Tha Bahji tasted only of the batter and the chicken tikka portion of the salad was found hiding under the lettuce and behind the tomatoes.

We ordered three entrees - the Adraki Lamb Chops, Tawa Murgh Khatta Pyaaz, and a half order of the Lassoni Corn palak . All of the saucing was excellent. However, the lamb was fatty and was so buried in the sauce that we couldn't tell how it had been prepared. The Tawa Chicken seemed to be an excellent if standard jalfreesie. The spinach and corn was excellent. Only one of the two breads we ordered arrived, although when we commented on it the second was quickly delivered.

Whoever was managing the FOH stopped by to ask how our meal was, but seemed totally uninterested in our response which, as above, mixed both positive and negative comments. Our waiter was profuse in his apologies for the lapses in service and quality. He seemed to be the only one who genuinely cared about our experience. I'll try Masala Art again in the off hours, but as of now there are at least a half dozen Indian restaurants whose food and commitment to customer satisfaction rank far above it.

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KMango, MD (Michieftain and Dip-lo-matic)

The Doctor is in.

Prescription is as follows.

If you are:

a. Hungover

b. Feeling listless

c. Allowing winter doldrums to take up residence

d. Wearing insecurity as a blanket

e. Sensing that your soul is a little less sparkly than usual

f. Any combination of the above

Head immediately to Masala Art, solo. Enjoy a quiet meal in the back tables, close to the bar. Order anything and everything that appeals to you. Several times during your feast, pause to interpret the multi-signaled messages from this deeply seasoned cuisine. Accept that you will never grasp all the flavors woven with deep complexity. Let go and just be present with the food, your food, your time.

Your solo dining experience at Masala Art will be surprisingly empowering, exactly what you need to get back on track. It’s as if completely rebooting your taste receptors with bold flavors coupled with gracious service combine to elevate your ability to engage the world.

In addition, the menu is ridiculously inexpensive.

I’m not saying which of the above states I was in the other night when I visited*. But after a round of Pani Poori, Nukti Kabab On Khastha Roti, Tandoori Malai Paneer With Tamater Cut, followed with Mango Lassi and Rabarhi as takeout desserts, I was ready to jump back into life.

(which reminds me of lust for life)

(which reminds me of a certain singer)

(*which reminds me of a certain bar)

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I also had mixed results at Masala Art, but in general I was happy with the food and am looking forward to trying more of the menu.

We started with vegetable samosas. I rarely order samosas in restaurants, because I find them overly heavy, bland, and greasy. These were very good - crispy and greaseless, with the correct amount of spice and the proper tangy hint from tamarind powder. The green chutney accompanying it, however, was so wan and watered down with yogurt (I assume that's what they mixed it with) that I couldn't identify whether it was mint, cilantro, or what.

For entrees, we had the dal mahkani and tandoori malai paneer with tomater cut (described as "velvety cottage cheese cubes in a tangy tomato sauce"). I always order dal first when trying out a new Indian restaurant, and this version was creamy, well-seasoned, and also nicely spicy. Very good. Unfortunately, the malai paneer was terrible - overly chewy grilled cheese cubes floating in a sauce reminiscent of canned tomatoes with no other discernable flavors or spicing. Both entrees came with brown basmati rice, and were a reasonably generous portion (although not enough for leftovers, especially after slogging through the snowy sidewalks to get there ;)). We also had the puffy / crispy rock salt and cilantro naan. I love cilantro so I would have liked tons more on there, but it was still a tasty accompaniment to the meal.

The waiter noted several times that bottles of wine were half price last night., which appears to be the case on Sun - Thurs nights (I'm getting this fact from Tom S's review, the waiter wasn't that helpful on questions, and unfortunately the place still doesn't have a website that I can find). The menu notes that half portions of the vegetarian dishes are available as sides for $5. I was hoping that meant we could order a few different ones as small plates, because I was eager to try out more of the menu. But the waiter explained that it meant as a side to an entree. Since we were on our way to a three hour performance of Richard II at Shakespeare Theatre, and needed to stay awake, we decided to do without the extra wine and food.

While there are some glitches, the prices were reasonable, the decor is pleasant.... I'll give it a few more chances and hope that the hits outnumber the misses. It's not like we're overwhelmed with dining choices in the neighborhood. Plus the location near the metro makes it more convenient for post-work takeout than Heritage in Glover Park.

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The waiter noted several times that bottles of wine were half price last night., which appears to be the case on Sun - Thurs nights (I'm getting this fact from Tom S's review, the waiter wasn't that helpful on questions, and unfortunately the place still doesn't have a website that I can find). The menu notes that half portions of the vegetarian dishes are available as sides for $5. I was hoping that meant we could order a few different ones as small plates, because I was eager to try out more of the menu. But the waiter explained that it meant as a side to an entree.

Since Masala Art is only a few blocks from our house, we have eaten there or gotten takeout easily 5 times since it has opened. And with one exception I have ordered 3 different $5 sides as my meal and never had a waiter or person on the phone taking a delivery order say a word about it. We were there last weekend during Snomageddon Part One, and I made a meal of three sides- our waiter didn't question the order. I hope that your experience was an aberration because I agree that it is a great way to experience more of the menu.

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Prompted by Don's post on Passage to India, a few notes on takeout Friday night from Masala Art. If Passage to india is the "best traditional indian restaurant in the area," then Masala Art cannot be far behind. My wife gave me orders to try things that we had not had before, so:

-We started with bhelpuri, which did not travel particularly well, but was still delicious. I anticipated that the shell would not travel well (and--to be clear--this is not a criticism of the restaurant), but still wanted to try the filling, which was a spicy and fruity concoction of chicken, onions, mango and cilantro, mixed in with a tamarind chutney. Nice spiciness cut by the fresh mango.

-For entrees, we had the Nariyal aur Pudina Fish Curry. This was fillets of fresh sole in a spicy green curry. Back when I went to Heritage India more frequently, we used to get the Goa fish curry there fairly often. Masala Art's fish curry is, in my view, superior. This fish curry struck me as more complex and more interesting--heat with more of a purpose.

-We also had saag paneer (which we have had from them before)--a litmus test in my view for any Indian restaurant. Masala Art executes their version well. The spinach was fresh and vibrant while the paneer also seemed less tired than some versions that I have encountered.

-On the side, we had raita as well as a regular nan (for our breadavore toddler) and the rock salt and cilantro nan, which could be even a bit saltier in my book.

And this was all takeout. (The takeout service was with a smile--even a nice glass of cold water as I waited for the order.) I imagine it would have been even better in house. We've now had Masala Art half-a-dozen times--both at the restaurant and for takeout. It has yet to disappoint.

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Prompted by Don's post on Passage to India, a few notes on takeout Friday night from Masala Art. If Passage to india is the "best traditional indian restaurant in the area," then Masala Art cannot be far behind.

How I managed to omit Masala Art from the Dining Guide is beyond me.

Everyone, please, please send me a PM if you see any restaurant in this forum that doesn't have a dining guide listing - they all should.

(But don't forget to check the Multiple Locations guide -- sometimes it's easy to forget that, say, Matchbox, or Cava, or Sushi-Ko are listed over there. As long as I'm on the topic: This is one of the biggest complaints I receive - that significant neighborhood restaurants are "lost" over in the Multiple Locations section. I agree, it's a problem, and it's one that I'll eventually address.)

Cheers,

Rocks

P.S. The link to our Masala Art $20 Tuesday dinner from January is here.

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This is my new favorite Indian restaurant in the DC area.* On a recent visit, the Awadhi Dum ke Murg (speciality from Avadh - chicken cooked in rich brown cashew nut and saffron gravy) and Murgh Makhani (charbroiled chicken in tomato cream sauce) were outstanding. I'm on a neverending quest to find the world's best murgh makhani (aka butter chicken) and this version is definitely a contender. Masala Art also impresses me with their option to order side dish-sized portions of the vegetarian entrees for $5. The Baingan Bharta (tandoor roasted eggplant, mashed and tempered with onion, tomato, and cilantro) is the milder of their two eggplant offerings and was a nice way to offset the creaminess of the two chicken dishes.

One question: If the chef from Heritage India is now at Masala Art, should I bother checking out the former? I've never been to the Glover Park location.

*Passage to India and Rasika are very close to the top of my list, too, but neither kept me constantly thinking about them for weeks after my first visit in the way that Masala Art did.

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One question: If the chef from Heritage India is now at Masala Art, should I bother checking out the former? I've never been to the Glover Park location.

i don't see why you shouldn't. it's where masala art and passage to india both got their start. there's a great deal of heritage in masala art.

i have been going to heritage for years, and it has consistently maintained a high level of cooking from chef to chef. the vegetable samosas, chicken makhani and chicken tikka masala -- and a lot more -- carry close similarities to what's on the menu at masala art. even the half-price bottle of wine monday through thursday promotion is the same at both places. the heritage dining room has a more sumptuous feel, the servings are a bit larger and more expensive.

with the exception of the vindaloo, i have tried all of the lamb dishes at masala art, and they would be hard to surpass. i especially like the adraki lamb chops. but the rara gosht at heritage mixes lamb cubes with ground lamb, something you won't find at masala art, and it is worth ordering. (occasionally the lamb has been on the tough side.) it's also worth comparing the murgh entrees at both restaurants (as tim carman has done).

lately, heritage has been attempting to branch out. i have had very good dumplings there (and much better than is what available at the small chinese restaurant below it, where i finally had a meal, and it was just ok.) other special appetizers are probably worth trying out, as are the shammi kabab and dahi balle, both also on the masala art menu. special entrees haven't been as consistently good, but they are interesting. i haven't had the pulao at masala art, but i think it would be hard to beat the pillau at heritage.

heritage does have some problems. it seem a bit stodgy when it goes up against masala art or passage to india, both of which have broken out into wider and more exciting menus. the service is good, despite what you may have heard.

i feel a little guilty that i haven't been to heritage in at least a month because i have just started eating my way through the menu at masala art. it hasn't been prohibitively crowded in the last several weeks; its popularity is what kept me away after it opened. but i have been dazzled by the food and the cooking at masala art. and i have been intrigued by things here -- the tart interplay of the lemon and pomegranate with the potatoes in the aloo anardana -- that i never encountered at heritage.

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Despite experiencing less than stellar take out from Masala Art during the spring, we ordered some over the weekend and it was very good. rekindled our faith (and taste buds) in their take out service!

we went with the tandoori cooked paneer, the eggplant in sesame sauce, mixed veggie curry (which was only ok, mainly because I hate green peas and cauliflower which are main ingredients in the dish!) and the rock salt and cilantro naan.

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Veggie-teen is no longer a teenager (she recently turned 20) but she is a vegetarian again (pescatarian, actually). We wanted to take her out while she was here for the weekend, and settled on Indian food, which would give her a number of non-meat choices.

Masala Art was a mixed bag last night. J & I loved the spiced ground chicken on sugar cane skewers--the best dish of the night. Other apps were also very good: chick pea dumplings in yogurt and tamarind were tender and fresh-tasting, and veg samosas were good. The mains were less succesfull: my tandoori lamb was overcooked and had a mealy texture from being marinated too long. It also arrived at the table barely warm. The accompanying dal makhani was good, as was raita with toasted cumin seeds. J's lamb korma also was disappointing, with overcooked lamb cubes in a sauce tasting overwhelmingly of cilantro. Garlic naan was excellent, fresh from the tandoor. The rice was meh, a bit greasy. K ordered stuffed paneer in a tomato-cream sauce, which is a dish she says she has had much better versions of in Chapel Hill. Too much tomato, not enough cream. It did taste a bit pasta-saucy to me. Her salted lassi was very tasty.

I'd definitely order those spiced chicken skewers again, though.

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Great meal last night with 6 friends: Saag Gosht, Tandoori Malai Paneer with Tamater Kut, and Baingan Bharta were the standout dishes, but everything ordered was good. Great spicing, proper cooking (the lamb wasn't tough, as happens at many Indian joints), and perfect portion sizes -- definitely the best Indian food I've had in DC proper.

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Hit up Masala Art Saturday...overall another good meal.

tandoori paneer - continues to please

Baingan Mirch ka Salan - eggplant and peppers in sesame sauce, this continues to be a great dish

Karwari mushrooms - New dish for us and I would call it solid-good, kind of interesting without wowing.

Rock salt and cilantro naan - they really make excellent naan here!

One area I find weak on their menu is the appetizers, so far the only app I've really enjoyed have been the Bhaji, several of the apps that we have tried which are "drizzled" with chutney usually come swamped in chutney. Saturday we went with the Dahi Bhalle (lentil dumplings) which basically ended up being a plate of yogurt sauce, some cilantro and tamarind chutney, and four very small dumplings.

My other minor quibbles are I thought the salt levels were kind of high on Saturday. Also they have definitely cracked down on the ordering of veggie half orders (the menu now specifically states that a half portion can be order with an accompanying main dish...and the waiter was giving the table next to us a hard time about it).

Anyhoo...very tasty with some leftovers for lunch the next day.

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One area I find weak on their menu is the appetizers, so far the only app I've really enjoyed have been the Bhaji, several of the apps that we have tried which are "drizzled" with chutney usually come swamped in chutney. Saturday we went with the Dahi Bhalle (lentil dumplings) which basically ended up being a plate of yogurt sauce, some cilantro and tamarind chutney, and four very small dumplings.

I look forward to the dahi bhalle, though I can see how some people wouldnt, for a number of reasons. You have to really like yogurt; the dumplings are buried in it. this version is sweet, assertively, as opposed to salty. The tamarind chutney, which is syrupy and mildly cloying, opens up in the yogurt, which carries it along with several other flavors a restrained mix of mint, heat and baking spice. These are ingredients that can pack a wallop, but they are reined in; otherwise the dumplings, which are pale in this version, would exist in texture only. I taste a hint of cinnamon, when I know it should be ginger and probably is. The flavors are there, but you cant quite get to them. Even the tang of the yogurt is sacrificed to the delicacy that reigns over this food. Its maddening because there is real earthiness here, but it is ambrosial and you can barely taste it. the menu describes the yogurt sauce as velvety, and it is. You get lost in it, and then you hit the dumplings, which are peculiar in substance, gone before you realize you are chewing them. I dont know how to describe the flavor, like fried flour and seed drained of some bitterness, rinsed and squeezed. You can read many things into what you are eating, the connotations are there, reminders, if you let them nag, of what you could be eating instead real cookies and cake, butter and icing. I put those things aside, and find as much contentment as you are ever likely to find in what amounts to a big mound of yogurt sitting on what are peaked and poor excuses for a doughnut.

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The Paneer Till Tikka and Baingan Mirch ka Salan continue to be our go to dishes at Masala Art but we do try to sample something new each time we visit.

Unfortunately the Aloo Anardana (Potatoes with dried pomegranate seeds) was a miss. The potatoes had that dried mushy interior and the sauce was not overly interesting.

The potato and onion bhaji were everything one would want from battered and deep fried veggies.

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We went a few weeks ago and loved it. We've done takeout with them twice in the past, but this was our first time dining in. I could eat three plates of the Chicken 65, it's such a great dish if you're a fan of spice. The Baingan Bharta was the favorite amongst the table, though I really enjoyed the flavors of the Sarson wali Gobhi as well.

Wrote up more about it here - http://www.dmvdining.com/2011/12/masala-art-a-taste-of-india-in-uptown-dc/

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We hit Masala Art for an early dinner last night. We went with what has become our standard order and everything was its normal delicious self.

Aloo Aur Pyaz Ki Bhaji

Paneer Till Tikka

Baingan Mirch ka Salan

Rock Salt and Cilantro Naan

By 7:30 on a Thursday night the restaurant was 90% full and they were fielding multiple orders for take-out.

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I wish to recommend Masala Art's $9.50 Indian Lunch Buffet.

I'm generally not a fan of lunch buffets, Indian food sometimes being an exception due to its long-cooked nature, but even Indian buffets often contain cheap, poorly made dishes; not at Masala Art, however.

For $9.50, you get about ten items to choose from, all of which are well-cooked, don't skimp on relatively expensive ingredients, and it comes with a made-to-order basket of nan which is well-worth the 5-10 minute wait.

Yesterday, two items stood out as being downright generous:

Meen Kokam is a south Indian (Keralan) curry made with fish, coconut milk, tamarind, and kokam (a round, semi-sweet fruit in the mangosteen family). I can't say I loved this mild curry because it was made with large chunks of swordfish that tasted like they'd been frozen (I'm just not a fan of frozen swordfish). And yet, there was such an abundance of fish that the dish was certainly generous to have on a lunch buffet.

Rara Gosht was the star of the entire buffet, a steam tray filled up with succulent, well-seasoned chopped lamb that tasted like ... lamb, really *good* lamb. In this dish, you'd find the occasional quartered kokam as well (or at least I think it was kokam). For my second helping, I got about 2-3 small spoonfuls of just this on rice, poured some raita on top, added some yellow lentil curry for variation, and polished it off with a 1/4-piece of nan. This was great lamb meat, having that strong, gamey taste that I *love* in lamb, and was worth the $9.50 price of the buffet all by itself.

A Diet Coke was ($2.00, refills cheerfully offered) and I couldn't have cared less. I felt like I was stealing from Masala Art, especially when I went back for a third round, and got a small dish of well-prepared, simple-cut, fresh fruit - cantaloupe, honeydew, apple, and good-quality mango - all dressed in what might have been the sparest quantity of simple syrup.

$9.50 for this? There should have been lines out the door. I left a $4 tip and still felt guilty for underpaying.

If this isn't the best sub-$10 lunch buffet in Washington, DC, I'd like to know what is. You rarely see such a generous (and tasty!) lamb dish at a lunch buffet, certainly not one at this price. Masala Art isn't making much money from this at all; it's merely a chance to give their waitstaff some extra hours. I do hope diners will consider leaving 20% tips for this particular buffet; mine was closer to 35% and I didn't bat an eye. These people are working hard, and not making very much money during this time of day.

Very, very well done, Atul and Surinder. Due to a recent change in schedule, you may be seeing me here more often.

Readers, please note also that Masala Art is firmly entrenched in Italic, and is absolutely one of the very best Indian restaurants in the DC area. Both Atul Bhola (the GM) and Surinder Kumar (the Chef) came from the magnificent Heritage India in Glover Park. This restaurant deserves your full support if you enjoy Indian cuisine.

Cheers,

Rocks

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I've heard the items are much better midweek but the only time I'm ever in that neighborhood around lunch is on Fridays. The Friday buffet menu is very pedestrian. Lentils and butter chicken.

Damn.

I don't want to overplay the size of this buffet - it's pretty small, and if it wasn't for the ground lamb, I wouldn't have raved about it because the only other meat (swordfish) was frozen. But what I had was essentially an all-you-can-eat bonanza of really good keema, perfect for a post-workout protein replenishment - I would call in advance to see what they have that day.

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The Masala Art buffet fails in my opinion. While it did have the decent ground lamb dish that Don raves about above that was the only decent dish. It is a small buffet with 5 entree options, plus ok rice, 2 desserts and make your own bhel puri chaat station. I didn't think the value was so great today - the entrees were the lamb (ok), a curry chicken dish said to be with cinnamon I think but meat was chewy and sauce bland, an unnamed chopped mostly uncooked vegetable dish with some type of tomatoy sauce (meh), lentil and kidney bean dal (also meh), and potatos and peas curry (between so so and meh). The chaat station was ok - lots of bowls of diced veggies, mango, crisp rice, and a few sauces - however after I ate a dish and enjoyed it, I went back and was almost attacked by gnats and flies that were nesting all over the uncovered dishes (pretty gross). The rice pudding was ok, but the milk balls in honeyed syrup weren't that great. I say all of the above as a lover of Indian food but this was just not great stuff. On top of that the service was a bit weak - took forever for the naan to come out even after I inquired about it twice. So after this being my second trip over a few months - this place is off my list of places to go. While $9.50 may seem like a deal, I'd rather not pig out and get a really great sandwich, entree, etc for the same price available all over town (or down the street at Cava), then eat drek.

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I'm having a bad week on my own website! :)

[Checks and balances are essential - without them, how would anyone know that, $250 later, our meal for four at the recently lauded Le Grenier featured dishes ranging from "pretty darned bad" to "inedible" (this last descriptor, about the braised lamb, coming from a food-savvy French person). What an unbelievable disappointment, drinks notwithstanding. Why does it matter, you ask? Because when people from other parts of the country come and have *this meal* - envision Bistrot du Coin on its worst possible night - at a French restaurant recently recommended by a popular publication, then they're going to go home and say what a joke of a restaurant town DC is, and I wouldn't blame them one bit.]

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I was out of town for Diwali dinner, and so I made reservations for our group at Masala Art this week. Rasika, of course, was booked to the brim. Delhi Club in Arlington feels a little small, and I have never been to dinner at Bombay Club, so for this group of non-Indians (other than me), I wanted to go to a known quantity.

The place is lovely, especially for an Indian restaurant, it has the colors - the saffrons and yellows that give it warmth. Only a few of us were on time, so they gave us water to start and it took a little while to get our drink orders in. We had Kingfishers, Samuel Smith IPA, and some Pinots. This place's strength is not the beer and wine menu, that's for sure. The service is generally pretty good, and it was no different tonight. We ordered appetizers: vegetable samosas, aloo tikki chat, pani puri, and chicken 65.

No surprise on the samosas - 2 per order, with the tamarind and cilantro sauces. They were mild in terms of heat, but the other spices were apparent. The aloo tikki chat is potato pancakes with chickpeas and yogurt and tamarind sauces. It was very good. My mom puts sev on them, to give it a little crunch, and a red sauce for heat. Hers is better. The pani puri, I must say, is quite authentic. It's small, fried, hollow puffs filled with potatoes and small beans or peas and tamarind sauce. It's served with a flavored liquid (the 'pani' meaning water, 'puri' is the crispy hollow fried sphere it is served in). I liked it - it tasted like Juhu Beach in Mumbai. Finally, the Chicken 65. Not good. Not spicy. Did not seem fried. It had a lot of sauce. Maybe there are different varieties, but this is a fiery, bright red, dry dish generally. Or, with very light sauce, but almost never with gravy. Karaikudi has an authentic version.

For the mains we got tandoori chicken, chicken tikka masala, lamb vindaloo, lamb chops, baingan bartha, and some naan (garlic and rock salt/cilantro). The tandoori chicken was tasty, but it did not have that bright red color that you typically see. I wonder if that bright red is some sort of dye/food coloring, and that authentic versions don't get that bright? Chicken was moist, sometimes tandoori chicken can be dry. I like a little char, but that's a taste thing. The chicken tikka masala was ordered just in case there was someone at the table that needed something they recognized. Not much to say about it. As all the foodie types know, there is some controversy whether or not this is an actual Indian dish (http://www.menumagazine.co.uk/book/tikkamasala.html). Masala Art's version is an acceptable version, with excellent color - exactly how I think the dish should look. The lamb vindaloo ... this is the star of the menu, to me. Yes, I prefer spicy, but there's really is spicy. Not dumbed down, you can't ask for it mild - it only comes one way. It is vinegary, with potatoes and lamb pieces. It is bright, the masala is not too thick (when you have this dish in Goa, compared to most places that make it in America, it has less of a curry consistency, but not quite broth), and it hot hot hot. The lamb pieces were tender. The lamb chops were good, but not as good as the first time I went here when I first moved to the DMV. Seemed to be more ginger and garlic before. The baingan bartha is an eggplant dish, and there's is better than most. It's better than mine or my mom's, which I think is saying a lot. It tastes fresh, you can taste that the eggplant has been roasted and then broken down. It's a solid dish, and probably one of the better vegetarian options.

We had a great time, my friends loved the food, and our second annual Diwali dinner at Masala Art was again succesful. I'll probably come back next year.

*** Caveat: the food here, as many people say, is excellent. Tyler Cowen seems to love it, as well. I have one problem, and it has to do with money. With tip, for 7 people we spent $300. This has to do with my parent's point of view growing up. We didn't have much money, and once in a while, we'd drive over the border from Detroit into Windsor and get the Indian lunch buffet for a special occasion. At the time, it was $6.95 CDN, which was close to $5-6 USD. Even at those prices, my parents would grumble about how expensive Indian restaurants were, how cheap the ingredients were and how they felt that though the food was good, they could replicate it at home for a fraction of the cost. Granted, at Masala Art, we are paying for ambience, high rent in NW DC, and experential dining rather than a buffet, but it always floors me how expensive the meal is and how small the entree portions are. But, with 2 people with 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, and 2 drinks a piece, you are not getting out for much less than $75-80, and that just seems expensive. But, at the same time, I'm willing to pay that or more for other cuisines ... I don't know.

*** Request to local Indian restaurant owners - I went to Asheville, NC several months ago and came across this fantastic place, Chaipani - http://www.chaipaniasheville.com/, that served Indian street food and craft beer. That was my dream for a restaurant - pani puri, pav bhaji, vada pav with awesome local beers. And it worked - the food was fantastic and it was total hipster central, but not annoying about it. Then, my friend that I took there went back home to his hipster city, Portland. They have a place with the exact same concept. Bollywood Theater - http://www.bollywoodtheaterpdx.com/menu-2/ . And it is killing it. So, can one of you develop one here? I could help invest!

S

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For the mains we got tandoori chicken, chicken tikka masala, lamb vindaloo, lamb chops, baingan bartha, and some naan (garlic and rock salt/cilantro). The tandoori chicken was tasty, but it did not have that bright red color that you typically see. I wonder if that bright red is some sort of dye/food coloring, and that authentic versions don't get that bright?

I am no expert, but I remember once (about 20 years ago) when I'd cooked an Indian dinner for some friends, including one who was half Indian.  He praised me for not using food coloring like his mother did.  I don't recall the dish but I do remember that the recipe called for food coloring and I just left it out.  A quick google search seems to support this -I think food coloring is traditional in some Indian dishes.

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I am no expert, but I remember once (about 20 years ago) when I'd cooked an Indian dinner for some friends, including one who was half Indian.  He praised me for not using food coloring like his mother did.  I don't recall the dish but I do remember that the recipe called for food coloring and I just left it out.  A quick google search seems to support this -I think food coloring is traditional in some Indian dishes.

Yes, the bright orange/red color in traditional tandoori chicken is food coloring.

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Masala Art is open on the SW Waterfront.

There are now so many Indian chains that if you get a hankering, you'd better have the Multiple Locations Dining Guide bookmarked.

Had dinner here Saturday night two weeks ago.

Appetizer

Kafir Lime and Basil Chicken Tikka

Entree

Laal Maans (fiery lamb curry)

Bhindi Amchoori (okra tossed with onion and mango powder)

Dessert

Rasmalai (cottage cheese dumplings in sweetened milk reduction)

The chicken tikka appetizer was excellent. The chicken was tender and well seasoned with the kafir lime rounding out the spices. The lamb curry was the highlight of the dishes. The lamb came tender, but not completely cooked to mush. The tomato-based curry had an explosion of flavor which was followed with a slow burn by the spices. This dish was spicy, but not so spicy that you couldn't taste your food. The okra paired nicely with the lamb dish because it was not spicy and gave the palate a nice break from the lamb. For dessert, we had rasmalai which was well executed, but a bit pricey at $8 for 3 pieces the size of silver dollars.

All in all, I would definitely come back again. Not because the area by the Waterfront metro lacks any decent restaurants, but because the food was really solid and the service and decor made the dinner that much more enjoyable.

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any recent visits to Masala Art?

Never been in person, but we had takeout from the Tenley location within the past month and everything was excellent. I didn't place the order so I don't know exactly what we had, but remember enjoying the lamb meatballs, tofu garam masala, saag paneer, and dal makhni.

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