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Passage to India, Cordell Ave in Bethesda - Chef Mahipal Negi and Owner Sudhir Seth


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Mr P and I tried Passage to India for lunch today, and it may just be the best Indian food I've ever had. The first adjective that popped into mind, after trying a bite of lamb stew with dried apricot and thin sticks of fried potato (salli boti jardaloo), was "elegant". I don't believe I've ever felt that way about Indian food before. The words "subtle" and "nuanced" also came to mind.

In addition to the stew, we tried

aloo tak: crisp potatoes in three sauces - yogurt, tamarind, and, um, green

samosa chaat: a samosa perched on mildly spiced chickpeas - quite good although the bottom of the samosa got soggy rather quickly

makhmali kofta: vegetable dumplings in a delicious creamy sauce that I can't begin to decipher

palak makai: spinach and corn cooked together - soft, creamy, subtly nuanced and elegant... also, I asked for and was served a half portion, at close to half price; this isn't on the menu but good to know that they'll do it

chaina kheer: a dessert not unlike my beloved rasmalai, tiny paneer patties in a milk sauce with saffron and pistachios

the tea was pretty decent, too; think I tasted cardamom and cinnamon in it

No dinner for me tonight.

I last dined in this space when it was an outpost of Heritage India, and the experience was not good. Passage to India, though... wow. Damn fine food. And there's goat on the menu! I'll be going back soon.

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Just got back from lunch at Passage. It was all she ^said.

We had the lunch specials, thinking it would be quick and light. Well no to both. It wasn't un-light as the food had an airiness about it that I have never associated with Indian food. We had the Shrimp curry and the Kabab Khazana. This was served with their black lentils, rice and salad. We also ordered a side of Raita and Naan. It was simply some of the best Indian food I have ever had. It wasn't swimming in mysterious oil, the spices were perfectly blended so that none overly dominated. I really thought I would just have a few bites and leave most on my plate when I walked in...nah it didn't happen that way. There was not a drop left on either of our plates!

You would of thought we would have been satiated as portions were generous, but no. We ordered the Kafti (an orange ice cream/sorbet with an orange sauce) and the Chaina Kheer mentioned above. I would go there just for the desserts! I REALLY wanted to lick the plates.

What a pleasant surprise this restaurant is. Please go if you like Indian food or if you have never tried, it really is wonderful.

Edited by RaisaB
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Interesting. Porcupine says "subtle" and "nuanced." When my wife and I ate there a few months ago, we said "tame" and "a bit boring." We found the food to be good, but it lacked the vibrant flavors that I associate with Indian food. The best Indian food I've had manages to be well-balanced and assertive at the same time.

Maybe I have unrefined tastes, but there just seemed to be something missing. The food that we expected to be spicy (as in hot) and robust was instead muted and subdued. It was all well executed and good, and I'd eat there again. But I was not blown away.

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Last time I was there, about a month ago, we had shared an order of ALOO PHOOLKOPIR DALNA, KOSHA MANGSHO, and DAL KALONJI. Not being experts on Indian cuisine we found the dishes well spiced and very good. Have you been other times or just that once? I hope it was just an off day for the restaurant.

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I've been there once to eat in and had take out once at a friend's house. Frankly, we thought the take-out was better than the eat-in. As I said, I'd eat there again, and I'd recommend it to friends. I was just taken a bit aback by the glowing praise of Porcupine and Raisa. It was good, well-executed food, but it didn't knock my socks off.

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"The food that we expected to be spicy (as in hot) and robust was instead muted and subdued. It was all well executed and good, and I'd eat there again. But I was not blown away."

I'm wondering if it's the location rather than the skills of the chef? Bethesda has never really catered to a diverse ethnic dining population, and I think that's reflected in the dishes served. I've found that further up-county the spices are more pronounced, and the cooking more attuned to native rather than American tastes.

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Having consumed Indian food all over Europe and the States but never in India, I will reassert my opinion of Passage To India. It was refined Indian food. It was not what I would necessarily consider to be "street" Indian cuisine. It reflected the subtle nuances of the spices without blowing your tastebuds away. It was not overly spicy, which of course may have been tempered to American tastes, but the London Indian food that I have tasted was much blander than anything I tasted here.

So I reassert my opinion, and that is all it is , an opinion, this is great Indian food for the area. If you know any place in this area that can blow it away, by all mean please post your opinion of it. I will visit in a New York minute.

Edited by RaisaB
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Having consumed Indian food all over Europe and the States but never in India, I will reassert my opinion of Passage To India. It was refined Indian food. It was not what I would necessarily consider to be "street" Indian cuisine. It reflected the subtle nuances of the spices without bolwing your tastebuds away. It was not overly spicy, which of course may have been tempered to American tastes, but the London Indian food that I have tasted was much blander than anything I tasted here.

So I reassert my opinion, and that is all it is , an opinion, this is great Indian food for the area. If you know any place in this area that can blow it away, by all mean please post your opinion of it. I will visit in a New York minute.

No place in the area can blow it away, but some very good Indian food is being served as Rasika, as well as Heritage India. These three are my favorites--along with the vegetarian South Indian Woodlands--each for different reasons. I can't really say that one is better than the other, as each has knock-your-socks-off signature dishes. I love Passage to India's concept of dishes from four regions--where else can you find the Parsi lamb stew in metro DC, just to name one? I've been to India several times and have rarely eaten food that surpasses the best that can be found here. Indian food is my favorite and I feel more than fortunate to have such good choices.

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No need for anybody to be defensive. Taste is inherently subjective. I was not blown away. Full stop. I wish I could remember what I had when I ate there so I could comment on specific dishes, but, frankly, the meal wasn't that memorable for me.

Service issues aside, I would prefer to go to Heritage India in Glover Park. Somebody else probably disagrees with me, and that's a-ok by me.

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I don't think anyone was being defensive. I totally agree that tastes are subjective.

As far as Indian food, I have cooked it quite a bit myself and this is much different than anything I have made. I have used recipes from Julie Sahni and Madhur Jaffrey so I think theywere pretty authentic.

I really enjoyed this because it wasn't in your face spicy, just tasty.

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Well, it looks like I'll have to try it again. In fact, I just e-mailed my wife and suggested we go this weekend.

Like I said above, we actually had a better experience with takeout. We had the takeout at a friend's house and both of us said, "Hmmm. This is really good." Then, when we went to the restaurant itself a few weeks later, we were underwhelmed (though I should have mentioned we did appreciate that the menu had a few items different than your standard Indian restaurant menu).

I just made reservations yesterday to eat at Rasika in a few weeks. I had Heritage India about a week ago. And now Passage to India this weekend. For what it's worth, I'll report back when I'm done.

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Speaking of reservations, I should make some too. My husband has been craving chef's butter chicken and is making a lot of noise about it.

Hungry Prof - do post about your dinner. Would love to read your comments. THe restaurant really does as great job with its regional curries. I have spend time in the kitchen with Chef Sudhir and he really is one of the best chefs in town.

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I just made reservations yesterday to eat at Rasika in a few weeks. 

At Rasika, if you go in looking for fire you might be disappointed. More than any other Indian I've had, I found the spicing there to be subtle and complex. It is more refined.

That doesn't make it better or worse than what you can get at your local curry shop. But it does stand out because of it.

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This is probably something for another discussion, but it's not that I'm simply looking for "fire." If I wanted food that was just hot, then I'd dump a bottle of Tabasco on everything. The most interesting hot food doesn't overwhelm you with spiciness just for the sake of being spicy. (Think about the worst Chinese food any of us have probably had: food that is simply overwhelmingly spicy without any purpose.)

What, in my mind, was missing in my experience at Passage to India was a certain assertiveness in the spicing. Even spicing that is "subtle" and "complex" can be assertive and purposeful. Even food that is "refined" can be interesting and flavorful. Put differently, I can imagine a vindaloo that is simultaneously spicy, complex, refined, and even (in its own way) subtle.

"Subtle" and "complex" should not mean, frankly, boring. Unfortunately, we found the food at Passage to be a bit boring (while still good, I should repeat). As I noted above, I am going to try it again. One takeout experience plus one eat-in experience is clearly not enough to pass final judgment on anything.

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At Rasika, if you go in looking for fire you might be disappointed.  More than any other Indian I've had, I found the spicing there to be subtle and complex.  It is more refined.  

That doesn't make it better or worse than what you can get at your local curry shop. But it does stand out because of it.

I thought the Black Cod and the Butter Chicken were fairly tame, but the Green Chicken Masala was plenty fiery....and delicious. It's my favorite dish so far, except for the flash-fried spinach/tamarind appetizer, which really did knock my socks off.

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In my opinion Passage is the best Indian Kitchen in the area. Chef/ Owner Seth is extremely talented and I applaud him for presenting the selection that he does on his menu. I can assure you that a similar selection would be difficult to find, on a single, menu even in some of the best establishments in India.

Do I like everything on the menu ? No, but that's my personal taste, not because it has not been 'authentically' prepared.

Spicy is not neccessarily hot, it's well seasoned but not overwhelming in heat. Indian cuisine generally has no standard recipes, there are regional nuances, blending more into each other as the world gets smaller, almost everyone has their own personal spice blend or take on every facet of cooking and there are a billion of them over there! No wonder it is confusing.

It appears Don is cooking up something at The Passage, if so please sign me up.

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In October my husband and I tried Passage to India. He had one of the vegetarian samplers, I tried the spinach and corn (palak makai). The sampler was good, but the palak makai was better. It's a perfect combo of creamy and spicy.

But we're both vegetarians and for the drive we probably won't return often when Woodlands is closer. Too bad - I think the chef lives in our area? Maybe he can be persuaded to open a restaurant in suburbia!

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But we're both vegetarians and for the drive we probably won't return often when Woodlands is closer. Too bad - I think the chef lives in our area? Maybe he can be persuaded to open a restaurant in suburbia!

Would love to branch out but their has to be enough Indian food sensitized palates to provide a critical mass effect, to get any ethnic restaurant rolling forward. Believe me, I have been actively looking for an economically viable location in Bowie, Silver Spring north and College Park areas, in addition to far flung Virginia etc.

Since you both are vegetarians (and on multiple other requests) for more variety we will be shortly posting on our website and make an addendum available to our menu of all the items that the kitchen can prepare in addition to our already varied veggie selection.

Sudhir

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I was with Steve S and two others for lunch a few weeks ago when he wrote on another board...

"Want to know how to have a great meal at Passage to India in Bethesda? Order the roti plain, (it will come out hot and fresh and crispy) and turn to the back page of the menu for their condiments, especially the pickles and the spices. And....then just stop there. Or order anything else. The pickles and the spices are so good, they could make footwear taste delicious.

For the record, other items I tried were the potato dish from the South Indian section, the lotus stem from the North Indian section, the black lentils, and the lamb korma. The potatoes, lotus stem, and lentils were beautifully spiced, carefully prepared, and thoroughly satisfying. The lamb was forgettable. They have many interesting vegetarian selections here, this is probably where the gold is."

I was back with my wife and 4 yr old son for lunch on Saturday. I couldn't resist the spice and pickle plates again. We also enjoyed a brunch special that included an appetizer sampler (a cool chicken tikka salad, a lentil filled samosa and a vegetable fritter served with raita and another sauce), a choice of chicken or lamb (in a savory ground almond sauce) entree, spinach and corn, those same lucious black lentils, and rice pudding for dessert, all for $24.95, FOR TWO PEOPLE! Washed down with a large Taj Majal beer, it was a perfect lunch in a beautiful setting.

I'm looking forward to returning for lunch and experiencing the rest of the menu.

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The JPW clan stopped in on Friday night. They were extremely accomodating to Peanut, who in turn was fairly well behaved, left only a minor mess by her standards, and spent a fair amount of time flirting with the staff.

Having neglected to write down the names of anything, I'll have to go by descriptions. For mains we had chicken in a spicy cilantro sauce that I enjoyed a great deal. In this dish, spicy meant some high note spices that married quite well with the cilantro. I believe this is on the West India dishes list. We also had lamb in a spicy brown sauce. Very well seasoned with a Scoville level that gradually rose until you finally realize -- this stuff has some kick (as Peanut found out to her minor dismay. I'll turn that kid into a chile-head yet). I believe this is on the West India list. Add in some naan, raita and the spice plate (that pickled condiment is fascinating) and we had a wide variety of flavors with no dogs at all. A couple of kingfishers and I was a happy boy.

The way to go is definitely to order things from different regions to get a wide variety of flavors. It had been too long since we had been and we definitely need to return more often.

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After getting tired and sweaty doing yard work, my wife and I were craving Indian food, but didn't feel like changing clothes and sitting in restaurant. So we ordered carry-out from Passage to India.

Taking Indian food home can be a little risky--the naan gets a little cool and wilty when wrapped in tin foil, the other dishes can cool off just enough to require re-heating. But we were lucky this time. The food was on our table ten minutes after we picked it up and--other than the naan, which would have been crisper in-house, straight out of tandoor--the food was warm and about as close to perfect as I've had in some time.

We ordered one of our old reliables, the Chicken Tikka Makhani, as well as a new--to us--dish. The other main, Chutny Ni Murgi, is chicken with served in a pretty fiery cilantro sauce. We ordered extra rice, saffron pulao--rice with saffron, raisons, and cashews--and an order of mah ki dal, black lentil dal cooked with butter.

Well, this was one extraordinary meal. We had enough food to feed four, but what the heck...the two of us ate it all, except for some of the extra rice. The Tikka Makhani was as good or better than usual--the sauce makes about the best naan sop imaginable--and the dal is always good, but the revelation of this meal was the Parsi Chutny Mi Murgi. I have in the past sung the praises of the green chicken masala--a similar dish at Rasika--but I like this even more. For our tastes, it had just the right amount of fire, and the cilantro gave it a real intensity of flavor. This is a "don't miss" dish.

So now I'm lamenting having passed on the DR feast at Passage To India. It will undoubtedly be a memorable spread, a feast fit for the gods, a.....well, you get the idea. Envy, envy, envy..... :)

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We will be open on Thanksgiving and have a Turkey Special as follows

THANKSGIVING SPECIAL

CHARBROILED TURKEY

Tender marinated turkey breasts broiled in the charcoal tandoor oven, served with Cranberry chutney

ALOO DO PIAZA

Red bliss potatoes sautéed with caramelized scallion greens and flavored with cumin

KADDU KI BHAJI

Pumpkin tempered with fenugreek and seasoned with raw mango and shaved jaggery

ZAFRANI PULAO

Long grain basmati flavored with saffron and studded with raisins and nuts

DESSERT

GAJAR HALWA

Cardamom flavored carrot pudding with almonds, pistachio and raisins

$15.95/person

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With the beginning of winter break yesterday afternoon, I seem committed to not preparing another meal myself in 2006 b/c I ate lunch today at Passage to India and then dinner tonight at That Cuban Place in Frederick. I knew I was going to be in Bethesda today and was intrigued by what I had read about Passage, including Rocks calling it the best Indian place in DC so I had to give it a try.

The citrus lentil soup was a nice start to warm up the cold, rainy day and fresh enough that I can see it being served year round. I made sure to order the garlic naan and it was as good as Rocks boasted, though I surely repelled the normally ubiquitous vampires on Cordell Avenue when I left. The waiter was nice enough to bring me both the steamed basmati rice and the normal saffron rice that comes with the lunch special and I have to say I preferred the plain basmati. My favorite part of the meal was actually the side of black lentils, which was hearty with some real depth of flavor.

As for my main dish, the lamb korma, I was disappointed. The lamb itself had the least flavor and tenderness of any lamb Indian dish I've ever had (I hope I'm not overspeaking here). It was so underwhelming that I actually didn't appreciate how good the tomato curry sauce accompanying it was until I took a big spoonful after all the lamb was gone. Maybe it was just a bad cut of meat or it was overcooked just this one time, but I was disappointed.

But everything else was very good. I'd definitely go back, but I wasn't wowed as I was when I left Rasika. THAT was great food--period.

Pax,

Brian

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There seems to be more to explore at passage to India than the glover park heritage India and it would be hard to beat their sauces, but in all the excitement of its sesame-peanut gravy, the eggplants themselves get slightly lost in the baghare baingan, and in another dish, the lamb also takes a back seat. That doesn’t stop either from soaring toward greatness on the strength of the complexity of their flavors; the main ingredients really aren’t the point. A fritter platter is a great way to sample the kitchen’s spicy condiments, although the heat is set fairly low, and the pickles are the best I have ever encountered, the mustard seed version the standout of the trio.

This is a fairly tight dining room, especially in its accommodation of couples, who on a busy night may find themselves seated on top of their neighbors. As much as we tried to tune things out, we did get to hear about what happened after they opened him up (not got him to open up) – more fat than you have ever seen in your life!

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Dinner at Passage to India tonite after 3 months was a real treat. Had been travelling to the west coast since Nov'06 and pining for some good Indian. What is more Passage has just updated their menu and the three of us tried four new dishes.

Sounth pakora ap., Goan shrimp curry, Lamb veppaddu(sp?), Dohi murg-chicken.

Our server was the one who got written up by the Washingtonian and he was gracious and dignified. Helped us with the new dishes really patiently. Got a chance to meet Chef Sudhir who came out to check on our feedback on the newly introduced dishes. I think dining at this restaurant on weekdays is great since I have been turned away twice on weeknds when I did not have a reservation.

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For specifically northern or southern menus, there are places that I like better, but IMHO Passage To India is still a must-visit restaurant for the scope and ambition of its menu. If I'm not mistaken, Chef Sudhir was the force behind the regional brunch series that Bombay Club held in the early 90s, and I remember being blown away by the Goan menu. To have well-executed regional dishes from more than one region of India offered on a regular basis is extraordinary, and requires a kitchen of rare agility.

Although parts of the menu aren't as punchy in the spice department as I'd like, the superb chutney ni murgi needed no excuses. I'm not a huge fan of cilantro, but I could have destroyed a dish of the sauce all by itself. Mah ki dal took an interesting spin with a few beans hiding amongst the lentils; delicious flavor, but not as rich last weekend as some I've had in the past. I liked what the coconut and spices did to the shrimp in the malai chingri, and would probably have enjoyed the sauce more over my rice if it weren't for my compulsion to eat the sauce from the murgi.

The plating of the vegetable-studded rice in an inverted-bowl shape is a nice touch I've only previously experienced in London. But there were a few minor order-taking hiccups - our papadum never arrived, and one of our orders of chaina kheer got morphed into a (very good) rice kheer.

But those are minor quibbles. Passage To India remains a treat, even if I can't give it an unqualified rave.

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Just got back from a nice lunch at P to I. It was pretty empty for lunch despite having the lunch special menu. I had the Kabab Khazana which was pretty good. It is a combo of fish, lamb and two different chicken kababs (tandoori and one covered in a green sauce). A good medium size portion that won't stuff room and leaves room to fill up on the rice and any sides you get. The fish was the best kabab by far - juicy and a mild yellow curry that accented the fish. Second was the green curry chicken which was moist and flavorful. The tandoori chicken was ok, but nothing special. The lamb was a big molded sausage kebab with onions and herbs in it which was also only ok. This came with a very nice dal and rice pilaf. We also ordered naan which is one real big piece that is very good and fresh. After reading some of the suggestions in the thread, I ordered the "pickle platter" accompaniment which I figured would be different kinds of pickles. Stupid me, I guess for not asking. It is actually three tiny cups of pickled garnishes: 1) pickled sour lemon bits (good and not insanely sour like those at Indique) 2) some kind of chopped up vegetables (cauliflower??) and fruit (papaya or mango??) "pickled" in a tamarind and strong horseradish chutney and 3) a green spicy paste of cilantro, chillies, and mustard (I think I could be wrong on the ingredients). The 2nd one was the best and most unusual - it wasn't very spicy or sour - but rather sweet from the tamarind and sharp from lots of horseradish. We also had an okra and onion dish which was very nice and light. Okra was cook well. Overall the place was nice (very pretty room) and the food cooked well. The flavors are alittle muted (i.e. less firey and assertive) compared to some other Indian places, but they are also well blended. I'd go again if I was in the area, but don't think it is worth a trip. The non-lunch prices were also kind of high.

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After reading some of the suggestions in the thread, I ordered the "pickle platter" accompaniment which I figured would be different kinds of pickles. Stupid me, I guess for not asking. It is actually three tiny cups of pickled garnishes: 1) pickled sour lemon bits (good and not insanely sour like those at Indique) 2) some kind of chopped up vegetables (cauliflower??) and fruit (papaya or mango??) "pickled" in a tamarind and strong horseradish chutney and 3) a green spicy paste of cilantro, chillies, and mustard (I think I could be wrong on the ingredients). The 2nd one was the best and most unusual - it wasn't very spicy or sour - but rather sweet from the tamarind and sharp from lots of horseradish.
The owner wrote me explaining what is actually in the pickle platter and I'm posted it with his permission, because like I thought I was wrong about a number of ingredients:

"Indian pickles are a varied lot and totally unlike those in the Western cuisine. Pickle plate is our house made pickles and are as follows

Lemon: Southern Indian with flavor of ground fenugreek and asafoetida

Mix veg : Carrots, Turnips & cauliflower with jaggery, malt vinegar, garlic and Garam masala from the Northwest.

Chilli: Jalapeno peppers with anise and ground mustard from East-Central India"

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NEW YEAR'S EVE

THANKS FOR THE PATRONAGE AND ALL THE SUPPORT OVER THE YEAR TO THE DON ROCKWELL FAMILY, FROM ALL OF US AT THE "PASSAGE TO INDIA".

This year we will be having the following Chef Specials in addition to our A la Carte menu for the 31st December dinner. The restaurant will be serving dinner from 5.00pm onwards. Please call 301 656 3373 for reservations and we look forward to having you dine with us.

CHEF SPECIALS

SEAFOOD CURRY $22.95

Scallops, lobster, shrimp, mussel and grouper in an onion and pepper gravy

LOBSTER MALABAR $24.95

Lobster chunks in a South Indian style coconut flavored sauce

MANGO SHRIMP $23.95

Jumbo shrimp in a tangy mango chutney

MASALA CHAMPEN $21.95

Tender New Zealand lamb chops smothered with crushed garlic and onions

CHICKEN BADAM PASANDA $17.95

Chicken escallops in a delicate almond and saffron sauce

SUBZI KOFTA $13.95

Lotus stem and gourd dumplings in an onion-tomato gravy

PANEER BUTTER MASALA $13.95

Freshly pressed cheese simmered with fenugreek and tomatoes

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Last night was my fourth or fifth time to Passage and each time I get a greater appreciation of this place as a fine restaurant with class. I wanted to try some different things and couldn't make up my mind by dish or by region (if you've not been, the menu is divided into four different regions of India), so I opted for the chicken and lamb sampler, which, for $24, includes 3 different small bites of their appetizers; for the main course, small servings of 1 chicken entree, 1 lamb entree, a side of spinach and corn, a side of their amazing lentils, saffron rice, small salad, and a yogurt dish; and finished by bowl of rice pudding. The main course presentation was impressive: An elegant silver platter that incorporated a plate and an area at the top for small silver bowls/cups plus four silver spoons. Everything was complex and delicious with my only complaint being a consistent one: I've never had a lamb dish that's as tender as I expect a braised meat to be. I have to say, though, that last night's chunks of lamb were the tastiest I've had there even if they weren't as tender as I would like/expect. Regardless, I'm a convert. This place is really good.

Pax,

Brian

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I just started working around the corner to passage and so I got takeaway for lunch a few weeks ago. Their lunches are a steal0 for 7-10 dollars you get a sublime entree coupled with lentils and saffron rice. They really prove thier mettle on the lentils and rice, which are not any sort of afterhtought. And their palak paneer is my favorite.

I returned to there to dinner with my fiancee and tow last Friday. We had the Friter platter (excellent, especially the onion fritter) palak makai (just wonderful) and Kosha Mangsho which is simple lamb curry with coriander, cumin and garlic. Everything was delicious and I look foward to going back soon. My one complaint was that the entrees were served with some weird and kind of bland cabage mixture that didn't really go with the rest of the meal and was not those wonderful lentils you get included at lunch (I gues I should have asked ahead of time about that)

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We had my belated birthday dinner at Passage last night. It was, as always, superb. But the really good news is that the chef has added on of the favorites from the Rockwell "Spice Night" dinner as an appetizer.

Mussels Vendiam--"mussels steamed with curry leaf, onions and tamarind"--a dish that chef said he made especially fiery, since he knew it was for me. It was so good that I did what I said I would love do in my review of that night. I quickly scarfed down the mussels, then had an order of naan to scoop up every last drop of the incredible gravy. Heaven.... :lol:

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We had my belated birthday dinner at Passage last night. It was, as always, superb. But the really good news is that the chef has added on of the favorites from the Rockwell "Spice Night" dinner as an appetizer.

Mussels Vendiam--"mussels steamed with curry leaf, onions and tamarind"--a dish that chef said he made especially fiery, since he knew it was for me. It was so good that I did what I said I would love do in my review of that night. I quickly scarfed down the mussels, then had an order of naan to scoop up every last drop of the incredible gravy. Heaven.... :lol:

On a sort of related note, a few weekends ago, chef Sudhir Seth gave a grilling demonstration at Wagshall's in Spring Valley, DC. He commented that he usually tones down his spicing for the American audience. Then with great enthusiasm, he revealed his pleasure in having hosted a "group from Don Rockwell" that, much to his delight, ate every bit of the authentically spiced dishes he had prepared!

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This has been on my radar to try for a while, but especially since I started working in Bethesda again this past August. Well, leave it to the weekend and wanting to see 'Slumdog Millionair' at the Landmark for a reason to go and we had lunch there before the movie.

Whoa.

So good.

The scallops appetizer was perfectly cooked and the spices were unusually appealing. Very nice.

The Saunth Pakori (ginger and date lentil pebbles) were delicious and the slightly building heat was a nice counterpoint to the temperature of the dish. Superb.

The Saag Gohsht (lamb with fenugreek, spinach and mustard) has got to be one of the finest Indian dishes I have ever had. So meaty, green and layered in flavor without ever being in your face. Subtley perfect.

SALLI BOTI JARDALOO (lamb with straw potatoes and apricot) was wonderful as well. A bit of sweetness to the dish was deftly handled and not allowed to become obnoxious and overbearing.

I'll be back. Soon.

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I had another lovely lunch with my DC (dining companion) at P2I. We had enjoyed our usual--Chicken Tikka Masala, Chicken Korma (fka Dum Ka Murgh), Mulligawtawny, and Kheer--and savored the generous portions of spice perfection and ideal consistency.

Having consumed Indian food all over Europe and the States but never in India, I will reassert my opinion of Passage To India. It was refined Indian food. It was not what I would necessarily consider to be "street" Indian cuisine. It reflected the subtle nuances of the spices without blowing your tastebuds away...

So I reassert my opinion, and that is all it is , an opinion, this is great Indian food for the area. If you know any place in this area that can blow it away, by all mean please post your opinion of it. I will visit in a New York minute.

I completely agree, RaisaB :D I have had the fortune of dining at over twenty South Asian restaurants, and I must say Chefs Seth and Negi set P2I apart from others by orchestrating an impeccable harmonic symphony of spices.

Though I usually eat (and thoroughly enjoy) seafood, mammals, and poultry, I am a flexible eater and P2I is one of two places (2Amys being the other) I can take vegetarian friends and join them in an all-vegetarian meal. So far, I have really enjoyed their baby gourds, mustard seed stir-fried vegetables, potatoes, and lentils. I am tempted to try the (relatively) new beans and pumpkin dish from the South region.

In short, P2I is one of my two very favorites Indian restaurants (Ravi's Kabob House II is right up there, too, but it is technically Pakistani :blink: and I like Woodlands as well among the all-vegetarian places).

P2I is my favorite (for a lack of a better term) Classical Indian restaurant and Rasoi Vineet Bhatia of Chelsea, London is my favorite (also for a lack of a better word) Neo-Indian restaurant. I love P2I for its exquisite spiced curries and overall breadth (and naan, too) and RVB for its dreamy kabobs and sweets.

...

I last dined in this space when it was an outpost of Heritage India, and the experience was not good. Passage to India, though... wow. Damn fine food.

Definitely agree, porcupine. From my experience, I found the food at the Heritage India incarnation generally too salty (having amply-seasoned side dish of rice made things even saltier) and the service was a bit pushy. P2I has the same beautiful interior but with a more extensive menu of familiar and uncommon dishes--all of which is excellently seasoned (including the great rice)--and service relaxing.

Their lunches are a steal0 for 7-10 dollars you get a sublime entree coupled with lentils and saffron rice. They really prove thier mettle on the lentils and rice, which are not any sort of afterhtought.

I definitely concur with soapy. The rice is luxurious, eye-pleasing, intricately composed, yet perfect in its complementary role (by not being salted) to the entrees. P2I's dal mah ki dal are the best I have had by far.

This is probably something for another discussion, but it's not that I'm simply looking for "fire."... The most interesting hot food doesn't overwhelm you with spiciness just for the sake of being spicy.

Even spicing that is "subtle" and "complex" can be assertive and purposeful. Even food that is "refined" can be interesting and flavorful. Put differently, I can imagine a vindaloo that is simultaneously spicy, complex, refined, and even (in its own way) subtle.

"Subtle" and "complex" should not mean, frankly, boring...

IMO, P2I's strength lies in being subtle with spiciness pertaining to heat while being assertive in spiciness with regards to the use of spices to flavor each dish. I enjoy the endorphin rush eating fiery chillies (or raw garlic), but I still want to taste the ingredients' inherent flavors and overall composition created by the chef. Chefs Seth and Negi not only understands this important balance, they are wizards of balancing each individual spice within each dish to produce dishes with definitive identities.

My one complaint was that the entrees were served with some weird and kind of bland cabage mixture that didn't really go with the rest of the meal...

I personally think it is a nice contrast to the spices of the curries and the colors are pleasing to the eyes, not to mention our health--this is something that Chef Seth has a good appreciation for (which I, in turn, appreciate). My DC requests some lemon for the cabbage salad (if not already present on the plate): a good squeeze of the ascorbic acid is just the ticket to naturally enlivening the purple and white cabbages.

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I assembled one heck of a banquet last night at Passage To India, and any Spice Xing-induced fears I had about the quality slipping here have been eased. I realize this is a strange combination of dishes, but taken as an ensemble, it was a fascinating reminder of how complex – more importantly, how subtle and refined – dishes from this restaurant can be. At the risk of stating the obvious, think “spices,” not “spicy.”

Kumbalanga Payar Olan ($13.95) - black-eye beans, white and red pumpkin, in a coconut and cumin sauce

Cheese Brochette ($14.95) – skewered homemade paneer, cooked in the 600-degree tandoor

Dal Kalonji ($9.95) – yellow lentils with Nigella seeds and red peppers

Kosha Mangsho ($16.50) - lamb cooked with ground coriander, cumin, and onion (the only meat dish of the entire meal).

Saffron Pulao ($3.95) – pilaf with cashews and raisins

Raita ($3.95) – homemade yogurt with roasted cumin

Pickle Platter ($2.95) – house-made pickles (Passage To India is one of only a handful of local Indian restaurants that make their own)

And two superb breads, both made in the tandoor:

Onion Kulcha ($3.75) and Aloo Paratha ($3.50) – this just plain humiliated the aloo paratha I had last week at Indian City Grill

This is an expensive restaurant, to be sure, but this was three full meals-worth of the finest Indian cuisine (with the possible exception of Spice Xing) in the area.

Cheers,

Rocks.

ETA - I also just moved 8 posts into the Crab Feast and Book Signing thread, and then noticed GeorgetownFoodie's posting - now immediately above - with which I'm in complete agreement.

Edited by DonRocks
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My wife was reluctant to go to Passage to India last night. She tried to make a deal wit me, if she didn't have to go to Passage to India, then I wouldn't have to go to her company's picnic. I didn't make the deal and we were both glad. I went to her picnic where the food sucked but they had free beer. She got to try Sudhir's crab masala and crab gassi mangalorean. I knew I had to do all the dirty work so we chose to go with dungeness crabs, and we asked the chef to put a little kick into the crab masala.

Unfortunately we didn't take photos but we (me, wife, Sthitch and his wife) all agreed the crab masala is awesome, as good as any crab dish I've ever had. The crab gassi was good but the sauce was more mundane - nevertheless, we ate nearly 5 pounds of dungeness crabs. The crabs were cracked but there's still some work left (you will get messy) but it was well worth the effort. We also ordered saag gosht (spinach & goat)and a tandoori grilled meat platter (we did not order the sides that were served at the crab feast).

I really must thank Sudhir for accomodating our request, we'll be back!

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Passage to India remains one of the greatest Indian restaurants I have ever tried - it is the best traditional Indian restaurant in the DC area, featuring a complexity of saucing you'll not find anywhere else.

Last night's feast:

Kamak-Kakri Masala ($13.95) - Lotus stem and petite peas in curry sauce

Podimas Urlakelangu ($13.95) - Potatoes smothered with sweet onions and curry leaf

Mamsamu Eguru ($16.95) - Lamb with fresh ground sesame, poppy seeds & coconut

Warqi Pudina Paratha ($3.25) - Layered whole wheat mint bread

Missi-Soya Roti ($3.50) - Bread made with chick pea flour, flavored with dill

Raita ($3.95) - Lightly churned yogurt with roasted cumin

Pickle Platter ($2.95) - Trio of house made pickles

Once again, there were no weaknesses, but the two biggest strengths were the vegan dishes - in particular, the Kamak-Kakri Masala which will forever change the way you think about lotus stem. These jewels remained compelling long after the dish came up to room temperature, and (as silly as this might sound), this was the greatest presentation of lotus stem I've ever come across.

Another meal at Passage to India, another triumph. Bravo!

Cheers,

Rocks

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Passage to India remains one of the greatest Indian restaurants I have ever tried - it is the best traditional Indian restaurant in the DC area, featuring a complexity of saucing you'll not find anywhere else.

Last night's feast:

Kamak-Kakri Masala ($13.95) - Lotus stem and petite peas in curry sauce

Podimas Urlakelangu ($13.95) - Potatoes smothered with sweet onions and curry leaf

Mamsamu Eguru ($16.95) - Lamb with fresh ground sesame, poppy seeds & coconut

Warqi Pudina Paratha ($3.25) - Layered whole wheat mint bread

Missi-Soya Roti ($3.50) - Bread made with chick pea flour, flavored with dill

Raita ($3.95) - Lightly churned yogurt with roasted cumin

Pickle Platter ($2.95) - Trio of house made pickles

Once again, there were no weaknesses, but the two biggest strengths were the vegan dishes - in particular, the Kamak-Kakri Masala which will forever change the way you think about lotus stem. These jewels remained compelling long after the dish came up to room temperature, and (as silly as this might sound), this was the greatest presentation of lotus stem I've ever come across.

Another meal at Passage to India, another triumph. Bravo!

Cheers,

Rocks

Ok you punk. Now you're making me want to go there again...soon. Been too long. And it is freaking two blockss from my office. I'll make sure to report back. Did you pick out the feast or let them go the Indian version of Omakase on you?

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It's been awhile since we had the crab masala but I still think about it. Sudhir, can we do it again? What else can you introduce us to that's just as delectable? Is there an Indian sea urchin dish? What about a clam dish? What is your favorite dish from India that's far from mundane?

Hi, sorry for the late reply, just got back from China in time to be rocked by an earthquake and to cope with a flooded basement, courtesy Ms. Irene.

Have never had Sea Urchin in India. Clams are eaten in something like Bouillabaisse and even cooked with rice like Paella. Are you interested in Seafood primarily or anything goes so long as it is "far from Mundane".

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A couple of years ago I wanted to try Singaporean chili crabs. It seems like the only way was to fly to Singapore, which wasn't really on my immediate to do list. So I started thinking about crab dishes of other cultures and that lead to a DR feast at Spice Xing. We had our own crab feast shortly afterwards with dungeness crabs and it was so spectacular that oops, I did it again. The process started a couple of months ago. I traded messages with Sudhir until we narrowed our dishes down to 3 seafood, 1 offal, 1 chicken, 1 lamb, and 2 veggies. The only dish we had to have was the crab masala. Eventually Sudhir came up with this menu for 6:

Appetizer:

1.5 orders Lamb Liver Masala

1.5 orders Chicken Tikka Malai

1.5 orders Curried Calamari stirfied

1.5 orders Uttappam (rice pancakes)

Entrees:

Dungeness Crab Masala

1.5 orders Salli Boti Jardaloo (Parsi (Persian) specialty where the lamb is cooked with apricots and vinegar, served topped with straw potatoes)

1.5 orders Shorshe Bata Maach (fish with fresh mustard cooked wrapped in banana leaf)

1.5 orders Doi Murgi (chicken breast with cinnamaon-clove-cardamom

1 order Palkachi Bhaji (spinach cooked with buttermilk and crushed peanuts)

1 order Bhopli Mirchi - Aloo Peethi (bell peppers and potatoes with caramelized gram flour)

It's a menu that spans "across the Indian subcontinent, so that no spices or major ingredients are repeated and at the same time they compliment each other," according to Sudhir.

The feast started with the calamari, chicken tikka malai, and the uttappam. I've never had Indian calamari before and I wondered why this popular appetizer protein isn't offered at most Indian restaurants. The tender squid is perfectly suited to stir-frying with a little curry. The chicken tikka malai were really juicy and tender, as good as any kebob I've ever had. The uttappam was an interesting bread, but eating bread was not our top priority, as we lost a diner at the last moment so the rest of us couldn't afford to waste any stomach space.

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