Tag Archives: Indian

Cafe of India: Not So Artful

After a delightful meal at Masala Art last weekend, I was eager for more delicious Indian food. Luckily, a couple friends invited me to lunch on Saturday and I instantly suggested we try Cafe of India, another new Indian restaurant in Tenleytown that opened just a few blocks away from Masala Art.

Despite the close proximity and similar cuisine, these are two very different restaurants. I really liked Masala Art’s subtle spicing, bold flavors, and elegant presentation. Though some dishes were better than others, I still gave it points for originality and the merits listed above. Cafe of India, on the other hand, is much less adventurous with its menu, and yet, does not manage to deliver on flavor or presentation.

Samosas

We began our meal with an order of samosas, a ubiquitous Indian appetizer of curried potatoes and peas stuffed in a deep fried fritter. The samosas were good, but not great, and the accompanying sauces were a bit too watered down for my taste.

Cafe of India's lunch special

For our entrees, we each ordered the lunch special ($10.95), which allows diners to choose 4 dishes from the lunch list. I ordered the punjabi chicken curry, lamb curry, aloo gobi, and eggplant bharta. All of these dishes, unfortunately, lacked depth of flavor. The eggplant bharta was extremely greasy; the lamb in the lamb curry was extremely tough. The chicken curry and aloo gobi were all right, except the chicken curry was lukewarm–tepid, even! Clearly the kitchen is having some trouble timing their dishes.

Naan, garlic naan, & onion kulcha

The best part of the meal turned out to be the least exotic: a warm basket of naan, or Indian bread. Since 3 of us ordered the lunch special, we were able to sample all 3 types of bread (each lunch special comes your choice of naan, garlic naan, or onion kulcha). My favorite was the onion kulcha, which is basically naan with scallions and green peppers mixed into the batter.

There are some redeeming qualities about Cafe of India which keep me from losing hope for this restaurant. The interior is surprisingly nice–a welcome contrast to the shabby exterior. And the wait staff means well and genuinely want to serve you a good meal. Unfortunately, there are some problems in the kitchen that will need to be addressed before I can come back to Cafe of India. For now, I’ll be sticking with Masala Art.

Cafe of India

4909 Wisconsin Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20016

202-244-1395

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Artful Indian at Masala Art

Masala Art's artful interior

Apologies, readers, for the serious lack of posts over the past couple of weeks. Between starting my wonderful, fabulous (unpaid) 9am to 5pm internship, forgetting my camera, and eating some disappointing meals not even worth blogging about (ie: Art and Soul for restaurant week), I haven’t had much material for writing. But, fear not! The Unpaid Gourmet is back in action.

I have been dying to try Masala Art since it opened last October, for several reasons. One, I absolutely LOVE Indian food (and was spoiled last year by my roommate, Roohi, who’s mom would bring us yummy homemade Indian food). Two, Tenleytown was seriously lacking in Indian restaurants–in fact, before Masala Art’s arrival, I’m pretty sure there were none (and now…there are two! Cafe of India opened this week and is right down the street). And three, Masala Art is conveniently located a couple blocks from my apartment.

After reading a great review on Masala Art in last week’s Washington City Paper (the review, unfortunately, seems to have disappeared from the site), a friend and I decided it was time to finally try it. The restaurant occupies a peculiar space, in an old building right next to a Masonic Temple and Subway. But don’t let its spare exterior fool you. Upon entering Masala Art, I was struck by its spacious interior and tasteful decorating. Framed posters of Indian artwork and tiled mirrors hang on the walls, each one carefully chosen to complement the room. Tables are well-spaced–not too close together so you can hear other tables’ conversations, but not too far apart that you feel isolated.

Murgh tikka masala

My friend ordered the murgh tikka masala ($12.95), or butter chicken. The sauce was delicately spiced and not overly creamy–a nice change from lesser versions of this dish. I also thought the color of the sauce was beautiful. If you are not a fan of dark meat, however, I don’t recommend ordering this dish. Though the chicken was very tender, there was definitely more dark meat than white meat.

Tiranga paneer

I ordered the tiranga paneer ($11.50), which the menu describes as an “exotic kebab made with homemade cottage cheese and layered with tri-colored stuffing.” I had absolutely no idea what that description meant, but Tim Carman of the Washington City Paper said the dish was “a revelation.” I put my fears and slight lactose intolerance aside and decided to order it.

Honestly, I’m not sure I would describe the tiranga paneer as a revelation, per say. The paneer is basically 3 substantial blocks of cheese, which are firm in texture and more akin to firm tofu. The “tri-colored stuffing” is not really stuffing at all; rather, the blocks of cheese have 3 slits on the side, where the chef spreads a sauce or chutney in between. The result is unlike anything else I have ever tasted: not bad, but not great, either. The cheese was a bit smoky and heavy for me, and I definitely could only eat half the dish. I did enjoy the accompanying rice and lentils, though.

Nan and aloo anardana (sorry for my finger in the shot!)

My friend and I also shared an order of rock salt and cilantro nan and aloo anardana (potatoes with pomegranate seeds). The rock salt and cilantro nan ($2.95) was absolutely delicious. The rock salt and cilantro add a jolt of flavor and freshness to an otherwise boring basket of nan. The aloo anardana ($5 if ordered as a side), however, did not live up to expectations. They were a bit too tangy for my taste, but I did like the surprising spicy notes that hit you at the end of the bite.

Although I did not enjoy every single dish, I would definitely give Masala Art another chance. I thought the plates were presented beautifully, the prices weren’t too steep, and plus, it’s in my neighborhood. Up next, I’ll probably try Cafe of India. Anyone heard any news about it? Here’s to hoping a third Indian restaurant open in Tenleytown!

Masala Art

4441 Wisconsin Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20016-2141
(202) 362-4441

Masala Art on Urbanspoon