The Wahla brothers have spent the past 25 years perfecting their spin on authentic Punjabi cuisine, opening restaurants throughout Scotland and the United States. Inside the kitchen of their latest venture, Tandoori Village, clay tandoors bake skewers of chicken, beef, and shrimp while chefs marinate jumbo prawns in yogurt, knead soft balls of dough for baking buttery disks of naan, and deep-fry chicken and goat samosas. An ornate carved door with golden embellishments looms at the entryway of the restaurant, giving way to the vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges that accent the walls and drape across ceiling timbers, and elegant archways that house traditional lanterns and clay pots. Outside, the patio's additional seating encourages outdoor dining and easier hitchhiking on passing tractor beams.
Kumar Iyer has spent years in the hospitality industry, managing restaurants aboard Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and working the floor at local restaurants. He learned how to take care of people during these experiences, but more importantly, he codified what he thought made a great restaurant. When the time was right, he brought all of those ideas to his own culinary venture, Rangoli. From the laying of the bricks to the creation of the menu, Kumar made sure every element matched his lofty expectations.
Today, Kumar and his team serve up an eclectic array of Indian cuisine gathered from all over the continent. They prepare an exhaustive selection of curries, including a Konkani recipe called chicken xacuti, which uses flavors such as poppy seeds, fennel, and a tart fruit known as kokum in its creamy sauce. They also roast meat in traditional tandoori clay ovens, the blazing-hot vessels known for imparting their searing heat to lamb kebabs, whole chickens, and slightly smaller, more adorable clay ovens.
You might momentarily forget your hunger when you step into Curry Mantra's striking, newly expanded dining room, where vivid Indian artwork speckles the warm orange and yellow walls. Your appetite is reawakened, however, when you peer into the large kitchen window and catch sight of juicy morsels of lamb, salmon, and chicken waiting to be cooked in tandoori ovens. When discussing his decision to install a kitchen window with a food critic Tom Sietsema from the Washington Post, owner Asad Sheikh explained, "I want my customers to see what's going on in the tandoor." He's proud of the work that goes on in his kitchen, which earned Curry Mantra a spot on Northern Virginia magazine's 50 Best Restaurants list in 2011 and 2012, and Washingtonian Magazine's Best of Fairfax 2013. His chefs pull culinary inspiration from all four corners of India, folding lamb, chicken, and seafood into a wide variety of flavorful curries and fiery vindaloos. To craft their goat biryani rice dish, the chefs use a generations-old recipe passed down to Sheikh from his grandmother, peppering aromatic basmati rice and tender goat meat with saffron and nuts.
Silverware clinks against glass tabletops in the dining room, where diners sip on glasses of wine and creamy mango lassi. Come lunchtime, a buffet table will stretch across the room, lined with silver trays of freshly made dishes. On the weekends, the eatery hosts live music, as traditional flutists and drummers play classical Indian music and the theme from Three's Company upon request.
Fashioned after Jaipur, a gem of Rajasthan, Jaipur Royal Indian Cuisine excites the senses with aromatic spice mixes prepared separately each day for each dish. Among an interior of authentic figurines in elaborate dress and strung beads baring images of vibrantly colored birds, they serve a menu of traditional dishes rooted in North Indian cuisines. That includes rich grilled lamb, chicken, and seafood, as well as complex curries and plenty of fresh vegetarian dishes. They welcome guests to pair such variety of tastes with flavorful beverages such as aam ki lassi, a whipped mango and yogurt drink.
Bollywood Bistro's exciting cinema-themed menu keeps taste buds on the edge of their chin-seat from trailer to grand finale. Start your palate's passage to India with an order of delicately spiced and fried white-meat chicken pakores ($5 for five pieces) or vegetable samosas, which stuff seasoned potatoes and peas into crispy pastry ($2). Bollywood Bistro offers nine types of Indian breads including classic naan ($2), as well as stuffed varieties such as aloo naan, which comes stuffed with potatoes, ginger spices, and herbs ($2.50)––any of which dutifully accompanies an entrée until they both meet their fate in the jaws of a hungry patron.