As guests step past the pink silk curtains that hang in the entryway, the first thing they notice is the unmistakable aroma of charcoal. The source is the restaurant's clay tandoor, where chicken and fish cop grill flavoring that completes their yogurt, herb, and spice marinades. Like an all-in-one print/fax/clone-an-army machine, this clay oven can handle multiple tasks at once, as it also yields such fresh-baked breads as the potato-and-pea-stuffed aloo paratha. Diners feast on these dishes at tables covered in white linens in a dining room that stretches back to a full bar.
Behind an entryway guarded by brass and ceramic figurines, Rasoi—which means kitchen in Hindi—serves up traditional Indian fare bursting with aromas of cumin, garlic, and ginger. Black, lacquered tables populate with salmon and lamb dishes roasted in a clay tandoori oven. A full menu page of vegan and vegetarian dishes mingles fresh chickpeas and eggplant with dry mango powder and green cardamom. And, after sopping up the last of a three-course Thali feast, guests can sip on a sweet mango lassi or rub the mint-green walls to test whether they’re scratch-and-sniff.
Growing up, Chakra Café’s owner Monisha lived two different lives. At school, she was known by her given name and spent lunch hours twirling spaghetti on a fork. But at home, Monisha’s Bengali parents only referred to her by her nickname, Hashi–or laughter–and mealtimes meant scooping up lamb curry with a piece of luchi. The duality of Monisha’s two worlds–and the food she was exposed to–left a lasting impression and is the driving force behind the Café’s menu.
Inside Chakra Café’s kitchen, chefs marry Indian flavors with culinary traditions from around the world, using recipes adapted from Monisha’s mother, according to a Patch.com article. Traditional Bengali dishes such as begun bhartha–roasted eggplant flavored with green mango–are served solo or stuffed inside quesadillas with smoked fontina cheese, roasted pine nuts, and raitha yogurt sauce. Other Indian staples are also Americanized, from the tandoori chicken that tops flatbread pizzas to spaghetti paired with lamb meatballs and a whisper of ghee. Each item on the menu is clearly marked as halal, vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free, making it easy to decipher the dishes without meat and the ones that require each bite to be chewed 32 times.
Chefs at Aroma Indian Cuisine know that patience pays off—they let their tandoori lamb marinate in bold spices overnight before cooking it in traditional clay ovens. This is one of the many ways Aroma demonstrates a commitment to serving authentic Indian and Pakistani cuisine at three locations throughout the DC area. The chef's feast for two overflows with samplings of saag paneer, tandoori chicken, and lamb kababs, presenting a welcome spread for couples, friends, or Doppelgangers that just met by a twist of fate. Those who don't eat meat can dig into one of the restaurant's many vegetarian dishes, which include vegan-friendly sauteed okra, and ginger-spiced channa masala.