If Cafe Taj’s large stone fountain could talk, the rippling waters would still keep mum, because the restaurant’s authentic Indian cuisine can speak for itself. Warm naan and whole-wheat roti sop up creamy curry sauce from main dishes, and the black tables are loaded down with charcoal-roasted tandoori dishes for pairing with both wine and beer from a fully stocked bar. After sating sugar cravings with rose- and cardamom-scented sweets, patrons can question servers about their catering services or use the dining room’s Romanesque columns to kick off a backflip in honor of an evening well spent.
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.
As customers might guess from looking at the wooden sitars and paintings of musicians hanging on the walls, raaga means "sweet melody." In the kitchen, chefs blend spices to create their own complex harmonies of northern Indian flavors. Clay ovens roast tandoori chicken along with shrimp and salmon fillets marinated in spices. Sixteen vegetarian specialties, including croquettes stuffed with raisins, cashews, and housemade cottage cheese, wait to be sopped up with nine different Indian breads and a selection of napkins. For dessert, servers deliver dishes of the signature mango kulfi, an ice cream flavored with mango and cardamom.
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.
IndAroma's inventive chefs ferry flavors across culinary borders, regaling tongues with francophilicly enlivened Indian classics. The menu teems with curries, kebabs, naan pizzas, and succulent wraps, such as the marinated, tandoori-baked lamb kebab in cucumber sauce ($7.50), which provides the portable edibility of a laptop made of toffee. Rummage through the samosa chaat ($4.90), a treasure chest of chickpea curry, onions, mint, and spicy garlic-and-tamarind sauce or seek the comfort of boneless chicken biryani's flavorful warmth ($8.99). Petit fours and éclairs bask alongside a profusion of cakes each as sweet and unique as the fingerprint of an Oompa Loompa and served by the slice in flavors such as black forest, mango, and pistachio.