Traditional Indian curries blend a variety of spices, much like how any five teenagers can combine their personalities to form a pollution-fighting super hero. Taste the power of combined flavors with today’s Groupon: for $15, you get $30 worth of authentic Indian cuisine and drinks at Curry Mantra in Fairfax. Today’s Groupon is not valid for Curry Mantra’s lunch buffet.
Curry Mantra enthralls diners with a page-turning menu of traditional vegetarian and protein-focused dishes from northern and southern India. Subdue herbaceous hungers with a plate of navratan korma, mixed vegetables cooked in a mild, creamy sauce with cashews and raisins ($11), or a rice-based vegetable biryani, spiced vegetables hiding inside a mound of basmati grains ($14). Curry dishes appease all levels of spice tolerance ranging from the mild, tandoor-cooked chicken tikka masala ($15) to the blazing lamb vindaloo, lean lamb and potatoes cooked in red-chili sauce used in controlled cases to counteract forest fires ($17). Sides of creamy raita cool off taste buds with a blend of yogurt and cucumbers ($3), and a spread of tandoori breads such as plain naan ($3) or potato-stuffed aloo paratha ($4) soak up stray sauce clinging to plates or a neighbor's moustache.
The dining room's warm lighting and bright-orange walls boost spirits more than hiring a semiprofessional cheerleading squad to shadow your every move. Bartenders mix cocktails and pour glasses of wine behind an intimate bar at the front of the restaurant, and friendly servers offer assistance working through the menu or describing wall art based on Indian culture throughout the restaurant.
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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, 2012, 2013, and 2014, its Best of NoVa list in 2015, 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.