Masala Art

Rock Salt & Cilantro Lime

After writing up our recent post on homemade Indian food, J & I were craving Indian last Friday. Luckily we already had plans to grab drinks in Tenleytown, so it was the perfect excuse to visit Masala Art in person (J had picked up takeout for us once before).

When I arrived, I was immediately taken with the atmosphere. From the exterior and its neighbors, you’d never suspect how subtly sophisticated and warm Masala Art could be inside. The music and noise level of conversations around the room were soft even though some of the tables are pretty close together. While I waited for J, I sipped on my delicious cocktail and perused the menu. I can’t recall the name of the cocktail, but it was a mix of amaretto, red wine and mint.

Although I was slightly overwhelmed by the choices on the menu, I appreciated the variety of options and price points (appetizers around $5.00 and entrees ranging from $10-22). We opted to go for several appetizers in order to try out more dishes.

Shrimp & Chicken

Our first dish ended up being by far my favorite. The Aloo aur Pyaz ki Bhaji (Juliennes of potatoes and onions in chickpeas batter) would be my hangover food of choice if I still lived in Tenleytown. Imagine a flavorful, slightly spicy mix of crispy french fries and a Blooming Onion (although that may discount how tasty these are) all rolled into one. With two sauces to tame or add to the flavor, I could have eaten 10 of these. Maybe the best thing I’ve eaten since the bocadillos at Estadio.

Next up, the Chicken 65 (chicken tossed in South Indian masala) and Jheenga Porchai Yera (spicy tempered prawns). We paired these with the rock salt and cilantro naan. We should have ordered rice and/or a vegetable at this point.

Both dishes were spicier than our attentive waiter led us to believe, but not overly so. They each evoked barbecue flavors- the chicken more of a tomato-base, and the prawns more a wing flavor.

Our last two dishes were perhaps the most interesting, but our least favorite flavor-wise. Dahi Bhalle, velvety lentil dumplings in yogurt sauce, and Bhelpuri, which was puffed rice, chickpea vermicelli, peanuts, chopped onion, diced mango, cilantro and drizzled with tamarind chutney.

Dahi Bhalle

We had spotted numerous orders of the Bhelpuri, which essentially looked like taco salad bowls, so obviously the description enticed other diners too. Unfortunately, the description didn’t live up to our expectations, and it amounted to a bowl of Rice Krispies and Corn Puffs. With extra chutney and maybe another sauce for added flavor and moisture, I would have enjoyed the dish more, but the flavor was just not there like it had been in previous dishes.

For all the crunch that the Bhelpuri had, Dahi Bhalle lacked. The ‘velvety’ adjective used by the menu description is perfectly accurate, but the dish was too one note for me.

I’m already anticipating my next visit to Masala Art with friends in tow to sample more of the dishes. While it might not quite reach the heights of Rasika‘s Indian, it’s a more affordable and worthy option; our bill came to $45 w/out tax.

Check out Masala Art at 4441 B Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington D.C. 20016.

Rasika

Shrimp Balchao.

Shrimp Balchao.

Back in August, our actual first meal for Restaurant Week meal was a restaurant I’d been looking forward to trying for months. Rasika is lauded as one of the best restaurants in DC and one of the best Indian restaurants in the country.  Unlike some restaurants,  you can order from the Restaurant Week menu or from the regular menu, so James and I decided he would order off the regular menu while I ordered from the RW menu to give us a little more variety.

I started with an appetizer of the shrimp balchao with peri peri masala, onions and tomato. If I had known balchao was an Indian form of ‘pickling’ I may not have ordered the dish, but I didn’t regret the choice.  It tasted more like spicy barbecued shrimp  with a strong tomato flavor. For my main entree I decided to try something I wouldn’t normally order- the Tamarind Black Cod with star anise, black pepper, roasted chili on a bed of upma (Indian polenta). Black cod is not a very fishy fish so it’s a good choice for more apprehensive fish-eaters. It was one of the flakiest pieces of fish I’ve ever tasted. The different spices gave each bite a different flavor. The upma was the perfect contrast in texture  to the main dish. My final bites of the cod were a little fishier than most of the fish but still tasty mixed with the other components of the dish.

Tamarind Black Cod.

Tamarind Black Cod.

After some thought, James decided on the chicken green masala, a basic but reliable dish.  The masala was tasty and properly spicy, a slow growing degree of heat that saturated the tongue.

While James was looking at the beer menu, trying to find something to balance out the meal, our server mentioned a brand of beer on the list called Kingfisher. An Indian ale, it was a smooth mixture of a pale ale and a light lager that complimented the meal perfectly. If you are a connoisseur of beer, we recommend this brand.

I’ll admit I’m not a fan of Asian desserts. Luckily Rasika offered a couple of options more to my taste. I chose the chocolate and mint ice cream, and I was not disappointed. It had a thicker consistency than your everyday frozen treat and tasted more like a rich chocolate brownie. It was the perfect cooling end to a spicy meal.

Chicken Green Masala.

Chicken Green Masala.

A couple of other notes about Rasika: The service was superb. Our server never slacked, giving us the right amount of attention and small talk against the time we needed to make our decisions and enjoy each others company.

He even surprised us when we told him we were celebrating our anniversary, bringing us two glasses of champagne and even a dessert for James to enjoy since he didn’t order one of his own.

Rasika is a great option when you’re looking for that special place for an anniversary, birthday or other important occasion.

Interested? Try Rasika over at 633 D Street Northwest, Washington, DC. To make a reservation, call them at (202) 637-1222.

Birch & Barley

Birch and Barley

Birch and Barley. Picture taken from their site.

Restaurant week. The week where you gorge yourself on the special list of entrees set aside for one flat rate. In a way, reviewing a restaurant during restaurant week is cheating because you get to taste what they think is special and unique enough to serve for one week out of the year. Or whatever is cheap and easy to make in mass quantity. Classy.

Cass and I went on Saturday night with a reservation made to sit chef side. Reservations online were booked, but a few tables were set aside for people who bother to call. We had a chance to sit and watch the chefs work, and even chat it up with them a little. The proximity to the chefs tempered our conversation about our food.

After complimentary rolls (including soft pretzel rolls) and risotto balls, we started with two appetizers. Mine was a flat bread pizza with chorizo, pine nuts, onions and shrimp. I was very surprised how well chorizo and shrimp went with one another, although pine nuts go with everything. Still, the nuts gave the chorizo a very satisfying crunch that conjured ideas of mixing pine nut pieces into meatballs in the future. Cass had the panzanella with heirloom tomatoes, fried green tomatoes, whipped burrata and greens. A tangy vinaigrette really brought out the tartness of the oh-so-fresh and juicy tomatoes. One more fried green tomato would have been nice for this southern girl, but overall it was a good-sized and flavorful appetizer.

My entree choice was the brat burger, which was not beef but a mixture of pork and (if I remember correctly) lamb and veal, on a bed of sauerkraut and a soft bun with caramelized onion pieces on the top. The meat was drier than I expected, but sweet and enjoyable. Although a spread of a condiment could solve the moisture problem, the special choice of meat deserved a unique sauce. Cass ordered the braised lamb with bulgar wheat, favas and zucchini, after a brief discussion with the waitress and a chef about the taste of the lamb. The lamb could have used a touch more flavor and been a little more tender for Cass’ taste, but she admits that she is not a lamb connoisseur or even a huge fan of the meat.

The panzanella.

The panzanella. Picture taken from their Facebook site.

The final touch for me was the bittersweet chocolate cake. What surprised me about the dessert was not the cake itself, which tasted of a chocolate graham crust, but the sorbet on the side. It was a bright red bulb which tasted sour over sweet, contrasting nicely with the overall sweetness of the cake. Cass ordered the cookies & confections plate with homemade takes on the Snickers bar, Hostess cupcake, cereal milk sorbet, and oatmeal cream pie. The cereal milk sorbet was an adults’ version of cookies & cream, with a liqueur taste in the ice cream and rich chocolate cookie crumbs sprinkled about. Cass declared the Snickers bar her favorite dish of the night- 2 by 2 inches of a chocoholic’s dream. The other two confections she saved to carry the indulgences on for another day. Still delicious hours later.

Birch & Barley and its upstairs companion Churchkey are known for their ever-changing beer list, but we chose to refrain from imbibing too much to save room for food. I did order the AK-47, a malt liquor from Elysian Brewing, and Cass ordered a taste of the Cerise, a tart beer fermented with cherries, by Founders Brewing Company. Our lack of drinking at dinner just gives us an excuse to pay Churchkey another visit.

This was our second time eating at Birch & Barley, the first time being brunch for Cass’ birthday last November. Cass preferred brunch over dinner (desserts aside), but should probably reserve the verdict for once we’ve dined at Birch & Barley for a non-Restaurant Week meal when the full menu is available.

Peaked your appetite? Check out Birch & Barley‘s Facebook listing or website, where you can view their online menu. Pay them a visit at 1337 14th Street, Washington D.C. Or call at 202-567-2576.