I spent the first part of my summer rushing around excitedly exploring the many, many, many new restaurants in DC. As summer winds down, so does my fervent need to focus solely on recent additions. In fact my restaurant-going in general has slowed down considerably, with weekends away and home barbecues taking the lead. I managed to visited some previously blogged about restaurants, with the goal of seeing what’s new in these not-so-new venues. Masala Art, an Indian restaurant in the Tenleytown neighborhood of DC, has been on my list to revisit for some time. It is perfect for a weeknight catch-up with another couple.
It has been more than three years since I posted a blog about Masala Art. I loved the food, but described the “not so artful service.” I sent a copy of my post to the email address on the website. The owner responded with a sincere apology and an offer of a free meal. I never took him up on it. Many months later my husband met the owner, who connects the name to me and remarks “your wife never came back.” I don’t like to take advantage of free meals, and I wasn’t going to change my review based on the excellent service I was bound to receive. But points to the owner for recalling the name!
Flash forward. As I enter the restaurant, I am greeted at the door by the amiable owner. “It’s taken you three years to come back,” he exclaims. Perhaps I should have used another name on our reservation. But since he recognizes my husband it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. My post clearly left an impression. (Just for the record, the only special treatment we receive is that the owner keeps an eye on our table, helps serve our dishes, and stops by a couple of times to see if everything is satisfactory).
I am ready to move on from the past and enjoy some artful cooking. I am not fully content with an Indian meal unless it includes a few specific dishes. One of them is bhelpuri. I can’t resist this appetizer of puffed rice, chickpea vermicelli, mango, cilantro, and tamarind chutney. I love the crunch of the puffed rice as it mingles with the sweet mango and chutney. I settle in with this dish and a glass of white wine, and let myself relax into the meal.
We’re with friends who share our love for Indian food, along with our dining restrictions. The women will eat just about anything, while the kosher-keeping men only eat fish and vegetarian dishes. Masala Art is a vegetarian’s paradise, so my girlfriend and I are more than happy to keep things meat-free for a bit.
Sarson wali Gobhi features cauliflower florets with a smoky veil of spices, with the dominant flavor of mustard.
Crunchy patties of broccoli and peas tikki are stuffed with sweet drunken raisins. Makai aur Mattar is a dish of corn and green peas served on methi bread. Each of our four appetizers has a distinct combination of flavors, and an impressive variety of tastes and textures. It’s a chore to slow down and leave room for what’s ahead.
It’s time for some meat. I’ve enjoyed Masala Art’s Adraki Lamb Chops on previous visits, and I cannot imagine not ordering it again. The memory of this dish has stayed with me during the long lapse between visits. The chops are redolent with ginger and cumin, and are covered in a thick and spicy tomato-based sauce. My salt-o-meter is measuring on the high side, and the sauce is far oilier than I remember it, but it’s not off-putting enough to deter my desire. I still love this dish.
Chicken Saagwala is tender chunks of chicken bathed in a creamy, flavorful spinach sauce. It contrasts nicely with the lamb, and the leftover sauce makes a perfect topping for rice.
Rock salt cilantro naan is another mainstay at Masala Art that I am unable to resist. It’s appropriately salty and buttery, and is not to be missed.
Service isn’t overly fussy, as I feared it could be as compensation for our previous visit. It’s respectful and timely but subdued. While we all agree that the salt shaker has been applied a little too freely, we also praise the competent and indeed artful cooking. Part of my objective in returning to previously blogged-about restaurants is to discover what’s new. While I can’t detect any discernible changes at Masala Art, I am grateful that the food I remember is still so palate-pleasing.
Masala Art, 4441 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Washington, DC