Pappe: Brotherly Love

It’s difficult for me to specify one cuisine as my favorite, but if push comes to shove -and I hope it doesn’t- I must declare Indian for the win. There is a richness and a depth of flavor that is all-encompassing, regardless of regional variations in spices and ingredients. I’m delighted to see a proliferation of Indian restaurants in DC, including Pappe featuring the cuisine of Northern India.  The restaurant opened in June on 14th Street, NW near Logan Circle, and immediately attracted devotees.

Upon hearing the name Pappe, I assume this has something to do with the word father – as in pappy.  Not so. Actually its pronounced “pah-pay,” which means brother in Punjabi.  Co-owners Vipul Kapila, Chef Sanjay Mandhaiya and Chef Shankar Puthran aren’t really brothers, but the threesome are close friends. And just as the trio’s relationship goes deeper than friendship, the food at Pappe demonstrates a soul-satisfying complexity.

I dine at Pappe twice in two weeks. On the first visit I am accompanied by five friends, and I delight at the opportunity to sample a variety of dishes. The group focuses primarily on fish and vegetarian dishes with the heat level toned down.  I return with my niece, who is my go-to dining companion for meat and heat. Between the two visits, I’m able to conquer a respectable swath of the menu. To cover even more territory, I’ll need to return with a lamb lover.

Is there a menu in DC that doesn’t open with a selection of small plates?  Rhetorical question. Pappe has eight options in this category.  The super crispy vegetable samosas are a solid offering, filled with potatoes and served with tamarind and cilantro-mint chutneys.

A don’t miss small plate is Tandoori Gobi. The charred cauliflower is paired with chunks of pepper and onions and served with zingy mint and cilantro chutney. A light salad provides a welcome foil to the spice.

Fans of traditional Indian cuisine will find satisfaction in dishes with familiar tastes and textures, kicked up a level with spices blended in-house.

Among the signature entrees is butter chicken, which floats dreamily in a sauce laced with fenugreek and sweet butter.  Tandoori salmon, from the Open Fire section of the menu is succulent and smoky, with a vibrancy that emanates from a dusting of Kashmiri Mirch, a red chili powder.

The story of Pappe’s conception is that Vipul Kapila met chefs Sanjay and Shankar at their Falls Church restaurant, Saffron.  Here he discovered their lamb vindaloo, which he admired for its authentic flavor and no holds barred heat. Their friendship and ultimate partnership blossomed from that fiery vindaloo.

I get it.  The shrimp vindaloo is brimming with flavor.  The sauce is vinegar and heat, punctuated with slices of ginger, garlic and red chilies. Potatoes, onions, tomatoes and red peppers round out the stew-like mixture. The shrimp are so perfectly cooked that I want to run back to the kitchen and hug whomever is responsible.

Chicken tikka masala is the vindaloo’s equal.  Tender meat rests on a sauce that is impossible not to consume in its entirety- either with naan or simply a spoon.

The naan bread at Pappe is well-suited for scooping up sauces.  I find the flavor too subtle to stand on its own, including a version with green chilies.

Dessert offerings are chai creme brulee, traditional rice pudding, and gajjar burfee, which is an Indian version of carrot cake. Cardamom-black pepper ice cream is where I find the ideal finale.

Pappe’s warm and inviting dining room incorporates stunning bright fabrics from New Delhi, including silk textiles which hang from the ceiling.  The walls are decorated with hand-drawn murals by local artist John DeNapoli.

According to Wikipedia, brotherly love is a term that refers to “an extension of the natural affection associated with near kin, toward the greater community of fellow believers.” Vipul Kapila, Sanjay Mandhaiya and Shankar Puthran exemplify brother love with Pappe, a restaurant that was born from vindaloo and has grown into a refined and convivial dining establishment.

 

 

Pappe1317 14th Street NW, Washington DC 20005

 

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