A Healthful Taste of India and Nepal
By Julia Beizer
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 24, 2009
At a glance: The name Ghar-E-Kabab may technically translate to "House of Kebab" in Urdu, Hindi and Nepali, but walking in to the Silver Spring shoebox you could be forgiven for thinking that it's more of an apartment. Quarters are tight within the 46-seat establishment, but that only enhances one of the best parts of dining at Indian restaurants: the sweet-spicy scent of curry that hits you the minute you walk in the door.
Maybe it's just the small space, but there's a warm feeling in this spare room. Regulars joke with the staff and talk to fellow diners at nearby tables. Fresh flowers dot the space, and embroidered thangkas from Nepal hang on some walls.
On the menu: Partners Lok Tiwari, Chetnath Bhandari and Chandasar Ray, all veterans of the downtown D.C. restaurant scene, set out to create a restaurant that celebrates the flavors of India and Nepal in a more healthful way. Tiwari, who has high cholesterol, says he was inspired by some of the chefs he worked with at the Marriott Renaissance and gets vegetables from local farmers and wines from an organic vineyard for his year-old restaurant. Chefs here also cook most of the meats in a tandoor, an Indian clay oven, over charcoal to lower the fat content, Tiwari says.
The appetizer menu offers your best chance to sample the flavors of Nepal. Both furaula (fried black-lentil fritters) and cho-e-la (cold, shredded duck), were hits among my dining companions. Well-known Indian appetizers such as chili pakora, chicken tikka and samosas also stand up well here.
Some entrees arrive in hammered copper bowls that Tiwari picked up in Nepal, some of which are heated from below by a votive candle. Smoky flavors in the shrimp masala sauce kept me reaching for more pieces of nan bread with which to soak it up. The chicken biryani was sweetened by raisins and nuts dotted throughout the rice dish.
As one might expect, kebab dishes make up a large portion of the menu. My favorite was the boti kebab, hunks of lamb that had been marinated in yogurt and herbs before their time in the tandoor.
The children's menu at Ghar-E-Kabab is a bit of a bait-and-switch. Tiwari wanted to introduce kids to Indian flavors while offering something more healthful than deep-fried nuggets. The "pizza" is actually more of a cheese-covered nan. Expect kebab-like hunks of grilled chicken when you order chicken tenders. "Hey, this isn't a chicken tender!" exclaimed a nearby child on a recent visit. But after his protests died down, the boy cleaned his plate.
For dessert, two can split the plate of kulfi, a frozen Indian milk-based dessert served with elegant swirls of sauce. The mango lassi is offered on the drink menu, but it's sweet enough to serve as a liquid dessert.
At your service: The front house staff couldn't be friendlier. Don't make any hard-and-fast plans after a meal at Ghar-E-Kabab as meals take a long time to complete. The wait between courses can feel like an eternity.
What to avoid: I wanted to fall in love with the chana masala, chickpeas cooked with garlic, ginger and onions, but I couldn't taste much of those more pungent flavors in the stew-like dish. The Nepalese momo appetizer tasted mostly of the dumpling shell and not of the veggie filling. The ground meat in the Seekh kebab was just fine, but I'd opt for the masala dishes instead.
Wet your whistle: Organic wines and Indian beers make up the drink list. (No cocktails?!) The restaurant also offers coffee, soda and chai tea.
Bottom Line: Ghar-E-Kabab is a good option if you're in the neighborhood. It's well priced, family-friendly and just steps from Silver Spring's main drag.