Hot weather often takes away my desire to have a leisurely sit-down meal in a restaurant. I want something quick to eat, either at the restaurant or to take home. These are two good options, both tiny eateries, that offer just a few chairs for on-site dining and lots of dishes to take home.
House of Biryani & Kabobs/Curries is in the middle of a long strip of ethnic restaurants on Lee Highway near George Mason Drive in Arlington. The tiny storefront, offering Halal Bangladeshi cuisine, has seven small tables for two, with three extra chairs against a side wall and two highchairs. The small dining room is spotless, its butter-colored walls decorated with four native paintings of the Bangladesh countryside, all of which feature water.
Owner Moktar Hossain came to this country 25 years ago as a driver for the Bangladesh Embassy, later working in restaurants and hotels, all the while dreaming of turning his cooking hobby into a full-time job. He opened House of Biryani a year ago. It's a simple operation: Order at the counter and the food, on plastic plates with plastic utensils, is brought to your table, probably by Hossain's engaging daughter-in-law, Tanni Jesmine.
Don't be deterred, the food is much better than the spartan operation might suggest.
Samosas, meat or vegetable versions, are baseball-size, prepared fresh to order. The pastry shell is crisp but flaky, the filling of potatoes, peas -- and, if you choose, meat -- is steaming hot and redolent of spices. The accompanying cilantro paste adds just the right amount of fire.
Biryani -- similar to fried rice -- is a mainstay of Bangladeshi cuisine. Mounds of seasoned basmati rice are mixed with chunks of meat -- beef, chicken, goat, lamb -- or just vegetables, then accented with hard-boiled eggs.
The most popular dishes, Hossain said, are chicken tikka masala -- large chunks of white meat chicken cooked in a sauce of curry, tomato, butter and onions -- and butter chicken, which blends large chunks of white meat chicken with butter sauce, spices such as ginger and cinnamon, and tomatoes. In both dishes, the chicken is fork-tender and juicy, and the sauces are flavorful but don't overwhelm the meat.
Hossain is a master with kebabs, and the house specialty includes chicken, lamb and chapli (ground beef patties about the size of breakfast sausage patties). The chicken, chunks of white meat marinated in yogurt with onions and peppers, arrives reddish-gold but tender enough to be cut with those plastic utensils. Lamb kebabs are almost as tender, and the chapli are gently spicy and so lean they are almost dry.
Most dishes are served with a large round of puffy, slightly chewy naan that is nicely charred on the bottom.
For a hot weather treat, don't miss the refreshing mango lassi (a yogurt drink mixed with mango puree) or the salty lassi (salty yogurt drink).
On weekends, when House of Biryani is busiest, Hossain prepares a Bangladeshi favorite: bhuna kirchori, a meat curry featuring yellow rice and several kinds of lentils.
--Nancy Lewis (July 26, 2007)