Jaipur: Indian Faves in Fairfax
By Moira E. McLaughlin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 25, 2008
At first glance: Jaipur in India is known as the "Pink City" because of its pink buildings. Although the city today is not as pink as it once was, you won't miss the restaurant's homage to its namesake. The entire dining area is tinted pink -- for the tablecloths, napkins, walls, chairs and candle holders. The dimly lighted space feels authentic Indian, although it's on the ground floor of an apartment and office complex.
At your service: The excellent service is evidenced by a number of waiters lingering around, all eager to serve you. Of Indian descent themselves, they know the menu well, so don't be shy about asking for details about any of the dishes.
Unless you order the vindaloos (lamb or chicken in a hot chili onion sauce), your waiter will ask how spicy you want your entree. Ask for spicier than you think you prefer. Chef Sachin Bhatnagar, who cooked at five-star restaurants in Delhi before moving to the United States about six years ago, is pretty light on the spice.
On the menu: This is an authentic Indian place that goes beyond the more standard tikka masala, with many choices. Like most Indian restaurants, however, you won't find beef or pork. The owners, husband and wife Archana Dumra and Shail Ndra Paul Dumra, are from Delhi and are Hindu. (They chose the restaurant's name because it was more distinctive than naming it after their native city.)
Skip the papad that you get when you first sit down. The flour crackers are not too fresh, and your meal will be more than enough food anyway. Keep the mint and coriander chutney that comes with it, however. All the sauces are fresh and made there. The chutneys are so good, you might want to add a little to your entree later.
Make sure you know what kind of meat you are ordering. If you are not accustomed to dark meat, a dish such as the murgh biryani (chicken in a gravy sauce with basmati rice and a piece of a hard-boiled egg on top) might disappoint.
A great appetizer is the chat-papdi. My dinner companion called it "Indian nachos." It's steamed potatoes and garbanzo beans over flour chips with a yogurt, mint and tamarind sauce. It's light, refreshing, a bit sweet and very tasty.
If you want to stay with something more standard, the vegetable samosa (pie stuffed with potatoes and peas) is a good appetizer, and the murgh tikka masala (chicken in a tomato curry sauce) is a very tasty entree. (Again, it won't be hot, so make sure to specify if you prefer spicy.) The dum murgh jaipari -- tikka masala's not-quite-as-flavorful cousin -- is solid, if a bit bland, with a really thick tomato sauce. All the dishes come with a big serving of light, fluffy basmati rice.
The fun with Indian food is all the potential for dipping. Make sure to order naan with your meal, and don't let the waiters take your plates away until you have sufficiently dipped. As for naan, you can order garlic, onion or a naan with nuts, raisins and cherries. For dipping purposes, stick with the standard naan, which is soft and buttery.
What to avoid: Unless you are interested in a big plate of fried food, don't order the Pink City Platter. Nor would I recommend the homemade ice cream for dessert. Although it was interesting to eat a saffron-pistachio flavored ice cream topped with pasta (yes, that's right, cooked vermicelli), the baadshahi kutfi with faluda did not taste fresh. As for the rest of the desserts, you do have to be a little daring. No standard chocolate cake here. The gulab-jamun, fried bread balls in a honey and cardamom sauce, is definitely something for more adventuresome eaters.
Wet your whistle: If you like Indian beer -- and you should if you're eating at an Indian place -- the selection here is ample. They offer Kingfisher, Taj Mahal, Flying Horse and Maharaja. The wine list offers Indian wines -- a zinfandel rose, a Sula chenin blanc and a sauvignon blanc -- and also the more standard wines from California, New Zealand or France. They also serve mixed drinks.
Bottom line: Go to Jaipur with a group. Eat family style, and mix and match your dishes. Be a little adventuresome with your order, and don't be afraid to dip.