Editors' pick

Nirvana Express

Indian
$$$$ ($14 and under)
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Editorial Review

Tom Sietsema wrote about Nirvana Express for a December 2010 First Bite column.

Vegetarians, and others of us who like to eat lower on the food chain on occasion, felt abandoned when the family-run Nirvana went dark on K Street NW this past summer. Where would we go for our dosa fix?

Not far, as it turns out. Four months before the Indian establishment closed, husband-and-wife owners Jawahar and Doler Shah quietly opened Nirvana Express, a small counter in the International Square food court serving lunch Mondays through Fridays.

There are no seats. Orders can be eaten at one of the dozens of nearby tables in the basement setting near the Farragut West Metro.

The abbreviations at Express continue with the selections. Unlike Nirvana, this kitchen doesn't serve anything as elaborate as banana peppers stuffed with a paste of coconut, coriander and mint. But the Express peddles those crepelike dosas, which you can watch being made to order on the griddle behind the counter. Spinach dotted with cubes of house-made cottage cheese is one of several agreeable ways to fill a floppy, hubcap-size envelope of cooked-till-crisp batter made from rice and bean flours. (You can get a dosa stuffed with falafel, but I find that the fritters taste flat.)

Two bucks buys you a samosa the size of a baseball; beneath its crisp shell is a comforting core of potatoes and peas. For $7, you can get a combination plate: your choice of a curry with basmati rice, the flatbread known as chapati and the yogurt dip raita. The last part of the deal tames the heat you might pick up in the zesty pumpkin and eggplant curries, two of the entrees I look forward to seeing on the rotating menu at this Indian outpost.

Carl Domingo, the former manager of Nirvana who holds the same job here, says that "we were doing well" at the now-closed restaurant.

But the Shahs were not, at least physically. Both are in India for a break, he says.

They plan to return to Washington next month, after which they hope to begin serving breakfast at their carryout and (yes!) open something bigger than Express but smaller than Nirvana, in either Dupont Circle or Capitol Hill.

December 26, 2010