New to Indian Cuisine? Spices Is a Good Place to Start

Above from left, chefs Satish Kumar Dasari and Anil Kumar Bashyam, owner Sekar Kapa, server Sharma Jagammath, chef Ajith Kumar Bashyam and server Amy Kaur display Indian specialties at Spices, off Interstate 66 in Manassas. Left, gulab jamum, a dessert made of dried milk and sugar. Below, masala dosa, a crepe made from rice flour and lentil flour and filled with potatoes and onions.
Above from left, chefs Satish Kumar Dasari and Anil Kumar Bashyam, owner Sekar Kapa, server Sharma Jagammath, chef Ajith Kumar Bashyam and server Amy Kaur display Indian specialties at Spices, off Interstate 66 in Manassas. Left, gulab jamum, a dessert made of dried milk and sugar. Below, masala dosa, a crepe made from rice flour and lentil flour and filled with potatoes and onions. (Photos By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Nancy Lewis
Thursday, December 15, 2005

Walk into the small vestibule of Manassas's Spices restaurant and the exotic aromas of India greet you: coriander, black cardamom, mustard, cloves and fenugreek. It's an enticing introduction to this six-month-old Indian restaurant in Bull Run Shopping Center.

Don't be put off by what might sound like an out-of-the-way location; it's less than two miles off Interstate 66 in one of the area's busiest shopping areas.

The spices are the first indication that you are in for a treat. Next comes the decor. The walls are painted an arresting saffron-tinged red and are adorned with intricately carved Indian artifacts. Take a seat in one of the comfortable chairs or booths, and prepare to be seduced.

Owner Sekar Kapa is no stranger to Indian restaurants. He owned one a decade ago in Visakhapatnam, in India's Andhra Pradesh state. Kapa came to the United States nine years ago and worked for Verizon until he could realize his dream of opening a restaurant here. Kapa, who lives in Prince William County, chose Manassas as the location because there were no other Indian restaurants nearby.

Two of the chefs, Satish Kumar Dasari and Anil Kumar Bashyam, hail from southern India and preside over an extensive menu that includes vegetarian specialties of their home region, tandoori dishes and lovely curries.

It's hard to know where to begin, but the garlic version of India's famous flatbread, nan, is a good place. The steaming-hot bread shows the char of the superheated tandoor oven, and the pungent taste of garlic underscores its chewy texture.

The dosas , large crepes with vegetable fillings, are a specialty; there are more than a dozen varieties. The masala dosa , a crepe made from rice flour and lentil flour and filled with potatoes and onions, looked like deep-hued lacquer paper when it arrived, exuding a heady aroma and accompanied by a fiery stew of chickpeas.

Other appetizers included chicken tikka, marinated chunks of boneless chicken breast cooked in the tandoor oven. The meat was moist and mildly flavored by its spices and yogurt marinade. Spinach pakoda featured the vegetable coated with flour and fried. It was kind of like spinach chips and had the can't-eat-just-one appeal of great potato chips. Vegetable samosas, fried dumplings filled with potatoes and peas, seemed heavier than they should have been.

The chicken tikka reappeared in the tandoori mixed grill, along with lamb and shrimp. The lamb retained a pleasant, meaty taste, even after marinating, but was a little dry and not well trimmed. The medium-size shrimp, bright red from the tandoori spices, were meaty but had little shrimp flavor.

But in a mild curry (choose your own degree of spiciness), the slightly larger shrimp kept their delicate taste and texture, and the presentation was just as successful. The shrimp korma was served in a metal pot over a warming candle, which kept the dish bubbling throughout the meal.

There are dozens of other choices on this substantial menu. Most main dishes are served with nan, subtly flavored basmati rice and a trio of sauces: a deep red sweet and sour one, a pale green mint and chili sauce that has more than a bit of fire, and a cooling cucumber raita . A mixed vegetable raita is also available.

There are lunch and dinner buffets, each with more than a dozen main dishes, and grand buffets on holidays -- including Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year's Eve -- with more than 30 choices for just $13.99.

Spices is a good place to be introduced to Indian cooking. The service is attentive, and the servers can make recommendations based on how spicy an experience you prefer.

Although you'll probably be full long before dessert, try ending with the delicate gulab jamum, plum-colored balls made of dried milk and sugar, cooked and then soaked in sugar and cardamom sauce and accented with slivers of almonds; and the more strongly flavored gajar ka halwa , a wonderful grated carrot pudding.

Spices Indian Cuisine 11010 Sudley Manor Dr., Manassas, 703-330-7200. Hours: lunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; dinner, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Appetizers, $3.25-$6.95; main courses, $8.95-$12.95; lunch buffet Mondays-Fridays, $7.99; dinner and weekend buffets, $9.99. Accessible to people with disabilities. If you have a food-related event or favorite restaurant, e-mail Nancy Lewis atlewisn@washpost.com.


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