While elegance is a term that has finally come to be associated with Indian restaurants, subtlety has not. Except at Apana. The menu ranges as at most Indian restaurants from vegetarian (homemade cheese cubes with peas) to tandoori chicken. And there are the usual breads, chutneys, pickles and lentil or vegetable side dishes.
But, there is also red snapper and trout teamed with almonds and bright broccoli florets in a buttery sauce as delicate as any from France. The lamb curry is outstanding, with all the complexities of seasoning coming through without the curry's burning your mouth. The kebabs of lamb and beef, marinated and grilled to crustiness and juiciness, are excellent; batter-fried shrimp are also beautifully made. Samosas, however, fall short in their zest, and have been heavy and compact.
Along with main dishes there are the lightest and puffiest of puri, and wheaten parathas. Homemade chutneys change from time to time, but usually include a wonderful coriander variation. Apana also has a creditable wine list, and this is an Indian restaurant where it makes sense to order wine, for the food is spicy but rarely hot enough to drown out the wine.
Some might consider this less than authentic Indian cuisine. Whether or not that is true, it is an excellent kitchen, serving unusual, delicious and attractive food in a setting that is comfortable and handsome and with service that is highly polished. There remains, however, one major problem: the lighting is so dim that the attractiveness of the food may have to be taken on faith, and the silver menus are almost impossible to read -- which clearly the management knows, since it has a flashlight on hand. Otherwise Apana provides the wherewithal for a grand evening. 3066 M St. NW. 965-3040. D $7.75-$16.50. D daily. AE, CB. C, DC, MC, V. Res sugg. Full bar.