Atmosphere: Dowdy respectability.
Hours: Open seven days a week; weekdays, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; weekends, 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Price range: $6.25 to $8.95.
Credit cards: All major credit cards.
Special facilities: Accessible to wheelchairs; on-street parking.
We went to Star of India for no better reason than that it was there. Every day we would pass Kalorama triangle and head for Dupont Circle on Connecticut Avenue and see a rather pleasant-looking, grand old apartment house and an awning painted with the words, "Star of India."
Since there were no other stores or restaurants in the immediate vicinity, we figured Star of India had to attract customers on its own merits. That seemed as good a reason as any to try it.
On a sultry Sunday evening, when most other Washington families who were dining out were at outdoor cafes, we found the dimly lit interior of Star of India quiet and calm.
With its starched linen tablecloths and minimal decorator touches, the restaurant has an air of dowdy respectability. So did our Indian waiter, who also had a touch of kindly grandfather about him. His greatest concern was that whatever food we ordered be cooked to the degree of "hotness" we liked and could tolerate.
"You don't have to worry about any dish," he assured us, and especially our children. "I will make it hot or not hot, whatever you tell me." Since three out of four of us don't like it hot, his promises were comforting.
We started out by sharing an order of samosa ($2). Big enough to cut into four pieces, the samosa was absolutely superb. The dough was flaky and just the right side of greasy; the filling of potatoes and peas had the right texture--soft without being mushy--and the flavor was mild but different enough to be interesting. Everyone wanted to order another one, but reason (we'd already ordered a huge meal) prevailed.
The quality of the samosa raised our expectations about dinner, and we weren't disappointed.
Thandoori chicken ($7.95) looked just like a half of roast chicken available in restaurants featuring American food, but the taste was something else. It had been marinated in spices and herbs that permeated the meat and then slow-cooked over coals so that all traces of fat were gone but the meat remained tender.
An order of shish kebab ($7.95) wasn't quite as good, but it was still a fine dish. The lamb was well seasoned. It could have been just a tad more tender.
Kheema Mattar ($6.50) was a dish of ground beef and green peas seasoned with Indian spices and herbs. My daughter, who ordered the dish, requested that it be prepared on the slightly hot side, and that's exactly how it came out.
Our son, a vegetarian who does not like hot food at all, ordered cauliflower potato ($6.25) with a special request that it be very, very mild. His dish was the surprise of the evening. A light curry sauce covered potatoes and cauliflower that had been cooked to softness but still had some character. Not only were the vegetables good, but the sauce was a perfect foil for the Indian breads we ordered to go with our dinner.
Star of India offers puri or chappathi at 75 cents a loaf, poratha ($1.50) and stuffed poratha ($2.50). Our waiter suggested we order four loaves, but that turned out to be the only poor advice of the evening. We had two loaves of puri and two loaves of chappathi, and it was much too much. The puri was a slightly greasy, puffed loaf--softer than a cream puff but just as full of air inside. We polished off the two loaves easily. The chappathi was flat, much like a pita bread, and we barely made a dent in either loaf. It was good, but not nearly as interesting or tasty as the puri.
For dessert we shared one order of khir, or rice pudding ($1.50). The rice pudding enthusiasts in our family pronounced it delicious, but the rest of us thought it was too sweet.
The tab for our dinner came to a surprising $41.75, including tax, a glass of wine and bottle of beer. If we'd ordered a little more cautiously--no appetizer, no bread, no wine or dessert--we still would have had plenty to eat and the bill would have been around $30.