Hours: Mondays through Thursdays, 5 to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 5 to 11 p.m. Lunch served Mondays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Closed Sundays.
Atmosphere: Friendly Indian curry house.
Price range: $3.50 to $7.50 for entrees.
Credit cards: MasterCard and Visa.
Special facilities: Free parking; wheelchair access.
Though it has been open only a short time, Arlington's India Curry House had a comfortably full house one recent Saturday evening. The eat-well-for-less grapevine picks up quickly on a combination of reasonable prices, a pleasant atmosphere, an even pleasanter staff, and a varied menu of carefully prepared dishes.
We heard about the place from a Maryland family that had tried it on the advice of someone else--all fans of the Curry House on upper Connecticut Avenue, which is owned by one of the owners of the Glebe Road establishment. The two curry houses are not really branches of the same business, however, and they have different menus.
Curry is by no means the restaurant's only offering, nor is the menu limited to Indian food. To satisfy clients who ate at this location when it housed an Afghan restaurant, the new owners have kept three Afghan dishes on their menu: aushak (tiny mint-flavored leek-filled dumplings), bula nee (a leek, potato and ground beef turnover) and "shish lik," marinated chunks of beef, chicken or lamb grilled (not on a skewer) to a stew-like consistency. In theory I object to this method of cooking, preferring my meat pink inside, but the dish tasted fine served with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and green peppers.
The house specialty is "karahi" cooking, as it states on the menu, though our reference books indicate that the Indian wok is a "karhai." However it's spelled, the karahi chicken our waitress urged us to order ($5.95 for a large piece of chicken cut into small pieces), was one of the most successful chicken dishes I've eaten recently: cooked just to the point of succulence and spiced enough to be interesting, but not overpowering.
The karahi dish and the more colorful shish lik were our 10-year-old daughter's favorites. Along with the universally beloved rice, they are probably well-advised for families in which curried dishes are more popular with grownups than with children.
From the appetizer list, shami kebab (ground beef balls mixed with lentils, herbs and spices, $2.25) are good enough to stave off starvation.
It took us just over four minutes to wipe out a full basket of pappadam, those crackly, lacy, deep-fried lentil-flour wafers that are muncher's heaven, particularly with the milder of two India Curry House sauces served for dipping: a refreshing combination of yogurt, mint and a smidgen of red pepper. Hungry groups should get a double order.
The friends who mentioned this restaurant to us had recommended the chicken tikka, but after spotting panir palak on the menu (a favorite of ours), we rounded out our meal with this inspired vegetarian dish of fried cheese cubes with spinach ($4.25).
Our daughter found the mango milkshake ($1.25) too sweet, the lassi (a yogurt drink, $1) too peculiar, and settled for water. We drank the Indian beverages happily and also polished off a couple of bottles of Indian beer ($1.75), a brew that makes American beer seem characterless.
Dinner for the three of us came to $37.99, tax and tip included, though if we had not been so hungry after spending the day gardening and painting we'd have spent less. Luncheon specials, which include American sandwiches, average $3.
It was one of the nicer meals we've had recently, in a restaurant that's a welcome addition to the neighborhood.