Atmosphere: Pleasantly elegant.
Hours: Lunch, Mondays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, seven days a week, 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Price range: Entrees, $4.95 to $10.95; curries for children, $3.50.
Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa and Diners Club.
Special facilities: Accessible to patrons in wheelchairs; limited children's menu; on-street parking only.
After days of cold fruit, chilled salads and bread with iced butter -- our solution to hot weather dining -- we yearned for something more substantial. We decided to learn about appropriate hot weather food from experts, people who learned to cook in a climate that makes Washington's seem like Alaska's.
Our theory that natives of India would know about hot weather was immediately confirmed by a conversation we overheard as we settled into our seats at Rajaji's, an Indian restaurant near the Calvert Street bridge on Connecticut Avenue. A diner was telling his waiter, who was from Bombay, about his June trip to India.
Diner: "We arrived in New Delhi at 5 o'clock in the morning. We stepped off the plane and it was like an inferno. The sun was just over the horizon but it was already 104 degrees.
Waiter: "Ah yes. It can get hot in Delhi."
Rajaji's, fortunately, is a pleasantly air-conditioned retreat; its big dining room is decorated with colorful paintings of young Indian girls in saris. Lampshades are elongated, delicately woven masterpieces of Indian craftsmanship. Banquettes and banks of plants at the window make the room seem more intimate.
Rajaji's has too sophisticated an appearance to be called a "family" restaurant, but children are certainly not out of place. The menu even makes special accommodation for them: for $3.50 they can order any curry in the house.
The menu also offers several special dinners. A Maharaja dinner consisting of soup and salad, several curries and other Indian delicacies, puri bread, side dishes and dessert was $14.95 a person. A combination dinner ($11.95) offered a choice of four curries, soup, rice, bread, salad, dessert and coffee. Both sounded a bit much for a warm evening.
We opted instead to start our dinner by sharing two appetizers three ways. Our daughter loves samosas, little pastries filled with peas and sweetened with coriander. At 75 cents apiece, Rajaji's samosas had a relatively thick pastry but a lovely, light taste.
Vegetable pakora ($1.50) was suggested by our waiter. Although spicy, they were mild enough to offer a nice introduction to Indian seasonings to young diners who have not tried them before. Thick blobs of batter, more like a fritter than anything else, contained vegetables and were seasoned with curry.
For young children, two or three samosas or one samosa and an order of pakora would be a more than adequate, reasonably priced meal.
For our main courses we tried one curry, one vegetarian dish and one of the Indian specialties. Lamb curry ($9.50) was superb. The lamb was tender and well-integrated with the thick, tomato curry sauce. The menu noted that those who like it hot should tell the waiter. We didn't, and since we don't particularly like very hot food, we found the dish just right.
The vegetarian dish was kofta curry ($6.50). The kofta resembled an elongated meatball but was actually a blend of cauliflower and lentils. It was served with a tomato-based curry sauce. Like the lamb curry, its seasonings were just mild enough to warm but not overwhelm the mouth, but we found the kofta itself on the bland side.
The keema matar ($7.50) was our favorite dish. A mixture of chopped beef and peas seasoned, like the samosas, with a sweet spice, it had a delicacy all its own.
Our entrees came accompanied by a family-style bowl of rice with peas. Since each dish came to the table in individual serving dishes rather than on our plates, it was easy to share tastes of our food as we would in a Chinese restaurant.
Desserts, described by our waitress, were a sweet ball with syrup, rice pudding, or a cheesecake-like pudding. They were all priced at $1.50, but our daughter didn't think they sounded particularly appetizing and I didn't think they'd sit well once we got back out into the muggy Washington air.
Dinner for three, including several iced teas, came to $28.88 including tax.