8825 Greenbelt Rd., Greenbelt 552-1600 Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. daily. Prices: Most dinner entrees, $6 to $8. Credit Cards: American Express, Choice, MasterCard, Visa.
It seems like yesterday when Maharaja was a brand new little Indian restaurant, a gorgeous gem in the most ordinary of shopping centers. But it's been open more than three years now, and we're happy to report that it has withstood the test of time beautifully. Sure, the food has its on again, off again bumps, but most of it remains excellent, and the prices are as reasonable as ever.
The dining room, too, hasn't lost its luster. This is still an extraordinarily pretty place, with tranquil sitar music enhancing the room's Indian appeal.
The fried appetizers have been top-notch recently. The vegetable samosas are big, puffy beauties, and the vegetable and chicken pakoras are coated with thin, crisp, wonderfully spicy batter. Another winning appetizer is the shami kebab, skewered and charcoal-broiled ground lamb, juicy and nicely flavored. (There's a similar entree called seekh kebab.) But a disappointment lately is the mulligatawny soup, bland as an Indian version of baby food.
The featured entrees here are meats charcoal broiled in the traditional northern Indian clay oven called the tandoor. The preparation calls for long marination in spices and yogurt, and each morsel coated with a spice-coloring mixture that gives tandoori foods their irresistible flavor and bright red tint. Surprisingly, we found the chicken version, murg tandoori, somewhat dry, although the flavor was delightful. The treasure of Maharaja's tandoor oven these days seems to be the lamb, barra kebab, a terrific dish made with impeccably trimmed, meltingly succulent lamb cubes. Although a little sticky in texture, the biryani dishes, mixtures of lamb or chicken and complexly spiced saffron rice, have been excellent.
Meat and vegetable curries were top-notch during our last few visits. One of the best is saag gosht, a mixture of tender lamb cubes and spinach in a silky sauce with tomato, cumin and ginger. For lovers of the incendiary, there's beef vindaloo, good, lean stewing beef in a fiery sauce (watch for its delayed fuse).
Among the vegetable dishes, a standout is palak paneer, balls of mild, delicate cheese in a bed of spinach, the whole thing infused with a mild sauce with a marvelous combination of flavors. Aloo gobhi is good, too, with firm chunks of cauliflower and potato in a relatively mild sauce.
Don't overlook the Indian breads. The best in the house is the nutty whole-wheat paratha, slathered with clarified butter. The fried poori has been a bit heavy, the tandoori nan has an odd biscuit-like taste, and the meat-filled breads are damp and heavy.
For dessert, the rice pudding (kheer) is a jewel, as is the rasmalai, a tender, mild cheese in a milky sugar syrup. But the most irresistible is the almond shake, concocted in a blender from milk, almonds, sugar, cardamom and ice.