Bombay Curry House

2529 Wilson Blvd.

Arlington

528-0849

Hours: Lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 2 p.m to 11 p.m. Saturday.

Prices: Lunch appetizers $1 to $1.25; entrees $4.50 to $6.75. Dinner appetizers $1.25 to $2.50; entrees $7.25 to $11.50.

Cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express.

No separate nonsmoking area.

When Satish Verma opened the Bombay Curry House 14 years ago, he recalls having a menu of only a few dishes, all recipes from his native Northern India. There are now 50 variations of richly seasoned stews, marinated grilled meats and fried snacks, nearly all nicely executed.

While the menu has expanded, the restaurant itself has not. This dimly lit, 35-seat storefront is cozy without feeling cramped. Newly painted walls hung with posters and folkart give the interior a warm, homey look.

The majority of the openers are fried savories fashioned mostly from vegetables and a few meats. You can't go wrong with the stuffed dumplings (samosas), which come in both a ground beef and a peas-and-potatoes version. Other possibilities include tikki, crispy-surfaced mashed potato patties, aromatic with fresh coriander leaves, and the bada, irregularly shaped bits of fried lentil dough remininscent of hush puppies. All of the appetizers were sparked by hot peppers, which ranged in effect from mouth warming (the bada) to fiery (samosas and tikki).

Indeed, Northern Indian food tends to be less spicy than its southern counterpart, but the distinction often seems to be lost here where the curries, which are actually blends of such spices as cardamom, cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, cloves, fennel and fenugreek, are quite potent. The best beverage for cooling a scorched tongue is the slighty sweet yogurt drink lassi ($1.50). Imported beer is limited to three varieties from India, which have never been my favorites. There are a couple of standard domestic choices, as well as mango juice, a mango shake, cardamom tea, coffee and soft drinks.

Indian cuisine offers vegetarians a wide variety of dishes, and over a dozen are represented here from a basic lentil dish, or dal, to green peas and homemade cheese in a curry sauce. Especially good was the baingan bhartha, roasted eggplant with onions and spices ($7.95).

Seafood is usually not a strong suit at Indian restaurants in Northern Virginia, and the Bombay Curry House appears to be no exception. The shrimp were small and tough in the prawn masla; ditto for the shrimp biryani.

On the other hand, the lamb biryani was wonderful with large chunks of tender, flavorful lamb atop seasoned long grain rice studded with white raisins, whole almonds and cashews.

Another first rate dish is the smooth, rich doh piaza ($10.25), lamb cooked with spinach and whipping cream.

The best of the chicken dishes was the murg korma, boneless piece of chicken in an aromatic sauce colored red with spices. Almost as good was the chilli chicken and the marinated tandoori murgh quickly grilled in the classic Indian oven.

By all means don't forget the bread; Indian breads are an attraction all by themselves, and here they are quite good, including bubbly disks of whole wheat chapati, flat, heat-seered nann and puffy, fried poories.