The Washington Post

A spicier mix at Curry Mantra 2


Asad Sheikh says he had reservations about putting the kitchen of his glitzy new restaurant, Curry Mantra 2 in Falls Church City, on display for diners to see.

The cooking staff is “way too loud in an Indian restaurant,” says the owner of the spinoff of Curry Mantra in Fairfax City. Moreover, he worried whether pungent spices might overwhelm customers seated close to the action.

In the end, Sheikh decided an exhibition kitchen was the best way for his audience to see how Indian food is prepared. He goes so far as to offer a free meal to any patron who tries his hand at, and succeeds in making, nan. Sheikh sounds happy to report that he’s had to pay up a few times. Turns out there are a few folks who can execute bread baked in a clay oven.

The 50-seat Curry Mantra 2 is not a copy of the original. Unlike the first, this one offers free valet parking. “This is a small strip mall, very busy,” is how the owner explains the amenity. About 10 new dishes separate new from old. The fresh draws include wispy fried spinach brightened with pomegranate seeds, tender shrimp draped with spinach puree, and chicken cooked in a paste of yogurt, cilantro and mint.

The cooks also make a meatless Indian “burger” based on a golden patty of mashed potato and herbs. Billed as vada pav, the snack is one that Sheikh’s father sells from a food stall in a metro station back in Mumbai. (I prefer the fritter without its toasted bun, which makes the combination taste like a bread sandwich.)

Sheikh plans to open his third Curry Mantra at 262 Cedar Lane in Vienna in May. The name — Curry Mantra 3 — is expected. But a customer can only wonder what the empire builder has in mind. “I need a reason” to keep expanding, says the restaurateur who holds a bit back from each project to dress up the next.

1077 W. Broad St., Falls Church. 703-992-0077. www.currymantra2.
. Entrees, $16 to $20.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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