Rajiv Chopra saw a hole in his part of the world and decided to fill it. “There’s no upscale Indian restaurant in Northern Virginia,” says the owner of the casual Indian restaurants Punjabi by Nature in Vienna and Chantilly, as well as a shop, Evergreen Sweets, in Chantilly.
Bombay Velvet to the rescue? Introduced in Reston in April, the newcomer is truth in advertising, at least as far as appearances go. A scan of the dining room, illuminated with light fixtures that resemble fireworks, finds couches in blue velvet, chairs in green velvet and booths the color of eggplant. Mirrored walls make the 75-seat interior, set off with a handsome onyx bar, feel bigger than it is; the soundtrack places you in an after-hours club.
Here comes a black-vested server bearing first bites. Corn chowder dotted with cilantro oil would be better without its overcooked shrimp garnish, an easy slight to right, but we’re all over the palak chaat: fried spinach tossed with onion, mango and pomegranate seeds, and ringed with jellylike spheres of herbed yogurt. The garnish gives Chopra, who is also the chef, the chance to tag the salad “molecular.” Fried chicken has become a must-have accessory for a lot of restaurants with aspirations. Bombay Velvet rides the bandwagon with chicken that’s easy to warm up to, thanks to hits of coriander, cumin, cinnamon and black pepper.
Chopra hails from New Delhi, but his modern menu roams around India. Seafood is a major lure. I’m thinking now of seared scallops paired with a peanut curry and a fine mash of rice and lentils; and fried battered cod, whose matchstick potatoes send fingers flying. Sea bass in a curtain of pureed spinach and mint gets an escort of crisp slivered okra that even okra haters have been known to dispatch. Too bad the turmeric-tinted rice nearby is dry in parts. Easier to like are the cream- and butter-enriched black lentils, cooked low and slow on the stove with garam masala that the chef makes himself.
The kitchen can be inattentive. Lamb chops are marinated in yogurt, garlic and ginger, but they’re so dense and fatty, they’re hard to eat. Breads are flabby and underbaked, while an order of gulab jamun (picture syrup-swollen doughnut holes) induces sugar shock. Service can be hit or miss, too. One night, almost everything we ordered came at once, crowding our too-small table and erasing every inch of elbow room.
Chopra aspires to create something on par with the best Indian dining in Washington. He’s not there yet, but his restaurant is taking steps in the right direction.
12100 Sunset Hills Rd., Reston. 703-956-9359. bombayvelvet.us. Dinner entrees, $18 to $38.