4441 Wisconsin Ave. NW; (202) 362-4441
A couple of weeks ago, some friends and I paid a Friday night visit to Masala Art, the elegant Tenleytown restaurant started by the former manager and chef at Heritage India, which has been the gold standard for Subcontinental cooking in this town for years. The place had the energy of a rock club. Every table was filled. Potential diners lingered at the tiny bar, knocking back beer and mango martinis. More were huddled near the front door, where there was barely enough space to hold them. Such popularity is the reward of almost instant praise, which has been lavished by this publication and others. Maybe this seems like a classic case of overnight success, but it’s not. Owner Atul Bhola, a former Heritage manager, has been thinking about and preparing for his first restaurant for years, actually since graduating from a hotel management program in Northern India as a young man. As such, Masala Art is engagingly liberal in concept, heavy on Northern Indian dishes with fascinating forays into other parts of the country, frighteningly precise in execution. The formula is simple in theory but painfully difficult in execution: inspiration + technique = art. Or in this case, Masala Art.