Young and Hungry

Cafe of India’s ‘Crackling Spinach': Can It Compare to Rasika’s Palak Chaat?

crispy spinach cafe of india

It seemed a hope beyond comprehension for D.C. to spawn two quality Indian outlets on the same street within a matter of months. I mean, we already had the instant-hit Masala Art in Tenleytown. Could Washingtonians find another one just a few blocks north on Wisconsin at Cafe of India?

Alas, Cafe of India, despite its elegant tan dining room with tables set with matching cloths (and paper placemats!),  is not yet ready to enter the rarefied realm of Masala Art, although it does apparently want to compete with the town's best curry makers. Case in point: Cafe of India offers a "crackling spinach" appetizer with fried leaves, slices of avocado, and date chutney. It's obviously a take on Rasika's now iconic palak chaat.

The new dish does dwarf Rasika's starter in one aspect: It's a far larger serving than chef Vikram Sunderam's polite bowl of crispy spinach, which always vanishes before your appetite for it does. But the version at Cafe of India suffers from an overly sweet date chutney, which is applied so thickly that it moves the appetizer advertised as "crackling" far closer to the mushy category.

The fatty avocado keeps the starter grounded, but the dish could benefit from more sour and spice flavors to help provide balance and prevent the appetizer from floating away on a cloud of sweetness.

The kitchen shows promise in other areas of the menu, particularly its take on saag paneer, which is rich and aromatic and features a wonderfully firm cheese. Cafe of India also turns out a respectably fiery chicken makhani(though a little oily) and a lamb curry (whose heat is expertly undercut with the slightest hint of sweet spice). One weak spot, at present, is the operation's garlic naan, which arrives with virtually raw minced garlic, making for a pungent (and slightly astringent) bite. Take a look for yourself:

garlic

  • saf

    Have you been to Fusion (Georgia Ave, 2 doors up from Moroni)? They make the spinach thing too.

    I like the food, but they are a bit overpriced for what they offer. But the spinach thing is great.

  • Tim Carman

    saf,

    I have been to fusion but didn't have the spinach dish. I'll have to go back and sample it. Thanks for the heads-up.

    -Tim

  • paddy

    Food (spinach) is one thing and the freshness of it another. What wld you prefer if you are getting both after waiting for 2-3 minutes more than most places. I am a researcher @ NIH and most of the time i'm hard pressed for time. Between experiments, sometimes we get time to drive to places, beat tenlytown or capital hill. i hate to draw comparison between restaurants (until this post by Tim) as long as I am getting good food & service.
    @ Tim, once a researcher, always a researcher. let's do some facts finding before we post it. And being an Indian, i have a greater authority to judge Indian food and than most. Let's look at Rasika's Spinach dish. may be started @ 2006, copied from Sanjeev Kapoor's recipe circa 2001. Here's the link.
    http://sanjeevkapoor.com/Recipe.aspx?RecipeId=3605&Header=Searched%20Recipe&MenuId=0
    I am not sure if you have heard of him (I expect you do) but believe you me, he's the master. So, if you want to praise somebody then write about the inventor of the dish and not some Vikram Sunderam who's just coping & commercializing amongst ignorant people here.

    Second fact, Masala Art may be an instant-hit commercially but let's look into their reviews. "A bland addition to Tenleytown" in the Washington Post. I know it's bit harsh to write something like this and you being a reporter yourself, wld like to stay away from writing so strongly.
    As i mentioned, between 2 time-points(experiments) sometimes we have enough time to try out new (indian) restaurants. and we did. we all took metro and masala art is right off tenleytown station. we had lunch buffet for $9 something and i can gaurantee you that the food wasn't fresh. Being an Indian, in our group, it consisted of 3 out of 9, we would know if the food is fresh or 2-3 days old. it certainly was stale and not sure when was it cooked. ( the worst part in buffet). anyway, came back home and one of my friends (from-the-group-who-visited-Masala Art) called in the evening to ask if I had diarrhea. To his shock, i had already visited restroom 6 times ever since i came back from Masala Art. Though, I never write things about anybody and this incident also would have gone unreported until raised by Tim in this blog.

    Again, Tim (being a customer and not a reporter), if you are writing good things then you are doing a huge favor to that person/establishment. But Tim ( being a reporter and not a acustomer) please, don't just publish your procilvity for Masala Art openly. You are ridiculing people ( refering to 1 star in the rating), who didn't have good experience with them. I am ready to accept your comments if you are Tim (customer) and not Tim (reporter).

    Third fact, though we were bit apprehensive about trying a new (Indian) restaurant (cafe of india) after that unfortunate incident ( Masala Art) in Oct. we somehow gathered strength to try out another restaurant 2-3 blocks north of tenleytown metro station. this time we were a group of 7 people. To our dismay, we were informed that they didn't have buffet but have lunch plattar. we said fine coz they promised the freshness of the food. The food came 2-3 minutes later than the normal time but trust me it was worth waiting for. It was fresh and so very tasty. And the mute point, Crackling Spinach. I am not sure what you(Tim) had then/& when but it was the best we ever had anywhere around here.

    We went back to cafe of india again after couple of weeks. Tim, let me tell you, one time could be a fluke but second time, i call it consistency. The food was fabulous (also the spinach dish) and was different from what we ate last time coz it seems they change their lunch-menu almost everyday (couldn't be a better way to try every food). Even the service was quick and very courteous. They even checked with us in the middle of the food to see if we were doing fine. that's what i call a good service.

    Though, i am not sure if I ever told cafe of india about my experience but if they are listening or reading this... guys, you are the best around and I am sure in due course of time you wld give major palyers run for their money. May be you are not Rasika yet, but keep up the good work. We will put our penny on you anytime, anyday.

    Anyway, as i said i hate to compare but it was worth replying to this blog and appreciate people who are trying to give us a near-indian food.

  • Alex c

    i am pretty much surprised looking at this review given by mr tim because i been at cafe of india twice and i found the food yummy also it looks like MR tim working as marketing manager for masala art because there is a row of reviews to make masala art papular given by MR Tim i have not try masala art yet but saw many reviews which are not supporting masala art's food & service for example yelp ,urban spoon etc .i think it is a game of give & take

  • http://fuchsfoodie.blogspot.com/ Matt

    I agree with Tim - Cafe of India's version doesn't quite match up with Rasika's. COI has great flavor but the texture of the spinach isn't as good. Here's my blog on the subject:

    http://bit.ly/alRolf

    Saf, thanks for the tip on Fusion - I'm on my way to try their crispy spinach salad tonight.

    Matt

  • http://fuchsfoodie.blogspot.com/ Matt

    Had Fusion's crispy spinach salad - thought it was good but not great.

    http://fuchsfoodie.blogspot.com/2010/03/crispy-spinach-salad-at-fusion.html

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