Food

Cheap Eats 2007: Rangoli

In India, rangoli are painted murals that convey a warm welcome to guests. This nine-month-old Loudoun restaurant has taken the tradition as its name and its decorative theme—the jewel-toned shantung prints are everywhere. From the moment the smiling maître d’ ushers you into one of the wavy orange booths, you feel pampered. At a place where most appetizers are $4 or less, it’s a nice surprise.

The care extends to the food, which servers spoon from artful dishes and copper pots. Chef Kannan Padmanbam has assembled a greatest-hits collection of dishes from all over India. From the south come the lentil doughnuts known as medhu-vada, strongly spiced vegetarian stews (look for the palak paneer and the aloo gobhi), peppery chicken chettinad, and long dosas filled with spicy potatoes.

Chaat papri, a northern Indian staple, is a mix of flour crisps, chickpeas, and potatoes smothered in tamarind and green-chili chutneys and yogurt. Kati rolls—shreds of carrots and cabbage and tandoori chicken wrapped in a roti—are a popular street snack across India. Here they’re billed as a starter, but they make a good lunch on their own.

Ambitious and affordable cooking is seldom found in such attractive surroundings.

Open daily for lunch and dinner.

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