Passage to India
4931 Cordell Ave.
Bethesda, MD 20814
Neighborhood: Bethesda/Glen Echo
Cuisines: Vegetarian/Vegan, Indian
Daily for lunch and dinner.
Nearby Metro Stops: Bethesda
Price Range: Moderate
Noise Level: Intimate
Sev-murmura chaat; samosa with chickpeas and yogurt; lamb cooked in the tandoor oven; shrimp in coconut curry; pickle plate; fresh mango with yogurt.
All around town, a generation of Indian chefs is busily reworking a spice-stoked, family-style cuisine meant for sharing into something fanciful and light and serving it up in cocktail-fueled settings. Amid this mania for the new, it’s easy to lose sight of a restaurant that’s as sexy as a pantsuit, has no cocktail menu, is awash in browns, golds, and taupes—and serves up some of the best Indian cooking in the region.
Sudhir Seth, the owner and executive cook—he used to man the stoves at Heritage India and Bombay Club—eschews dramatic plating, isn’t interested in the street food that’s the rage among his compatriots, and has so far resisted any attempt to mash up East with West. The innovation here is intriguing—a menu that doesn’t limit itself to northern or southern Indian cooking, as tends to be the norm, but roams freely to include north, south, east, and west.
The formality of the dining room is matched by that of the kitchen crew, which invests the time required to properly toast its spices, blister its vegetables, roast its meats, and concentrate the flavors in its gravies. The result? Cooking of depth and distinction. Here you encounter dishes you think you’re familiar with as if for the first time—meats from the tandoor emerge fork-tender and uniformly succulent; the lush, elegant Butter Chicken is so seamlessly integrated that you’re hard put to separate meat from gravy; the dal is rich, complex, and smooth; and the pickles are eye-openers, as complex and intricately flavored as any curry on the menu.