January 2007: 100 Very Best Restaurants

Indian cooking from the country's North, South, East, and West converges in a hushed, elegant dining room.

No. 20: Passage to India

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.

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.