On a busy highway in Herndon, next to a bank and across from a strip mall, sits a small restaurant adorned with Christmas lights. Unassuming enough—until you get inside. The hand-carved doors, regal teak chairs, and golden goddess statues all hint at the richness and complexity of the cooking. The menu at the year-old Angeethi—it has a month-old sibling in Leesburg—reaches across the Indian subcontinent: fish curry and lamb vindaloo from the southern island of Goa, biryanis from central Hyderabad, and even Balti dishes, which evolved from Pakistan by way of Birmingham, England.
The Balti style of cooking—in which blisteringly spicy meat is cooked in a small cast-iron pot and brought directly to the table—is a rare find on the East Coast. The meats are meant to be eaten with naan—it’s tradition to forgo knife and fork and use the bread—although here rice is served, too. Besting the versions with chicken and lamb is one made with young goat. The hunks of tender, intensely flavored meat stand up to the fiery curry. The Balti take on dal is more interesting than the more common Masala-style lentil stew. Here the mix of black lentils and kidney beans is slowly simmered until it’s thick and velvety, then finished with a dash of sherry.
Tandoori meats are a disappointment—a dried-out filet of salmon, shriveled shrimp, a yogurt-marinated chicken so dehydrated that it tastes like an astronaut’s ration. Look instead to the lush curries and aromatic stews from the northern region of Punjab. The shrimp korma arrives in a copper pot that looks as if it were plucked from a rajah’s banquet. Its thick sauce of crushed almond and ginger is as luxurious as a good béarnaise.
Even better is the dhaniawala korma, tandoori-blazed chicken breast in a cashew-based sauce flavored with coriander, mint, green chilies, and fenugreek. It might sound like sensory overload, but each flavor is balanced and subtle. Bengan bharta, a dish of fire-roasted eggplants, which varies from region to region, gets the Punjabi treatment here, simmered with tomatoes, onions, and ghee (clarified butter). It’s equal parts smoky and silky.
And if you’re hooked on Butter Chicken—the creamy tomato-based stew that’s as popular in Anglified Indian restaurants as J.K. Rowling is on the bestseller list—Angeethi serves one of the area’s better renditions.
To sop up all the terrific gravies, there are worthy versions of white naan, wheat roti, and flaky fried poori. Although the Kashmiri naan, stuffed with cherries and almonds, may sound alluring, the slivers of fruit and nut get lost in the folds of the bread. Much tastier is the missi roti, dotted with onions and chilies.
Owner Sanjeev Kumar spent 25 years as a waiter and manager at such places as the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City and at Haandi, the reliable Indian dining room in Falls Church. For his own restaurant, he and partner Manjit Bawa spent months searching out traditional touches to adorn the walls and tables. Fortunately for diners, they’ve spent just as much time fine-tuning the kitchen.