Chutney is neither novel nor distinctive. You’re not going to find dishes you haven’t seen elsewhere a hundred times before, and its northern Indian preparations are, at a glance, not really different from anyone else’s.
Also, there are times when the cooking slips into cruise control, and you might wonder why you’ve driven to a Columbia strip mall to eat a fine but forgettable meal you could have had in your own neighborhood.
But what this small restaurant does well, it does wonderfully well, with care and conviction. One of the most rewarding renditions of tandoori salmon I’ve had in years arrives bearing a thick, pesto-like cap of spices, including ground fennel, coriander, and fenugreek ($19.95). Each bite of moist, flaky flesh is vivid and enthralling. The goat curry ($17.95) is every bit its equal, the cleavered hunks of bone-in meat drenched in a rich, chocolate-colored gravy that tastes as if it’s been simmering all day. It’s hard to get okra right; too often it’s tough or slimy. But the kitchen finds the perfect middle ground, tossing the firm but tender bites in a mix of chili, onion, and tomato ($13.95).
Order all three and you have the core of a memorable meal. I’d augment them with a bowl of the subtly spiced lentil soup ($3.95) and a mint paratha ($3.95).
What else Chutney gets right: The tables are laid with cloth, the curries are set atop flaming copper pots, and the service has some of the earnest solicitousness of raj-style dining. When all’s well and you’re scooping up the gravy of your goat curry with a piece of paratha and your waiter is smiling at you in hearty approval, you might forget you’re in a strip mall.
Chutney (9400 Snowden River Pkwy., Columbia; 401-381-3600. Open daily for lunch and dinner.)
This article appears in our April 2015 issue of Washingtonian.