Food

One of the Area’s Top Indian Chefs Has Resurfaced in Laurel

At Amber Spice, our critic finds that Southern Indian dishes shine.
Crab Malabar and lemon rice. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

A few months ago, following a craving for egg curry, I drove to Curry Leaf in Laurel, where Saravan Krishnan has been conjuring Southern Indian flavors for years. CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE, read a sign. Nooo.

Turns out I didn’t have to go far to find Krishnan’s addictive eggs in tomato-and-onion gravy: In June, after an unsuccessful bid to buy Curry Leaf from its owner, Saravan—along with his brother, Venkatesan, and a friend, Moses Krishnarajan—opened Amber Spice, a handsome dining room a few blocks away.

They offer the Indian stews—palak paneer, lamb rogan josh—that populate many menus. You can sample them on the lunch buffet ($11.99 during the week, $13.99 on weekends).

But besides attentive service and touches such as house-made chutneys, it’s dishes like that egg curry ($16) that set the place apart. The Krishnans, who grew up in Madurai, near the southern tip of India, offer specialties you won’t find at many other local places: A lemon rice ($10) that pops with mustard seeds here, dried chilies there. A crab Malabar ($20), so creamy it resembles chowder. A tongue-lashing lamb sukka ($18).

Then there’s the kotthu paratha ($12), traditionally an on-the-go bus-station food defined by the chopping sound of spoons on a flat pan. (Krishnarajan calls it the one regional dish you can hear before you smell.) The mess of paratha (the flaky flatbread), egg, and onions is the kind of thing you want to tear into and never stop eating. Then you want to eat it all over again for breakfast.

You’ll likely be plenty full—this food isn’t shy on cream or ghee or coconut milk (the rice is studded with cumin seeds to help digestion), and portions are generous. Still, consider one of the desserts that Venkatesan sees as his specialty, whether a mango kulfi or rasmalai, a milky pudding scented with green cardamom.

Amber Spice is located at 13524 Baltimore Ave., Laurel; 301-477-4828. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Washingtonian.

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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.