Restaurant Review: Commonwealth Indian

Fancy Indian is having a moment.

Yogurt patties with charred leeks and, below, a stack of samosa chips.

From the outside, Commonwealth Indian sits unassumingly behind a black wrought-iron gate. But opening the door is like walking into a jewelry box—there’s that much shimmering gold in the grand hallway that leads to the dining room.

Chef/owner Sunil Bastola’s other restaurants, Bollywood Bistro in Fairfax and Falls Church, have always been stylish. But at his new Pike & Rose place, his love of the ornate has been unleashed. It’s evident in the Calacatta marble walls, the sculptures in museum-like glass cases, and the purple pansies that come atop your samosa chips.

Sound familiar? Gilded Indian is having a moment in Washington—other openings this year include downtown DC’s glittery Punjab Grill and Reston’s posh Bombay Velvet. But back to those samosa chips. They’re a highlight on Bastola’s menu, which is by turns playful and traditional. The classic turnover has been deconstructed into disks of flaky, potato-laced pastry and served with a yin/yang swirl of tamarind and cilantro chutney.

There are truffles floating atop another appetizer, a quadrille of potatoes (more tamarind, more cilantro chutney). Do they add anything besides the perception of luxury? No—the flavor barely registers. But the dish is tasty enough. Meanwhile, little patties of yogurt paired with dates go together as naturally as Manchego and quince paste (naan with mozzarella and arugula, not so much).

Main courses are more familiar, pulling from Bastola’s Northern Indian playbook. There’s an extra-creamy, extra-tangy butter chicken as well as palate-singeing bowls of lamb rogan josh and chicken chettinad. Still, the dishes that will lure me back to a plush dinner chair all involve shellfish (and I’m not talking lobster). Fat butterflied and fried shrimp glazed in vindaloo sauce are as appealing as Buffalo wings and disappear quickly. Shrimp also turn up in a beautifully balanced, aromatic tamarind-and-coconut stew—a nod to India’s southwestern coast. A mellow, sweet curry, thick as velvet, hides nubs of Maryland crabmeat.

The scene is most vibrant at dinner, but lunch, when there’s an elegant buffet, is a terrific time to visit. Or swing by at brunch, another all-you-can-eat feast where the bottomless Champagne flows. Naturally.

Commonwealth Indian

11610 Old Georgetown Rd., Rockville; 240-833-3055; Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner.

This article appears in the October 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

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 Petworth.