Barman Dante Datta and chef Suresh Sundas initially met in 2012 while helping to open acclaimed Indian restaurant Rasika West End. Datta would make cocktail syrups and infusions in the same area of the kitchen where Sundas manned the tandoori oven, and the two were always asking what the other was working on and tasting each other’s creations. That’s also where the idea for a joint venture was born. Nearly a decade and several other jobs later, it’s finally happening. The duo will open their Indian restaurant and cocktail bar Daru off of H Street, Northeast on Tuesday, Aug. 3
Datta and Sundas initially envisioned Daru as a cocktail bar with some small plates, but they’ve since reimagined the concept as more of a neighborhood restaurant (that still has great cocktails, of course). “Covid dictated a lot of that. We were like, OK, we need to shift a little bit away from the bar focus and more towards the dining,” Datta says. “Suresh’s food is so good that we need to highlight it even more.”
Sundas’s concise menu features a combination of classic Indian and “Indian-ish” dishes. Street food-inspired eats include mango jhalmuri with spiced puffed rice and diced fruit, blue cheese chicken kebabs with sour cherry sauce, and jackfruit tacos wrapped in phulka (a whole wheat flat bread). Larger entrees range from chicken tikka masala to wild mushroom biriyani. One particular highlight: black garlic lamb chops topped with cracked pink peppercorns and accompanied by carrot-orange puree, chimichurri chutney, pomegranate-cumin roasted potatoes, and black pepper-sumac asparagus. Sundas, who grew up in Nepal and learned to cook from his single mother, is also looking to add some Nepalese dishes down the line.
For the drinks, Datta and Bar Manager Tom Martinez, both alums of Columbia Room, are infusing Indian ingredients into classic cocktails. A daiquiri takes on chutney flavors with the infusion of mint and cilantro. A cashew butter-washed blended Scotch old-fashioned incorporates saffron and ginger. And the refreshing rum-pisco Kali Kooler, named after the Indian goddess whose red tongue represents hibiscus flowers, uses a hibiscus-black cardamom syrup. The menu consists of just six drinks, but will rotate frequently. (Food and cocktails will also be available for takeout and delivery.)
Daru gets its name from a palm sugar spirit made in the homes of Indians. While the bar won’t have its own moonshine, Datta is also looking to work with a local rum distillery to see if they could create an Indian-style, molasses-heavy rum for the restaurant. The bar will also will also be using Indian and Nepalese rums in its drinks.
The 40-seat restaurant and its 20-seat patio occupies a former rundown corner store that’s been completely gutted and rebuilt with a bright white-walled dining room and big windows. (More art and hanging dried flowers are coming soon.) An eye-catching design at the front door is meant to make Daru more visible to the busy nearby intersection where H Street, NE becomes Benning Road. It also features a Sanskrit phrase: “the guest is god.”
Daru. 1451 Maryland Ave., NE.