629 L Street,
Dinner for one:
$10 - $20
Royal Indian Cuisine
1009 Ninth Street,
Dinner for one:
$10 - $20
It’s been said here previously that when it comes to Indian restaurants and lawyers, there’s always room for one more good one. Indian Grill on L Street does not qualify.
Among its most obvious strikes is its location in the bottom of the Marshall Hotel, half a block from the ’Hound station, smack dab in the zone of grittiness that radiates from there. Once inside, the interior makes Spartans seem Spartan. Clearly an old lunch-counter joint, it is reminiscent of the lamentably long-gone Borden’s on 10th between K and J streets, save Indian Grill’s counter is parallel to the street rather than perpendicular. As to decoration, it appears to be two posters of numerous bowls of colorful spices, none of which are apparent either behind the counter or in the food.
The menu is short and made even more diminutive by the announcement of the gentleman behind the counter taking orders that they’re out of fish and “sheesh” for the “sheesh kabob.” A diner at a nearby table amends the order taker, noting that they’re also out of something else. This is at 1 o’clock—well within the traditional confines of the lunch hour.
Very well then, chicken tikka and a samosa and pakora appetizer. There’s a choice of naan or rice. This can only be washed down with an equally limited selection of Pepsi soft drinks. Ice is located somewhere off-limits to diners; the order taker retreats into the inner sanctum to procure it. A water cooler is located in the back room, which is dark and claustrophobic with a mishmash of starkly utilitarian wooden chairs and tables. Far better to sit at the tables for two lining the large windows facing L Street, one of which alerts passersby that “Pakistanian” food is served here.
There’s an unpleasant degree of carbon protein on the edges of the generously sized chicken cubes occupying the southern hemisphere of the oblong plate that contains a continent-and-a-half of jasmine rice with a narrow equator of iceberg lettuce, onion slivers, cucumber rounds and tomatoes, without dressing. Fevered gulps of Sierra Mist do not mask the chicken’s dryness. The plate, like the previously delivered grease-sodden samosas, is wordlessly handed across the counter by the sullen chef who, except when chatting with his mates, appears to derive the same enjoyment from his shift as one would from having nails pounded into one’s forehead.
To bring moisture to the parched chicken regrettably forces continued use of the squeeze bottle containing a raita with a sodium content rivaling Bonneville. Only good manners and ravenous hunger compel completion of the meal.
Cutting to the chase, within six blocks of Capitol Park there are three Indian restaurants. Bombay Bar & Grill on 21st near N Street is the most deserving of a vigorous and purposeful walk. There is a rich reward at the walk’s conclusion. As noted here previously, the menu is varied, the service prompt, the drink selection vast and, most significantly, the food artfully prepared.
More utilitarian but closer to the Capitol is Royal India Cuisine on Ninth near J Street. The family who owns it is waiting tables, cooking and kibitzing in the spacious kitchen. Royal India touts a $10 lunch buffet. Too passé for Bombay.
But a visit to Indian Grill causes a very positive re-evaluation of Royal India. For approximately the same amount of money as Indian Grill, Royal India offers unlimited rice—and naan—plus a cornucopia of culinary options that, on various days, includes chicken in a buttery turmeric-orange sauce that is a perfect blanket for a mound of jasmine rice. There are veggie pakoras, the ubiquitous tandoori chicken, mushrooms and peas, zucchini masala, a pungent but not robust curry, an eggplant-and-squash hash, and a truly turmeric moong dal of red lentils. There’s salad, too. Even dressing.
Should some smidge of stomach space remain after multiple chafing-dish plunderings, a plate of pastries made from gram—chickpea flour—beckons.
Can’t make the point any plainer.