Tastes of the Little City: Curry Mantra 2
“I’ll Have What She’s Having!”
By Julie Walters
Falls Church Times Staff
September 27, 2013
On a July weekday lunchtime visit to Curry Mantra 2, the 7-month old Indian restaurant in West End Plaza on Broad Street, a diner at the table next to me oohed and aahed with delight as she sampled each dish from the ample lunch buffet. “I will remember this food for the rest of my life,” she gushed to her dining companion. Her enjoyment of the food was so effusive, and her sounds of pleasure were so, shall we say, passionate, that I hoped my lunch partner — my 5-year old son — didn’t notice me blush.
It was quite a testament to the smorgasbord we were about to enjoy. And, for the most part, my son and I agreed with her. We tried, however, to limit our audible reactions to a more modest “yummy!”
It was yummy. The lunch buffet at Curry Mantra 2 is a delicious, great deal. And, they just lowered their prices, making it an even better lunchtime bargain. For $9.49 per person ($5.49 for kids ages 5-11, and kids under 5 eat free), you can dine on a half dozen different all-you-can-eat meat or vegetarian entrees. The flavors range from mild Tandoori Chicken or Saag Paneer (spinach with homemade Indian cheese) to creamy Butter Chicken (tender chicken in a tomato cream sauce) to spicy Lamb Vindaloo or Goat Curry.
Along with the ever-changing vegetarian selections and at least three meat entrees, the lunch buffet includes some other real treats. On my lunch visits, I’ve enjoyed: fragrant basmati rice, as well as a second rice dish (I love the crispy onions on the tomato rice!); Palak Anar (crispy spinach); Vegetable Pakora (an addictive vegetable and onion fritter); two salads; a Daal (my favorite is the slightly spicy yellow lentil soup punctuated with tomatoes and cumin seeds); warm, flaky, and perfectly chewy Naan (Indian bread) served to your table (on my last visit it was the best Naan I’ve ever had anywhere!); a modest dessert; and, as much of that flawlessly flavorful and spicy “green sauce” (cilantro sauce with a hint of mint) as you want.
At dinner, the price point increases considerably. With most entrees in the $18.00-$20.00 range, dinner for two (with 2 entrees, an appetizer, and bread) runs more than $50.00 (without alcohol). It makes lunch feel like an even better deal, especially because, with curries, the food on the buffet is pretty much the same as ordering a la carte for dinner. Curries are not made to order, and curries sitting a few hours in a chafing dish at lunch didn’t taste much different from those simmering all day on a stove for dinner.
In my several visits for lunch, the entree choices were never the same. Each time, regardless of my selection, I found the flavors to be varied, complex, and delicious. Everything had a nice kick, but nothing was so spicy that I couldn’t enjoy the other flavors.
The biggest standout was also my biggest surprise: the goat curry. Truthfully, I just wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did. It was by far the best dish I ate on each of my visits. The curry had huge depth of flavor, aided by the red chilies, cinnamon sticks, and cardamom pods found in the sauce. It was rich without being heavy, and spicy without being overpowering. And the goat meat. Wow. It was tender and lush and such a pleasant surprise. I expected to love the Lamb Vindaloo or the Chicken Tikka Masala the best. Nope. They’re very good. But, get the goat!
Another surprise, this time not as pleasant, was the Palak Anar (flash fried spinach served with pomegranate seeds and tamarind and yogurt sauces). At lunch, it doesn’t stay crisp on the buffet. That makes sense to me, and it still has nice flavor even when it’s limp and lukewarm. My son always gobbles it up (he loves spinach and pomegranate seeds). In fact, when a friend first sampled the Palak Anar during lunch this week, she enthusiastically observed, “that spinach doesn’t taste like spinach. It tastes like a funnel cake!” Maybe that’s also why my 5-year old loves it.
I was excited, however, to return for dinner to sample a fresher, crispier version. How great would it be to find a local supplier for my crispy spinach fix? Usually, I can only satisfy that craving downtown at Rasika. Sadly, though, the biggest disappointment of my many meals at Curry Mantra 2 was the discovery that the Palak Anar is not prepared fresh to order at dinner either. And, even if the spinach were fried to order, it would become mushy and soggy when served drowned in the tamarind and yogurt sauces. The whole thing just confused me.
On the bright side, the management at Curry Mantra 2 seems eager to receive feedback and make adjustments as necessary. On my first few visits this summer, the Tandoori Chicken was tough, fatty, and rubbery. It was a complete miss. During one of those visits, the manager, Sid, asked if I had any suggestions or feedback about the food. I shared my impression of the chicken. When I returned this week, the Tandoori Chicken was spectacular. It was actually perfect. Maybe there’s hope for the crispy spinach too! [Note: This is my first restaurant review and I was completely unknown to the manager. I think he was genuinely interested in a random customer’s feedback and was looking for ways to improve the dining experience. In fact, it’s obvious that they’re making adjustments since the food has improved considerably in the last two months. It started off pretty good but now it is excellent.]
Finally, the service and the decor at Curry Mantra 2 are top notch. At lunch, our water was always filled and our dirty plates were quickly (too quickly?) whisked away. The wait staff was friendly, attentive, and kind to young kids. One night at dinner, we had the best waiter ever. He was super knowledgeable about the menu, as well as about Indian cuisine generally. He enthusiastically shared his knowledge with helpful and often funny explanations. When we inquired about the design-your-own Veggie/Meat “Must Try” combinations, our waiter suggested we not get too creative. “Most dishes are good. Some combinations are deadly,” he advised. We also asked about the spiciness of some of the entrees and were educated about the flavor differences among the many regions of India. “Generally, in India, as you go south, the food gets spicier. Kind of like greasiness in the United States,” he explained.
The decor is happy, with a warm color palette, bright mosaic tiles, and walls the paint color of which could be named “Tandoori.” The room has a lot of natural light with high windows that offer a fun overhead view of the W&OD trail where it crosses Broad Street. The street level windows are opaque, yet they allow plenty of light while enabling you to forget you’re sitting in a strip mall next door to yet another frozen yogurt shop.
And speaking of frozen yogurt, get the Mango Lassi (mango yogurt smoothie) at Curry Mantra 2. It’s awesome! Do you really need more fro-yo?
(All photos copyright: Julie Walters)
Curry Mantra 2
1077 W. Broad Street, Falls Church, VA 22046
(Curry Mantra 2 is the second location of the original Curry Mantra in Fairfax)
Hours of operation:
Lunch – Mon. – Sun. – 11:30 – 2:30
Dinner – Mon. – Sat. – 5:00 – 10:00, Sun. – 5:00 – 9:00
Free delivery for dinner within a 5 mile radius. (Minimum order: $35.00)
[Congratulations Deanna Dulka! Your entry to name this column "Tastes of the Little City" has won you a $20.00 gift certificate to a local Falls Church restaurant of your choice. Thank you to everyone who entered our contest. Happy dining!]
Julie Walters is a resident of Falls Church and writes children’s books (mostly about food). She’s the daughter of a food editor, the wife of a man who knows his Louisiana cuisine, and the mother of a 5 year old with a ridiculously sophisticated palate. You can reach her at FCTFood@gmail.com.
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September 27, 2013