From their perch at Taaza Indian Cuisine in Roanoke several years ago, business partners Anthony Sankar and Premnath Durairaj saw an opportunity to move to a larger market and expand their brand of Indian hospitality. Friends since they met while working at the Taj Coromandel Hotel in Chennai, South India, they rolled out the Spice Kraft Indian Bistro in Alexandria in 2019 and then followed up last September with a second location in Arlington.
No need to buy tandoors. Clay ovens were already part of the real estate acquired by contractors, whose bistros replaced Bombay Curry Company in Del Ray and Delhi Club in Clarendon. Sankar and Durairaj say they were drawn to family-oriented neighborhoods and the ability to fill in some gaps in dining options. As in, no one else nearby offers curry wraps or chicken tikka sandwiches, among the bistro lunchtime offerings, or desserts such as pineapple coconut bread pudding.
Young restaurants share the same menu created by Durairaj, who spontaneously tells me he “never went the way” the Taj told him, preferring instead to push the limits with his Indian cuisine and “give it a little twist ”.
Customers can taste what he means by asking for grilled shrimp. The most Indian thing about seafood is the fact that it is cooked in a tandoor. Otherwise, anything that dresses the tender kebab – crushed olives, crumbled feta, a drizzle of balsamic reduction – suggests you’re in a Greek taverna. (Yes, there is cumin powder in the sauce, but always. And yes, the dish is a score.) “I love the sweet and the spicy,” says the chef, whose mango-ginger glazed chicken backs him up. The boneless chicken fried nuggets are also bursting with spices (cumin, cilantro, turmeric) that the chef grinds fresh several times a week. Elsewhere on the menu, grilled salmon is topped with a slice of charred, red, and tangy pineapple with chili paste. What a tease!
Palak chaat, the dish made popular at Le Peloton by chef Vikram Sunderam at renowned Rasika in Washington, is a staple in Indian restaurants with aspirations. Durairaj makes a respectable take on the fried spinach appetizer, which he personalizes with juicy pineapple.
Spice Kraft is a welcome compromise for bubble mates with different take on meat i.e. vegetarians and carnivores can go their own way on the list and both have fun.
The bistro serves one of the biggest and best samosas around, their green and plant-based mashed potato centers with a mint and cilantro paste. Eating a whole, thick-skinned samosa is like dinner. Lentil soup is a lighter launch, but no less tasty. The yellow lentils emphasize the sunny heat of the dish, which relies on coconut milk for the base and turmeric for the shade. (If you forgo the soup, be sure to include a side of yellow lentils, sharpened with fresh ginger and garlic, in your order.) I’ve made meals with just the smoked eggplant puree. , onion and tomato crossed with green pepper and coriander, among other enhancers.
The largest meat, on the other hand, is braised lamb shank. Marinated in garam masala and finished with a brown onion sauce, it’s a swirl of tender red meat paired with shapely and golden mashed potatoes with turmeric and mustard seeds. Even served in a carton, the dish is impressive and tastes ambitious.
The restaurant allows customers to mingle and match, making it especially appealing to millennials looking for personalization. A list of “proteins” – paneer, chicken, salmon, lamb, etc. – is followed by sauce options ranging from korma (onion, nut pastes, turmeric) and chettinad (black pepper and curry leaf) to saag (green with spinach) and vindaloo (hot with chili peppers). The only thing meals share is basmati rice.
Spice Kraft’s lunch bowls are likely to support you through dinner time. Watch what amounts to a buffet in a bowl for a day: pieces of salmon in a “house” coconut milk sauce in the colors of the sunset, garnished with sunny yellow rice and a scoop of curried chickpeas and other vegetables. A veil of crispy papadum adds to the largesse. Indian wraps suggest burritos; Lamb curry, slightly sour Amul cheese, and diced veggies wrap the inside of my package of choice, wrapped in tortillas (fusion alert!).
Spice Kraft jumps on the chicken sandwich train with a minced chicken patty lit with an appeal to Indian spices; a spread made from coriander, mint and mango powder; lightly pickled vegetables; and mayonnaise tinted with sweet Kashmiri peppers. The sesame seed bun says ‘America’, but the inside of the puppy puts you squarely in India. Next to the eyes is a bite of potato straws, sprinkled with chickpea flour and rice and crisped in the deep fryer. The delicious pile is crumbled between bites of the sandwich.
The 48-seat Alexandria dining room retains the simple allure of its predecessor. The 60-seat space in Arlington, opposite the Clarendon metro, is enticing with golden blue paneling, beautiful brown screens, and an ornate pressed pewter ceiling. Both bistros have modest patios.
Like the company that inspired them to move on to greener pastures, the owners of Spice Kraft say they plan to expand. Their third location, expected later this year, will be in Washington DC or Maryland.
Some unsolicited advice from an admirer: Treat everyone and open a bistro in each.
Indian Bistro Spice Kraft2607 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, 703-836-6363. 1135 N. Highland St., Arlington, 703-527-5666. spicekraftva.com. Open for take-out and delivery, indoor and outdoor meals from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday (Alexandria) and from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday (Arlington). Price: Bowls and wraps for lunch only $ 9 to $ 13; appetizers $ 4 to $ 7, appetizers $ 13 to $ 24. Delivery via DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats, or via Arlington Restaurant (within 8 km radius). Accessibility: The focus of Alexandria is narrow; double doors and / or steps in Arlington make wheelchair maneuvering difficult.