Bethesda Magazine “dine” Review

I prefer dining in: 

_____An attractive, contemporary setting. Spice Xing occupies a sleeker space than its prices would suggest. A gold-beaded wishing tree spreads its mosaic limbs on a deep turquoise wall, photographs of spices liven up the bar area and soft-colored silk sails swoop across the ceiling. This is a pretty restaurant.

 

I like to drink:

_____Imaginative cocktails and choose from an extensive wine and beer list. Ooh La La. That’s the name of one of Spice Xing’s signature cocktails—a lovely mixture of ginger schnapps, champagne and cherry brandy. The lychee mojito is a fruity, not-too-sweet (and not very alcoholic) concoction of citrus rum, mint leaves and lychee juice. Martini drinkers have a choice of eight varieties (pomegranate, sour apple and lemon drop among them), and 27 wines are available by the glass along with 10 types of beers. And yes, the restaurant has a happy hour.

 

I’d rather select from a menu that has:

_____Dishes from all over India, including some adventurous combinations inspired by foreign cultures. Like Passage to India, Spice Xing serves dishes from various regions of India. In honor of its name, however, dishes with an asterisk are identified as being “inspired by other cultures.” They showcase the culinary influences other countries had on India during periods of domination or trade. For example, salli boti jardaloo is a lamb stew made with dried apricots, a fruit introduced by the Persians.

 

I’d rather select from a menu that has:

_____Dishes from all over India, including some adventurous combinations inspired by foreign cultures. Like Passage to India, Spice Xing serves dishes from various regions of India. In honor of its name, however, dishes with an asterisk are identified as being “inspired by other cultures.” They showcase the culinary influences other countries had on India during periods of domination or trade. For example, salli boti jardaloo is a lamb stew made with dried apricots, a fruit introduced by the Persians.

For those interested in culinary history, however, the menu’s explanations aren’t too detailed, making the “spice crossing” concept somewhat elusive. What was the cultural inspiration behind pao, the Bombay street food, for instance? (Pao, meaning “bread” in Portuguese, is made with yeast rolls baked in an oven; hundreds of years ago, Indians mostly made unleavened flatbreads on an iron griddle, chef Sudhir Seth later explains.)

As for taste, the tawa scallops and balchao shrimp had nice, spicy kicks, and I particularly liked the pao kheema, slider-sized rolls eaten with spiced ground lamb. But not all the culinary influences were for the best. The khurmi naan, a spin-off of pizza, was spread with what appeared to be ketchup, a sweet and cloying covering that didn’t befit the Indian bread. Roast chicken was covered in dowdy, brown gravy, and a liquidy pea-and-corn gratin (“a vegetarian delight from the British Empire”) reminded me of a Campbell’s cream-of soup.

The best dish I sampled at Spice Xing wasn’t followed by an asterisk: It was malbari chicken, a curry dish from the southern part of India. The large chunks of chicken were bathed in a creamy golden sauce, with just the right balance of curry and coconut.

 

When it comes to Indian buffets, I’m more concerned about: 

_____Price. At $7.95, Spice Xing’s lunch buffet is a fabulous deal, with salads, soup, lemon and basmati rice, plus several vegetable and meat dishes set up in chafing dishes in the bar area. It’s a decent spread, but I wasn’t wowed. Pools of oil on the sauce surfaces of the chicken korma and lamb roganjosh were a turnoff, even though the meat was tender enough to forgo a knife. The vegetable options were just so-so, in need of a jolt from one of the several chutneys.

 

When it comes to dessert, I:

_____Always want a choice of something sweet to end the meal. Spice Xing has an extensive selection, including an orange-flavored crème caramel and a slice of fresh pineapple marinated in ginger and lime and grilled in the tandoor oven. Surprisingly, these desserts weren’t as good as they sounded. But gulab jamun, milk dumplings in rose-flavored syrup with scoops of cardamom ice cream, was divine.

 

When I want a Lychee mojito and some pao kheema, you know where I’ll be.

Carole Sugarman is a former food writer for The Washington Post