Cheap Eats 2016: Spice Xing

Tandoori chicken wings from Spice Xing. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

Tandoori chicken wings from Spice Xing. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

 

Reviewed by Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, Anna Spiegel, and Cynthia Hacinli

Sudhir Seth is the man behind one of the area’s best Indian restaurants, Bethesda’s solemn, elegantly appointed Passage to India. This is his more affordable place, where he allows his kitchen to loosen up a bit. At both, the spicing in the gravies—witness the aromatic chicken nilgiri—is painstakingly conjured and complex. But here’s where you’ll find the kind of small plates you might crave after one too many Kingfishers: meaty wings bronzed in the tandoori oven, a chili-cheese toast that tastes like Welsh rare-bit gone subcontinental, and Snugly wrapped kathi rolls. Many are even cheaper on the happy-hour menu, weekdays from 5 to 7.

Also good: Khaman dhokla (pillowy chickpea-flour snacks); papri chaat, a potato-and-chickpea salad with yogurt and chutney; lamb-and-apricot stew; chicken tikka masala; baingan bharta (roasted-eggplant stew).

“Cheap Eats 2012: Spice Xing"

Tandoori chicken wings (left) and Balchao shrimp (right). Photographs by Scott Suchman.

Tandoori chicken wings (left) and Balchao shrimp (right). Photographs by Scott Suchman.

Reviewed By Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, Jessica Voelker, Cynthia Hacinli

This Rockville Town Square dining room is as colorful as a Delhi spice market—a fitting setting for the creative Indian cooking, which you can sample the old-fashioned way—with communal bowls of curries and fluffy rice—or with an array of small plates.

Among the latter are such snack-size shares as fat prawns butterflied and glazed in tangy tamarind, aggressively spiced tandoori wings, and a tiny version of the paper-thin crepes known as dosas.

Among curries and stews, we like the rich and piquant paneer makhani and the slightly sweet Persian-style lamb stew with apricots. This is one of the prettier affordable restaurants, but takeout is available at a 15-percent discount, and curries travel especially well.

Also good: Papri chaat, a potato-and-chickpea salad with yogurt and chutney; scallops cooked on the tawa grill; shrimp in a green-chili/coconut curry; tandoori pineapple; lychee mojito and martini; tamarind margarita.

Food & Drink “Cheap Eats 2011: Spice Xing”

Reviewed By Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, Kate Nerenberg, Rina Rapuano

Of all the Indian restaurants on this list, Sudhir Seth’s Rockville Town Square dining room is the prettiest. With its jewel-toned fabrics, photographs of brick-red chilies, and smooth service, it’s especially good for a date night.

Interesting small plates include kathi rolls, the cool potato salad called papri chaat, and tandoori chicken wings–sample them with abandon during the weeknight happy hour. Stews, such as green-chili-stoked shrimp curry and the ubiquitous chicken tikka masala, stand out for their assertively spiced gravies.

It’s unusual to find such delicious cocktails at budget Indian restaurants, but the coriander margaritas and lychee-ginger martinis are nearly as big a draw as the kitchen.

Also good: Tamarind shrimp; lamb stew with apricots; tandoori pineapple; lychee mojito.

Food & Drink “100 Best Restaurants 2011: Spice Xing”

Reviewed By Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, Kate Nerenberg, Rina Rapuano

At Bethesda’s Passage to India, proprietor Sudhir Seth borrows from his native India’s many regional cuisines. At this Rockville sibling, he brings together a more freewheeling roster that includes the bread pakoras found at Indian social clubs, an Indian take on roast chicken, and even a gingery, tandoori-cooked pineapple.

Street snacks, such as paper-thin crepes known as dosas and the thicker pancakes called uttapams, are turned into small plates, and it’s easy to put together a tapas-style meal—at the weekday happy hour, many small plates are half price.

Grazing on dishes like these in the lovely dining room—billowing with swaths of jewel-toned silk—might make you forget things such as chicken tikka masala and coconut-laced shrimp curry. But the spicier-than-usual renditions are standard-setters.

Also good: Fiery chicken wings from the tandoor; tamarind-glazed shrimp; chutney-streaked salads such as papri chaat, with chickpeas and potatoes, and bhel puri, made with puffed rice; miniature chili-cheese toasts; Malbari chicken curry; Persian lamb stew with apricots; lychee mojito and martini.

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

Food & Drink “Cheap Eats 2010: Spice Xing”

Reviewed By Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, Kate Nerenberg, Rina Rapuano

Why go: The most interesting restaurant in Rockville Town Square is this Indian dining room with billowing jewel-tone silks. The menu—crafted by Passage to India owner Sudhir Seth—is just as colorful, ranging from traditional curries to Bombay street fare to coriander-spiked margaritas.

What to get: Miniature potato-stuffed dosas with spicy coconut chutney; chili-cheese toast, an excellent bar snack; dahi papri chaat, a cold salad of potatoes, chickpeas, tamarind, and yogurt; bread pakora, chutney sandwiches with a ketchup-like dipping sauce; chicken tikka masala with an unexpected kick; chicken malbari; lamb stew with apricots; tandoori-charred pineapple; lychee mojito and martini.

Best for: A date that doesn’t feel budget; cocktails and bar snacks.

Insider tip: Weekdays from 5 to 6:30, you’ll find discounts on beer, wine, martinis, and some of the best small plates around.

In Rockville, spice is nice.

Photograph by Scott Suchman.

Photograph by Scott Suchman.

By Ann Limpert on September 23, 2009
 
Cool, colorful Spice Xing is one of the top places to eat in downtown Rockville. Its stylish decor belies the menu’s low prices. 

After a walk through the maze of parents, teens, and sticky-fingered kids who crowd Rockville Town Square on a hot summer night, it’s instantly relaxing to enter the cool, calm Spice Xing. The restaurant is the creation of Sudhir Seth, founder of Heritage India in DC’s Glover Park and chef/owner of Passage to Indiain Bethesda. Until now, Seth’s restaurants have been known more for boldly spiced curries than their atmosphere, which has tended toward the solemn. Spice Xing is a striking departure.

The dining room is as colorful as a Bollywood sari, with turquoise-and-saffron walls and swaths of golden silk billowing from the ceiling. The drink list has the usual Kingfisher and mango lassi but also a lineup of creative cocktails (coriander-spiked margaritas, dangerously smooth lychee martinis) that wouldn’t be out of place in such Penn Quarter hot spots as Zaytinya, Oyamel, and Rasika.

The menu offers many standards from Passage to India—roasted eggplant with stewed onions and tomatoes, a pleasantly sweet lamb-and-apricot stew—but it’s more forward-thinking and affordable than its sibling. You can create a meal (a dirt-cheap one during happy hour) from a sprawling array of cross-cultural small plates that might put you in mind of a swinging Maharishi-meets-the-Beatles cocktail party.

They prove that Seth is as much a master of the bar snack as of curry. Dosas—thin lentil-flour crepes from southern India—are usually served as foot-long roll-ups; here they’re shrunk to canapé size. With a pinch of spiced potato-and-coconut chutney, they make a terrific hors d’ouevre. A plate of chili-cheese toast might sound straight out of a Taj Mahal–themed Rachael Ray episode—small toasts baked with cheddar and a processed Indian cheese called amul are dipped by diners in ketchup—but the two-biters are the stuff junk-food dreams are made of. So, too, the fiery tandoori chicken wings, first rubbed with chili powder and masala, then marinated in yogurt, lemon, and garlic.

There’s more to like than cocktail-hour fare. At many restaurants, cool salads such as papri chaat, a mix of potatoes and chickpeas, and bhel puri, made with puffed rice, come drenched in tamarind purée and yogurt; here they’re carefully sauced and refined. Seth’s shareable curries and sautés tend to be spicier than many. The coconut-based sauce of Chicken Malbari is stoked with dried chilies. Aloo do piaza, a toss of potatoes and scallions, gets a good dose of chili powder. Evenpaneer makhani and chicken tikka masala—dishes known for their sweet creaminess—impart a slow burn.

In three dinners, there were few flops, but most involved seafood. Grilled scallops were nicely charred but had zero flavor. Shrimp was overcooked whether charred and glazed in tamarind, drenched in a coconut curry, or in a spicy vinegar sauce.

Still, it’s clear Seth has a hit on his hands. The best evidence? Crowds are rolling in.

This review appears in the September, 2009 issue of The Washingtonian.