Masala Story

As I’ve previously opined, Brookand is actually becoming a bit of a pocket for new and interesting restaurants. Bonus: it’s a perfect walk from my home, not so long that it’s exhausting, but juuuuuuust long enough that I feel okay about stuffing my face with Indian food. Bonus 2: I can stop at Right Proper for a few rounds afterward and still stumble my way home. Also, DC is just sorely lacking in Indian restaurants (unless you’ve got ample time to wait for reservations and the deep pockets necessary for Rasika). So even though it was a nasty, rainy night, I insisted on walking to the newly-opened Masala Story, the sister restaurant to Noma’s Indigo.

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Their menu and method of service is very similar to Indigo’s. They feature favorite staples and northern Indian food, including a wheat-based bread that is more lavash than naan. You order at the counter but they also have a full-service bar with some decent craft beer options and a selection of lower-shelf wines. Unlike Indigo, the interior of the restaurant has ample seating, and it’s adorable! The menu boasts “we can meet your spice level.” I read this as a challenge.

The prices look a little high at first. I feel like a restaurant that gives you a plastic number to put on your table and doesn’t have free refills on water shouldn’t have entrees priced over $10. What am I even paying for if I have to bus my own table? But on account of not wanting to overeat, as well as wanting to try a wide variety of their multitudinous offerings, my husband and I cracked the code to ordering. Enter: the thaali, a TV-dinner style tray packed with the foods of your choosing. Masala Story offers two: a vegetarian one with five vegetables, or a non-vegetarian one with two meat dishes and three vegetables. This, plus an appetizer, was enough food for two people, and even after my husband tacked on his beloved mango lassi, the bill was still extremely reasonable. In my excitement to order so many delicious things, I totally forgot about the spiciness challenge they had offered me, and I didn’t specify a spice level. I thought about going back to amend it afterward, but decided that what was done was done.

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From top left, clockwise: dal tadka, kadi pakora, tindura (which I ordered blindly, knowing only that it’s a house specialty), raita, lamb curry, rice (and aforementioned bread), and chicken tikka masala (which my husband couldn’t possibly live without). Low-maintenance presentation aside, my biggest complaint is with the sheer abundance of rice. Why is the largest slot on this TV dinner tray filled with rice? It feels cheap, like ordering a bowl of regular breakfast cereal at a restaurant. I didn’t pay $20 for a bunch of stupid rice. On the other hand, the tikka masala was soooo creamy, the dal was soupy and fragrant, and the mystery tindura turned out to be delicious sliced green beans in a semi-spicy tomato-based stew. The lamb curry was absolutely delectable, the meat so flaky and moist, an honor also held by the chicken. Nothing was actually spicy save for the garnish of pickled eggplant they serve on the side. If you need to specify a lower level of spice than their default, you just don’t deserve to eat here.

Our appetizer arrived after the main meal. We had ordered the amritsari fish. It was larger than any individual thing on our other tray, and probably larger than half the things on the tray combined. The fish pieces were hot out of the fryer, crispy, and flaky on the inside, although the fry batter wasn’t particularly flavorful. They were served with the mint and tamarind chutneys, but I preferred to dunk the nuggets in the lamb curry sauce, the dal, and the yogurt sauce that came with the pakora.

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Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Fine dining it is not, and for a spicy dreamland it was rather lacking, but if you want a tasty ethnic meal close to home and for a semi-reasonable price, or if you just really like rice, look no further than Masala Story.

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