Another rare find from my husband (I’m sure he came across it on Reddit, not from doing actual research), I reserved our spot at Daru three weeks ago and have been anxiously awaiting it ever since. And, in yet another break from the norm, I did zero pre-reading of their menu.
The veeeeeeery end of H Street where Maryland becomes Bladensburg and the streetcar turns around is where I’d expect to run into a vending machine selling forties of Colt 45, not where I’d expect to find upscale Indian food. TBH I was even kinda surprised to see the Chick-Fil-A next door. Going inside is like stepping into a different world, like a snowglobe full of dim lighting and Aperol and chutney. Daru is also the first restaurant I’ve showed up to and been asked for vaccine proof. Obviously, I’m not mad about it, but it did take me by surprise. Remember to take a pic of yours before you go!
We started with drinks, and it was easy for me to pick the Smokestack Lightin’ (it turned out to be even easier to drink it than it was to pick, and a little too easy to order a second one). It has the sweet tang of tamarind and light smoke of the mezcal. The menu lists fennel as an ingredient, but don’t let that deter you; I couldn’t even find it when searching. My husband was happy to have a full-bodied, mouthfeel-y red wine, and it turned out to be a great pairing with our food order.
The menu is intimidating, not because it’s big (it’s not), but because you will just want to order everything. Coming with only two of us was a grave mistake. We readied ourselves to eat way too much, and made our choices.
Starting with the bleu cheese kabobs, I will never be able to actually explain just how tender the chicken was. I don’t know if it’s the yogurt marinade or just some magic broiler that turns out chicken like this, but it was cuttable with a spoon and had a delightful, bubbly crust. Despite being in the title, the bleu cheese was not overwhelming, or even incredibly present, but it worked well with the cherry sauce.
Next came the main event. The server cleared away our barely-used silverware and replaced it with an elaborate and meticulous set-up, complete with tiny chutney spoons and big ol’ knives for our lamb shank. I suspected they would not be necessary, except as weapons for a duel over who would get to eat the rest of the lamb.
Pictured above: garlic naan (good, crispy, surprisingly small), our [red] habañero chutney (great, acidic heat), the green chutney (we ordered sour cherry and although I strongly suspect this was the chimichurri chutney, I’m not upset), and the pumpkin (aka kabocha squash, not actually pumpkin). I absolutely loved this dish with its sweet heat and hearty spices. It went great with the red chutney too.
Finally, the lamb shank. We were not wrong; we didn’t even touch the scary knives. The meat melted off the bone with the smallest flick of a fork, or if you just looked at it and willled it to fall off. It had the distinct flavor of lamb without the strong gaminess that sometimes happens. The sauce was spicy on its own but even better with the chutneys. It reminded me more of a Mexican mole than a traditional Indian sauce, with a great, smoky flavor like guajillo chilis and dark fruits. It was absolutely delicious.
Two different perspectives on Daru, the first being from my husband: If you want chicken tikka masala with five servings of rice, a canoe-sized piece of naan, a mango lassi, and a $20 price tag, Daru is not for you. My husband claims that he will never feel in the mood for upscale Indian and that’s fine. It’s his opinion. He’s wrong, but it’s still his opinion.
My perspective: if I can buy fancy tacos, fancy gyros, and fancy ramen, I can buy fancy Indian food. Daru is experimental and different. Sometimes I want to eat Indian food not on my living room floor in my sweatpants.
Price: $60 per person.
Bottom line: It’s pricey, but you’re paying for the flavors and the well-cooked-ness of the meats. Be aware that you won’t be finding your old stand-bys here and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.