Category Archives: Indian

Ren’s Ramen and Jewel of India: Revisitations

Do Not Taunt Happy Fun Ramen

Do Not Taunt Happy Fun Ramen

I’ve reviewed Ren’s Ramen (11043 Amherst, now with fully functional website) several times before so won’t go into excruciating detail this time, but it remains one of Wheaton’s best food purveyors, especially for lunch.  Ramen just seems lunchy to me, especially on an inclement gray early afternoon.  A big steaming bowl of ramen is just the thing, on those days.  And Ren’s is here to provide that bowl — as a bonus, it is really good.

So just a couple of notes: Ren always has specials to augment the three primary ramens on the menu.  This day they offered “Stamina ramen” featuring I think a fried egg and extra meat and some other stuff, which sounded good, although “stamina” is a word that makes me laugh for some reason.  At least when applied to random foods. Instead I got the regular shoyu ramen with added pork belly cha shu, rich fatty slices of roast pork, so so good. And Ren’s always smells so inviting, wafting soy and miso and pork…oh my…

Ren also has rules.  Every visit, it seems there are more rules.  Many of them are now listed on a big sign (pictured above) just inside the front door.  All the rules seem reasonable, especially given the size and layout of the place, and yet it is slightly off-putting to be confronted by all the rules immediately upon arrival.  I guess it’s better than doing it Soup Nazi style and making you guess about the rules, and kicking you out when you break one.  But it seems a little over the top to me.  Of course, the most important rule is not on that list, although it is noted elsewhere: do not park in front of the establishments at the other end of the strip mall, or you WILL BE TOWED.

You will probably not be towed from the parking lot at Jewel of India (10151 New Hampshire).  That parking lot is huge and never full and probably not policed at all.  You may have to be towed from Jewel of India after you are done with their lunch buffet, because it is fantastic quality and quantity, the best lunch buffet I’ve had in a long time, and it is really hard to stop eating.  The parking lot won’t get full, but I will, eventually.  This visit they had a spicy chicken dish whose name I neglected to write down, but OMG it was so good it makes me write, like, like a pre-teen girl.  Their goat curry is above average, and they have the usual array of appetizers and some interesting desserts (I am told by my friends who know more about Indian desserts than I do).  Also very good service and upscale yet casual atmosphere.  Their only failure is putting raisins in the biryani — Tiffin (1341 University Blvd. E, no longer functional website) continues to rule, raisin-free, on the crucial biryani front.

I’ve said it before and will now say it again: a place like Jewel of India would be an excellent addition to Wheaton, which lacks any Indian cuisine whatsoever.  Maybe in the old Suporn Thai space?  Or the Ferdinand’s space, which has been vacant for like OMG ten years now?  O. M. G.

Jewel of India and Silver Spring

Jewel of India (10151 New Hampshire, just north of the beltway) has been open only about four months and is already indeed a jewel.  Lamb biryani is somewhere between Tiffin and Masala Art: a bit darker and spicier than the former, but not as dark or spicy as the latter.  We still like Tiffin’s the best, but they’re all great.  Jewel of India’s lunch buffet is well above average, with lots of choices (including vegetarian), including only moderately spicy chicken vindaloo — many Indian buffets don’t even include a vindaloo. Good, flaky samosas, fresh vibrant green-yellow spinach and corn, and I loved the almondy lamb pasanda. Also a tasty house-made lemonade, with tart grapefruit-cranberry overtones.  Prices are Masala-level; Tiffin is a dollar or two cheaper per dish across the board.  I wish someone would open an Indian restaurant of this quality/price level in Wheaton, surely there is sufficient demand here.

Plus, Jewel looks great, with deep reds and golds, pretty yellow flowers in the entryway, nice dark wood chairs and floor, even a shower of “jewels” hanging from the ceiling to separate the bar area from the main room. It isn’t fancy, yet has an elegant feel, very nicely done.  I also like their website, which features some lovely photos, a full menu in HTML (!), and a strange main-page lorem ipsum paragraph — surely this is meant as a placeholder and they’re not trying to make some subtle point about their layout or content, but still seems odd. I wonder how long it will stay up.

Road Trip: Boston

Beyond Russo’s and H Mart:

  • Takeout from Minerva in Natick.  Pretty good except for not getting what we ordered. Our double order of lamb biryani arrived as lamb vindaloo, good thing Mrs. Me wasn’t there!  The vindaloo was suitably spicy at least.  Solid butter chicken, lamb rogan josh, something else I’ve forgotten.  They also completely forgot our curried chickpeas.  Nice samosas.  Average or better quality, normal quantity, bad accuracy.
  • Lunch at Pho and I in Boston. Nice lunch specials, maybe a dozen to choose from at $7.50 apiece.  Carl got the ho fun — how could at least one of us not? — and liked it well enough but we both preferred my basil fried rice, fragrant and a bit spicy, full of flavor.  Fairly large portions.  Good service.  Unusual curving space with a bar snaking along one side, actually a pretty good use of an awkward space for a restaurant.
  • Lunch at Johnny Rockets in Logan Terminal C.  I was desperate. I can’t review JR because I have already wiped the entire sordid affair from my memory (although I may still be digesting the cheeseburger).

Masala Fine Art

We returned to Tenleytown and Masala Art (4441 B Wisconsin) for lunch recently, ordered completely different dishes than our previous visit, and enjoyed the meal just as much. Maybe even more: this time there was marginally less sweat and less lag time before entrees. Service was excellent this time, and the place was shockingly empty.

Masala still cam up a tad shy on the lamb in the biryani, though: Mrs. Me is a biryani addict and this was our only repeat dish, and while it looked snazzy — a golden-brown rice melange delivered in a copper pot — and the flavors were wonderful, she had to hunt for pieces of lamb, mostly without success.

Bhuna gosht, on the other hand, boasted plenty of lamb in a dark brown curry sauce, and while it wasn’t quite as incendiary as the vindaloo, it cleared my sinuses right up. Okay, yes, there was sweat. I might even have cried a little, but more from pleasure than pain; besides, we like a little pain on the palate from time to time, keeps us calibrated. I also preferred the flavors of this dish to the vindaloo.

Our friends ordered, and liked, the tandoori chicken and the chicken saagwala, a creamy green spinach sauce.  We also enjoyed an appetizer, the unpronounceable-by-us aloo aur pyaz ki bhaji: julienned potato and onion dunked in chickpea batter and fried.  Hard to go wrong with fried, in any country or cuisine. Masala Art isn’t cheap (on a par with Indique, and maybe 15% more than Tiffin on average) but is high quality and, with friends about to move a few blocks away, I expect we’ll be back periodically.

Oh, and (in memoriam of recently departed Peter Falk) just one more thing…I would be remiss if I did not note Masala Art’s perfectly clean, functional, but oddly appointed restrooms. Both the men’s and women’s rooms feature two toilets, facing each other, but no stalls and no doors. The porcelain thrones are just out in the open, as if one might want to bring a friend and perhaps play some chess while taking care of business, or have an unusually candid face-to-face chat. I am trying not to wonder who designed the rooms, I would rather just not think about it.

Indique (Cleveland Park)

We hadn’t been to Indique (5312 Connecticut) for years and got the same table as before, upstairs. I remember it being excellent before and the cooking hasn’t suffered over the years, overall we enjoyed dinner very much. Aloo tikki (potato cakes) appetizer, with chickpeas in sauce, was tasty; shrimp varuval was okay but some flavor I couldn’t identify didn’t appeal to me, and the dish didn’t get 100% eaten, which is a rarity for us. Vindaloo is fantastic, very hot (sweat + nose like a faucet = good signs) but not to the point of overwhelming the flavors, best I’ve had. Lamb is supertender in both the vindaloo and the biryani, which Mrs. Me loved; the texture and flavor of the biryani is a bit different than at Tiffin, and I think I prefer the latter, but Mrs. Me seems to have voted for the Indique version (perhaps she will chime in).  Dining companions’ lamb rogan josh disappeared quickly, but shrimp/scallop masala met a less thorough fate.  Our small sample size indicates best to stick with lamb over seafood at Indique.  Breads are okay, and the soupy, buttery, rich dal makhani was a highlight, must-order side dish.

Merlindian Cuisine

Metro Center is not ground zero for weekday food trucks but one of my moles went traipsing off to McPherson Square today for Fojol Bros. chow and was nice enough to bring me some.  I’d been wanting to try Fojol food for a while, and was pleased it met expectations: tender chicken; curry had a nice moderate heat (but a little too much something in the flavor profile, cardamom maybe?); butter chicken was rich and above average by Indian lunch buffet standards.  I wouldn’t compare the meal to a nice sit-down Indian restaurant.  And for $7 the portions are large and filling.  Normally Fojol have a 15 minutes line or so, but today thanks to winter’s last gasp plus the Goodness of Friday my mole reported waiting only a few minutes.

Wish the Bros. would come near Metro Center more often.  Come a little closer, said the spider to the fly…

Masala Art For Masala Art’s Sake

Everyone seems to love Tenleytown’s Masala Art. And what’s not to love?  Only the long wait for our entrees; most everything else was fantastic.

WaPo/Sietsema’s recommendation of the Chicken 65-as-Indian-Buffalo-wings was spot on, nice sweet/spice balance in the tomato-y sauce, tender chicken. We liked all the vivid sauces we encountered; our favorite was the lamb neelgiri korma, a delicious mild green cilantro-mint gravy; eggplant was also a winner though the sauce was almost too rich (and delicious).  Lots of vegetarian options here; the lassoni corn palak, a creamy spinach-corn-garlic melange, was particularly good. Spicier-than-average lamb biryani came in a classy copper pot that kept the dish hot while we savored every bite.

Relatively minor complaints: we would have liked a bit more meat in most dishes, particularly the ones involving lamb. The lamb vindaloo was make-you-sweat spicy (they confirmed when we ordered that we wanted it hot; we did, and they delivered), as it should be, but in addition to harboring only a few chunks of lamb, the sauce was too heavy on the tomato for my taste.

We loved the space: interesting photographs and paintings on the mint green stucco walls, plenty of space between most tables, conversation was easy.  Service was pretty good, very friendly and helpful, but sometimes difficult to find our server when we wanted him.  If we lived closer, we would eat at Masala Art frequently, probably focusing on appetizers and veggie dishes, and exploring the griddled tawa menu selections, which we did not try on this visit.  Given Mrs. Me’s lamb biryani obsession and my vindaloo preferences, we are more likely to continue to favor Tiffin, which excels at those particular dishes.

Merzi Merzi Me

Merzi means “choice” but, if you say it through your nose while shrugging, it means “thank you” and I have to say merci, Merzi, for bringing fresh, reasonably high quality assembly-line (“fast casual” as they say in the restaurant biz) Indian food to the masses.  At least, the Gallery Place masses; my only problem with the place is that it isn’t a few blocks closer to my Metro Center workplace.  If only there were a ferry across to Merzi…


For $8 you get a choice of starch (naan or rice) or salad, plus a choice of meats (including shrimp) and/or legumes and/or veggies, and a selection of chutneys and hot sauces.  All the toppings make the naan hard to eat, and I will probably get rice instead next time, but it’s good naan (also sold separately). All told, quite a bit of food, and it has the added bonus of being good: shredded lamb is tender and flavorful; the “warm” sauce is actually hot!  Maybe not streets-of-Goa hot, but hot enough.  Will it make you sweat? Yeah!

Samosa and Lamby Naan

Have Merzi

Even better, the plump, potato-and-pea-filled samosas are excellent, a great deal at $1.49 apiece. Little fried potato tikka cakes aren’t as exciting but a decent snack at 99 cents. Overall, among the best quick service lunch options downtown, along with Five Guys and (if you get lucky) a food cart. Greatest Indian food ever? Hardly.  But, a good lunch deal at this price and quantity and speed. I was in and out in like two minutes. Merzi is the place Naan and Beyond only dreams of being.

Ghar-E-Kabab (Silver Spring)

Tiffin is our go-to Indian restaurant, but several commenters have praised Ghar-E-Kabab (944 Wayne) as having the dual desirable attributes of (1) having excellent food and (2) delivering to Wheaton all the way from downtown Silver Spring. We finally got around to trying G-E-K recently and we agree it is very good, the equal of Tiffin in perhaps all but one key respect.

(I keep wanting to type Ghar-E-Kebab, and for the record, a Google search for “kebab” gets six million hits while a search for “kabab” gets only 1,320,000 — I’m just saying.)

Anyway, Ghar-E-Kabab’s samosas are if anything better than Tiffin’s, smaller but less dense, more balanced in flavor. The vindaloo seemed more tomato-y and less…something, not sure what, and also not all that spicy, not by authentic vindaloo standards, though Tiffin’s vindaloo spice level can vary widely by visit so I can’t really judge G-E-K’s based on one sample. It tasted good, anyway.  Chicken tikka masala and lamb sag were also both very good, G-E-K seems to excel at sauces, and lamb and chicken both supertender.

The one dish that brings us back to Tiffin over and over again is their outstanding lamb biryani, and though the G-E-K version is quite good, it doesn’t rise to Tiffin’s level, and I couldn’t explain why or what’s missing (possibly heroin, we often speculate, mostly joking…).  The flavor profile just isn’t quite Tiffiny enough — but if I weren’t already addicted to Tiffin’s biryani, G-E-K’s would do nicely. So we will certainly continue to explore Ghar-E-Kabab’s menu when, inevitably, we crave Indian food but don’t feel like braving the horrid traffic on University toward New Hampshire.

By the way, there is no truth to the rumor that Ghar-E-Kabab and Piratz Tavern (beware Flash) (8402 Georgia) are opening a joint venture called Arrrr-E-Kabab, featuring skewered salt pork, tandoori parrot, and rum lassis — though the more I think about this, the more I like the idea. If anyone knows any Sanskrit sea chantys, please post in the comments.

Farewell Udupi?

Apropos of all our recent Indian food discussion, SoCo Eats is reporting that Udupi Palace (1329 University in Takoma Park/Langley Park) l0st its lease and may close by the end of June.  I guess that will end the Udupi-versus-Tiffin debate on a note sourer than a vat of mango pickles (which are actually “sweet” at Udupi but you get the point).  The Udupi-Tiffin strip malls are Indian central, I wonder what will move into the space? I hope that doesn’t also mean the end of Tiffin (owned by the Udupi folks) may be nigh.  I guess we would all have to learn to love Ghar-E-Kebab and Bombay Gaylord (not a bad fate, but I would miss Tiffin).