The daily newspaper of Fairfax County, Virginia
Great Indian fare at newcomer Raaga
Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and noon to 3 p.m. weekends. Dinner is served Sunday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Major credit cards accepted.
Raaga has only been open for three months, but its become a popular place to go.
By MARY HAGER
Special to the Journal
The bad news is that Bangkok Street Grill and Noodles have closed, the good news is that Raaga, a terrific Indian restaurant, has opened up in its place on Leesburg Pike in Falls Church, VA.( full stop after this line not comma). Raaga has only been open for three months, but its become a popular place to go for excellent quality food at reasonable prices. The decor at Raaga is simple, lemon cream walls with white trim, dark green upholstery, various Indian trinkets and pieces of art scattered around the cozy restaurant. Food presentation is also simple but attractive. Your entrees and rice are served in lovely shiny copper serving pots, appetizers come with a side of colorful salad greens and tomatoes, and the basmati rice is pretty enough to take its picture. The rice is perfectly white, with a couple dozen turmeric-tinted orange and yellow grains, a few cloves and caraway seeds for flavoring and a smattering of small green peas that make for an exquisite-looking (and equally exquisite-tasting) bowl of steamed basmati rice. Appetizers include a wonderful version of the vegetable samosa, a crisp, flour-based shell shaped like a pyramid and stuffed with a piping-hot mixture of potatoes, peas, onions, tiny cumin seeds and other spices (two for $2.95). This appetizer combines the best of both worlds its light and crunchy yet has a hearty and tender filling. The Shammi kebabs are also good; theyre rounds of lean ground lamb that will remind you of tiny hamburger patties. These nuggets are cooked crisp outside, the filling spiced with onions, ginger and Indian herbs (two for$3.95). Dunk your appetizers in a fiery hot green yogurt sauce or a sweet vinegary dark Sauce. The Raaga special fish curry is very good, if you like the flavor of yellow Indian curry, as the curry tastes as vibrant as this bright yellow sauce looks ($13.95). The curry sauce is yogurt- based, so its a light and creamy complement to the giant tender and flaky chunks of fresh salmom (or the fish of the day) Indian Tandoori specialties such as Tandoori chicken ($9.95)a chicken marinated in yogurt, lemon, juice, herbs and spices then charbroiled in a clay oven (this keeps the meat moist and delicious) and salmon are available, The Chicken Dhaniya is execellent, chunks of chicken meat (if you like white meat youll be disappointed, as the meat is mostly dark) are served in a green sauce of cil୴ro jalapeno and curry ($9.95). The sauce is excellent, bursting with the flavor of fresh, tangy cilantro and surprisingly mild jalapeno. This dish is marked Hot!!!,but I found it quite tame compared with other types of Indian food such as Vindaloo, the fiery hot sauce that is prepared with either lamb or chicken (in Raagas case, lamb Vindaloo is available at $10.95). Raaga also serves a dozen vegetable dishes that highlight the use of Indian spices and herbs along with vegetables such as spinach, peas, potatoes, onions and cheeses. These dishes (as are all others) are excellent with your choice of indian bread.
The nan bread is good ($1.50);it’s a pita-like round of steaming hot, fresh baked bread that you can wrap your food in for a fajita like treat.( full stop here) The onion kulcha ($1.95) is similar, but it’s stuffed with fresh chopped onions that are cooked until sweet and tender.
WASHINGTONIAN DECEMBER 1999
GOOD INDIAN COOKING IN AN ELEGENT SETTINGS IN FALLS CHURCH
RAAGA IS A RESTAURANT WITH TWO LIVES.
Go about 7:30 on a Saturday night and the dining room teems with Westerners devouring tandoori-grilled meats. Rubbed with aromatics and charred in the clay oven, these savory morsels are easy to relate to. Fast-forward to 9 pm and this butter-yellow room goes exotic. The couples and families swabbing flatbread with yellow lentils are natives wearing saris and brightly striped silk shirts. Theres no question that dining on the late side at
Raaga is the kind of experience foodies live for.
Raaga, owned by the same crowd that runs the popular Connaught Place in downtown Fairfax, is roomier and spiffier than its older siblingdefinitely a Big Date spot. Its in the former digs of Bangkok Street Grill and velvety cashew-and-onion pur裠alone. As
Noodles, part of Duangrats mini-empire of for how much to order, go with your
Thai eateries on Leesburg Pike. Whereas Bangkok Street Grill was rakish and hip, pushing extras. Raaga, the name comes from Raag, a type of Indian classical musicis elegant with Elegant its native art and steaming copper casseroles, a white-tablecloth place. But dont dismiss the cuisine as tame. The kitchen delivers authentic heat normally spiced, as the menu says. Wimpy palates can go milder, and gluttons for lire, extra hot. Theres a trio of Indian beers to quench any sparksthe familiar Taj Mahal and two off-the-beaten-paths picks. Golden Eagle and the marvelously perfumery Flying Horse.
Raagas menu of Northern Indian standards is identical to Connaught Places with a few additions, like the creamy.Calcutta fish curry shot with mustard seeds and curry leaves,
and a clever take from the tandoor, paneer shashlik. Indias version of cottage cheese, paneer is made from soured milk. After it hardens, the curds are compressed into cubes found in such dishes as palak paneer, a sort of pur褤 spinach. Here the cubes are marinated, then grilled in the tandoor until crusty and served of a skewer of peppers and onions. Other tandoori stars are tender baby lamb chops crusted with spices, and a half chicken, redolent of lemon and more succulent than the boneless versions. Also from the tandoor are blistered breads, from nan to inspiring onion kulcha stuffed with herbs and onionsIndias retort to a New York bialy. As a counterpoint to the breads and barbecue, try one of the curies, such as the mellow Calcutta fish, or a four-alarm jalapeno-cilantro stew, chicken dhaniya. A vegetarian curry made from fresh mushrooms and peas is a must for the (ground lamb laced with ginger and onions), and pea-and tomato turnovers known as samosas. As for sides, dont overlook lemon-scented rice, and yogurt-and–cucumber raita, a welcome cooler. A pair of kulfisdense Indian ice creams, one with pistachio, the other with mangoare up to the task, too. The more adventurous will go for what the Indian children are clamoring for: delicate cheese dumplings in a honey glaze, and shahi tukra, an odd hut delicious pudding with fried bread cubes and a flood of rose-water-perfumed cream.
WASHINGTON, D.C./ BALTIMORE RESTAURANTS
This sub continental foray into Thai territory in Baileys Crossroads has captured a healthy flow of lunch traffic with its great buffet starring creative Northern Indian dishes that are properly spiced and not greasy gracious service and comfortable, appealing surroundings further help recruit novices and native troops alike.
THE WASHINGTON POST WEEKEND
ENRAPTURED AT RAAGA
If there were nothing else to recommend Raaga. it would still be worth negotiating Falls Church traffic to indulge in the Baingan Bharta, quite simply the most satisfying and sensual version of that northern Indian eggplant dish Ive ever tastedthick, smooth. greaseless, rich in caramelized onions and an aroma of cinnamon and cloves so luxuriantly Persian it transports you right back to Moghul indulgence.
Then theres the Cioanesc prawn curry, large coddled.tender shrimp in a creamy totmato and coconut sauce so good you want to spoon it out like soup. (Its probably overly generous and even too velvety smooth by traditional standards: but if so, its one Americanization worth encouraging.) And the Calcutta fish curry: chunks of tender salmon and snapper in a similarly rich sauce aromatic with mustard seed. And the chicken tikka masala, whose spice hate is so complex and so dark it transforms its tomato base into something hinting at wild honey or even wine. And the seekh kebab on the mixed appetizer platter, tiny fried cigars of lean and juicy ground lamb that remind you why Iamb is so beloved in the mountainous steppes of Kashmirand of how poorly its often treated in this country. And the lamb vindaloo in a sauce where the spices have been so carefully roasted that theyve turned a rich and fragrant. All the little things that often mar Indian mealsgreasy surfaces, grainy undercooked curry spices, over-grilled and dried-out tandoori meatsare conspicuously absent here, as if the owners had scrupulously weighed the merits of every recipe regardless of tradition or habit (or simplicity). And despite the fact that it borrows recipes from all over India, it has a consistency and confidence that is well justified.(Raaga has a sibling restaurant in Fairfax. Connaught Place, that also has a good reputation. The tandoori-marinated and charbroiled chicken, which can be had plain or in the masala sauce, and which also appears on the appetizer platter along with the seekh kebab and crisp spinach pakoras, is very juicy and takes its lemon yogurt spice bath in just the right fashion, gaining brilliance without sacrificing texture. The samosas are extra large, stuffed with peas and potatoes and scented with cumin. The tomato soup is a real pleasure, not a cream but a rich puree with the almost citrus tang of fresh mustard seed and spices. Although tandoori food, which hearkens back to the migratory and impatient Mongols. is fairly plain, sonic of the other cooking styles represented on the menu are much spicier especially the vindaloo (the vin indicating its use of vinegar in the sauce and the Goanese dishes (Goa having been a Portuguese-controlled colony that traded in Indonesian spices).However. unless you emphasize your desires for authentically hot or completely mild versions, dishes come medium hot. And If you are a serious chilihead, try the Santa Fe fusion veggies of the day in effectcombined sweet carrots, cauliflower, peas, tomatoes and potatoes. And vegetarians who have just about twisted their tofu into every imitationmeat disguise possible should try the punier, shashlik, chunks of homemade cottage cheese marinated in spiced yogurt and then charbroiled almost like a kebab with tomatoes, peppers and onions. Basmati rice is served with the entrees (in pretty footed silver bowls as nice as the entree platters incidentally). But wheat is the rice of the northern steppes, and Raaga makes several tine fresh breads, both plain and stuffedsonic with cheese, some with lamb, some crispy and some flaky. Fortunately, you can order an assortment. Raaga has clearly inherited its location from an Italian restaurant, hut aside from the plaster statues on the front piazza, the whitewashed stucco room works tine as colonial bungalow. (Incidentally, although the address is officially Falls Church. its actually in that main dining strip in Baileys Crossroads, so if you head out 66 as fur as Falls Church youll have a long detour back along Route 7.) Inside its quite simple, but the aroma of simmering cardarmom is incredibly alluring. Service is attentive but gentle. Warning: The lemon pickle is extremely traditional, a mixture of small citrus fruits, berries and even tiny mangoes, but very salty.
WASHINGTON POST MAGAZINE
Raaga means sweet melody and indeed a joyful serenity suffuses this fine Indian restaurant, whose stately white columns and whirring ceiling fans suggest a welcoming outpost in an exotic land. It is an ideal setting for sampling distinctive renditions of the rich, intricately flavored dishes purportedly favored by the Moghuls centuries ago. Here Is Chicken Tikka Masala at Its best; the smoky flavor of tandoori chicken assets itself through a creamy yogurt/lemon sauce decisively spiced with fenugreek. Lamb Rogan Josh (creamy curry sauce) is also very good and the lamb Chops – marinated in ginger yogurt sauce and cooked in a clay oven -could not be more buttery tender. These Northern Indian favorites share applause with more exotic selections such as Salmon curry, a dish whose finely tuned spices evoke multiple, distinguishable tastes. Raagas extens Ive, moderately priced menu also offers 16 vegetarian specialties and nine breads, including the entr裭rivaling Aloo Paratha (stuffed with seasoned mashed potatoes) and Paneer Kulcha (stuffed with cottage cheese and herbs). Cauliflower and other vegetables fried in a light batter for an appetizer go perfect with Raagas Tamarind sauce, which features dates and just enough red chili powder to give it a nice kick. Mango Kulfi, a mango and cardamom ice cream emulsified with bread to create almost flaky texture, is transcendant.