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Karan Singh was filled with trepidation when he opened the shipping containers packed with the uniques structures he’d had built in India and shipped to D.C. Think 40-foot stone walls, hand-carved wooden ceilings, and a few tons of brass ready to be fit together like a jigsaw puzzle forming Punjab Grill, the new restaurant bound for 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
Two containers have arrived so far with little damage. At least two more are on the way. Singh isn’t so sure he’d take the same approach again, but with an infatuation for Indian craftsmanship and seemingly no budget limit, he took the risk.
Singh was born in Delhi, India to a Punjabi, Sikh family and now lives in Northern Virginia where owns American Tandoor in Tysons Corner. His background is in air travel, having spent a decade flying Boeing 737s for an Indian airline before founding aviation companies of his own. Now he’s laser-focused on bringing D.C., and perhaps more cities, a taste of home. Punjab Grill, a fine dining Indian restaurant, is scheduled to open this fall in the same building as Central Michel Richard.
The Punjab region extends across North India, Pakistan, and almost to the borders of Afghanistan. Over the centuries, invaders and travelers have entered India through Punjab and left their influence on the cuisine, including the Mughals. The rich and fertile region, whose name translates to “the land of five rivers,” is known for its fresh vegetables, hearty sauces and stews, and tandoor grilled meat and bread. “Typically the cuisine that’s called ‘Indian cuisine’ across the world is mostly Punjabi-influenced,” Singh says.
Chef Jaspratap “Jassi” Bindra, who is also Punjabi, will lead the kitchen. He comes to D.C. from San Francisco, and before that, he cooked at top Indian resorts and restaurants. “All of his dishes have a story,” Singh says.
Many of them are traditional Indian dishes with a glimmer of something special. His butter chicken, for example, pulls from Thailand, incorporating the country’s trinity of Thai basil, lemongrass, and kaffir lime. Another, the tandoori raan, features roasted whole leg of lamb garnished with edible gold leaf.
“There will be a few innovative dishes and presentations, but we want to stay true to our roots,” Singh says. The menu spans from these traditional curries and tandoor-cooked meats and breads to street food inspired snacks and biryanis. Vegetarian, vegan, and organic selections will be available.
Singh pins the average price point at $35 per person for lunch and $70 per person for dinner with a couple of drinks, unless you’re seated in the glitzy private dining room where patrons can work with Bindra on a custom menu. The room accommodates 10 diners and is a “Sheesh Mahal,” or palace of mirrors. The design utilizes 250,000 itty bitty convex mirrors arranged like mosaic tiles in a specific shape that goes all the way up to the ceiling. “Light one candle and it looks like stars in the night sky,” Singh says. Sheesh Mahals are often found in Indian palaces and forts.
The private dining room is one of four areas of the restaurant. There’s also the “Sundowner Bar” outfitted in onyx; “Passage to India” booth seating inspired by the old railways of India; and the main dining room, which Singh hopes has a regal feel.
India’s Amit Krishn Gulati of Incubis together with D.C. architect Jose Toha of Grupo7 and Ayush Kasliwal are responsible for the look of the restaurant, which seats 150 people in total. Staff members will wear uniforms that nod at “the military costumes of the Punjab rulers and their armies” created by a Indian fashion brand Shantanu & Nikhil. See renderings below.
Come for the cocktails too. India bar man Nitin Tewari and David Strauss of D.C.’s Morris American Bar are collaborating on the drink menu. “David knows what this city likes and Nitin knows Indian flavors,” Singh says.
Punjab Grill has locations in India, plus outposts in Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Jeddah, and Bangkok. Singh partnered with LBF restaurant group to bring the concept to D.C. Singh emphasizes that each location is unique.
When it opens this fall, Punjab Grill will serve lunch and dinner daily.
Punjab Grill, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW