Chef Sanjay Mandhaiya hopes his vindaloo is a recipe for success. The fiery curry from the Goa region of India that can leave you begging for mercy or your mother is the dish that brought the partners of Pappe together. Mandhaiya employed his secret method of soaking spices overnight in vinegar before grinding them fresh in the morning while he was working at Saffron in Northern Virginia.
Vipul Kapila, who works in IT, tasted it and felt joy that he finally found a place that does his favorite curry justice. The two started talking and together with a third partner, Shankar Puthran, they set out to bring from-scratch, made-to-order Indian cuisine to 14th Street NW this spring.
“Sanjay and I met about five years ago at Equinox gym in Tysons Corner,” Kapila says. “He said he owned an Indian restaurant a half a mile from my house. I told him, ‘That place, the food there is awful!’” Kapila hadn’t been in since Mandhaiya took over the restaurant tucked into a strip mall in Falls Church. “He made it work—I started eating there again,” Kapila continues.
Both men grew up in New Delhi, where destinations are often walkable and neighborhood restaurants abound. They sought to find a locale reminiscent of that in D.C. and became enthralled with the 14th Street NW corridor.
“The restaurants doing well here are the ones doing it right from scratch whether it’s Le Diplomate, Da Hong Pao, or Baan Thai,” Kapila says. “That’s what we’re going to be doing as well and that should set us apart from many other restaurants. We’re getting our spices whole and raw and roasting and grinding them in house.”
Kapila continues, “It was this huge decision that came out over some good vindaloo and some good Scotch. We said let’s do this.” Since the restaurant is built on their friendship, they opted to name it Pappe, which means “brother” in Punjabi. It’s a term of endearment pals use for each other in India.
The menu will be focused on Northern Indian cuisine known for its luxe ingredients like cashews and saffron, but there will also be some South Indian seafood preparations. Expect meat and seafood cooked over open flames and a rich selection of curries paired with traditional breads like roti and naan.
Besides the vindaloo, there are a few can’t-miss dishes inspired by two recent apprenticeships or “stages” Mandhaiya completed in India. The first was at Moti Mahal, where butter chicken is said to have been invented, and the second at Kwality, which is known for a chickpea dish called pindi chana and taar gosht.
Part of the recipe for taar gosht calls for a French-style demi-glace featuring a rich stock that bubbles with knuckles and other bones until it’s reduced down to a sticky syrup. “If you dip your fingers in it and spread them apart, there should be a string between your fingers,” Mandhaiya says. “Otherwise it’s not taar gosht.”
Mandhaiya also developed the cocktails for the restaurant, many of which contain savory ingredients, like the “Bloody Rasam.” Rasam is a traditional soup from Chennai in Southern India that’s infused with curry leaves, mustard seeds, ginger, garlic, chilies, and tamarind. Pappe will chill the soup and add vodka. “It’s like we have two kitchens going on—one in the front and one in the back,” Mandhaiya says. Another cocktail is modeled off of a gimlet but uses gin infused with cardamom.
There will also be Kingfisher beer on draft, Amrut Indian whisky, and non-alcoholic refreshments like mango lassis and a traditional North Indian thirst quencher called “Fresh Lime Soda.” It’s only ingredients are soda, lime, and Himalayan sea salt. It’s like nature’s Gatorade.
Designer and architect Melissa Funkey is tasked with transforming the 85-seat restaurant into a space that feels like the ancient markets of Old and New Delhi. The best seats in the house might be the booths in the back. “They’re inspired by Jaipur with colors and silks and fabrics,” Kapila says. “India is super overwhelming. The food and the place, it’s bold and complex. This place will be like that too.”
The Pappe partners have also enlisted John DeNapoli to create a mural inside the restaurant. He’s responsible for the stunning mosaic in the Columbia Room, among other notable local projects. He also created the artwork that currently prevents passersby from peeking into Pappe. It depicts a vintage photo of an Indian family wearing D.C. sports memorabilia.
Kapila says the food and drinks will be priced somewhere between a hole-in-the-wall and fine dining. When it opens this spring, Pappe will offer lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. The hours are still being determined. Reservations will be accepted.
Pappe,1317 14th St. NW; pappedc.com