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It’s fitting that the prevailing influence on mulligatawny soupa dish as prevalent on Indian menus as miso soup is on Japanese onesis British. The name comes from the word mullaga (pepper), and the list of ingredients involved in a typical mulligatawny recipe could fill several note cards, but the soup itself is relatively tame. If not for India’s colonization by the British, the soup could very well be known today for its fierceness. Instead, the recipe was tempered by domestic chefs to suit the unsophisticated tastes of their British employers, and as it’s been passed down through the centuries, mulligatawny is simply pleasant.
Which, as far as the products of unpleasant histories go, is kind of nice. The mulligatawny at Bombay Gaylord works like a spa bath for the innards. Its summery broth, yellow as a Post-it, is thickened with flour and split peas and discreetly pocked with clumps of rice and teensy pieces of white-meat chicken. Each bite reveals hints of curry, but the untamed tang of the freshly squeezed lemon dominates. On the whole, it’s pretty standard-issue stuff, which is Gaylord’s forte.
The appeal of most Indian restaurants is also their bane. There are differences between the cuisine of the South and that of the North (the former tends to be spicier), and vegetarian haunts like Swagat and Udupi Palace can be viewed as starchy worlds unto themselves. But for the most part, stateside Indian menus seem pretty interchangeable, the spices fairly consistent throughout; the soundtracks and interiors in the restaurants are so predictable that I’ve come to suspect that someone is making a killing on a starter kit.
The beauty of a lot of Indian cuisine is that, as with American barbecue, even the humdrum stuff is pretty great. Bombay Gaylord, which opened on a downtown Silver Spring street corner this fall, looks about as typical as they comebanal, comfortable interior, daily lunch buffet, menu broken into subgroups such as Lamb Specialties and Tandoori Specialtiesbut its food hits high marks more often than most.
Chef Stephen Gomes has done time at restaurants in Bombay and Calcutta, and his best stuff (most of the entrees are under $9) betray the mark of a second or third-generation specialist. None of the flash-fried appetizers (four bucks or less) are sullied by their trip through oil. Both the vegetable and meat samosas seem virtually greaseless, tasting only of their spiced fillings. Onion bhajia, those balls of fried, onion-studded chickpea flour, are all fluff and crunch. No dipping sauce is needed for the delicate, battered-and-fried chicken strips, which out their American bar food cousins as the tasteless frozen goods that they usually are.
It’s rare that you can revisit those first-bite feelings when tasting something for the umpteenth time. I’m reminded of as much the night I unwittingly find myself eating at Gaylord with two virgin tongues. One friend orders chicken vindaloo because he heard Joey Ramone sing about itand he’s an expert compared to the other guy. Vindaloo is one of my standard orders at Indian restaurants, and now I remember why. Gaylord’s roasted spice blend isn’t as blazing as some, but it does the job, inhabiting the chicken’s juices as if the bird had been fed the stuff. My other friend’s lamb dish is even better. Making a loud entrance on a hot iron skillet, it’s a sizzling tangle of onions, peppers, tomatoes, lamb, and aromatic Indian spices; we all take repeated turns sniffing the air above the skillet. I barely touch my fish curry, partly because I’ve had better salmon, and partly because I’m having too much fun partaking in my friends’ neophyte bliss.
Gaylord’s list of vegetarian items is extensive, although I wouldn’t recommend the few that I tried. Paneer, an unripened cheese, should be firm, but here, it’s rubbery. The stew of potatoes and spinach would be fine if it were given a little more stove time: Potatoes are great served just about any way but hard. Both dishes only leave me wishing I’d ordered some meat or bread from the oven.
Gaylord’s tandoor-baked naan is done rightcrisp, blistered, and spongy as you tear into itand the meats that get fired alongside it are no less inspired. I’m a sucker for the chicken. Skinless and ultra-moist after soaking in a marinade of yogurt and spices, and then flash-cooked, the bone-on chicken chunks beg to be picked clean of every red-hued, carbon-crusted piece of meat. And feel free to douse it all with coriander chutney. If your tongue won’t quit tingling because of it, srikant, the house’s signature dessert, is a fine cooling agent, made with yogurt, saffron, and pistachios. Or better yet, take a walk downstairs. Gaylord is conveniently located atop the Quarry House, a dark watering hole that serves beer ice cold and by the pint. Appropriately enough, the place feels like a British pub.
Bombay Gaylord, 8401 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, (301) 565-2528.
Sushi has been disturbing several readers lately; one guy doesn’t understand the whole raw aspect, and a few people have written in miffed that they got shunned at the door of Dragonfly, the new sushi bar and lounge run by the 18th Street Lounge people. Yokohama remedies both concerns: Sushi is only a small part of the Japanese-Korean menu, and there doesn’t appear to be a door policy of any kind. The sushi is good-not-great, and during lunch it’s cheap: Daily until 4:30, Yokohama offers a buck-a-piece deal that includes anything you see at the sushi bar except for a few choice items like eel and yellowtail. You won’t find any similar bargains on the Korean half of the menu, although the extravagance can be worth it. The broiled beef short ribs are some of the best I’ve ever had.
Yokohama, 11300-B Georgia Ave., Wheaton, (301) 949-7403.Brett Anderson
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