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The bhel puri appetizer at Saveur India

We’ve all been there: You’re trying out a new restaurant — an act of willfulness in itself given the human condition tends to seek safety and comfort — and once inside the door, all you want to do is order something familiar. I was so in that mood when I walked into Saveur India in Bethesda.

Feeling blue and faced with a gorgeous Sunday afternoon staring at my computer, I wanted nothing more than a hot serving of butter chicken, the richer the better, with a fragrant round of basmati rice on the side. Some people want chicken soup when they’re feeling down. I prefer the spicy unctuousness of butter chicken to satisfy my twin cravings for comforting fat and stimulating heat.

But once I spotted chef-owner Anil Kumar‘s house specialty, a chicken dish smothered in an almond and cashew-heavy curry, I was suddenly faced with the Critic’s Dilemma: Do I cater to my own self-centered needs or do I suck it up and try something new for the sake of the job? I cursed my fate and opted for the latter.

The house specialty is also known as dum ka murgh, and when it arrived at the table in a wide-mouthed copper pot, it pretty much looked like diner-quality smothered chicken, as brown and exotic as…well, diner-quality smothered chicken. My first bite of the dum ka revealed something else altogether: Despite its lackluster appearance, Kumar’s gravy moved across my tongue in lolling midnight waves, leaving behind one flavor after another as the curry receded. I tasted creaminess, then nuttiness, then mint, and then finally this pinch of pepper heat. I was slapped awake by the complexity of this seemingly mild sauce.

Everything else at our table paled by comparison to the dum ka murgh, even my dining companion’s butter chicken (hey, you didn’t take me for a complete fool, did you?), which was appropriately rich but short on spice and depth. The crunchy bhel puri appetizer (pictured above) would have benefited from a meaner, spicier tamarind chutney to balance out its sweet and tangy flavors, while the crispy calamari pakora was as limp as day-old french fries but still surprisingly flavorful.

After sampling all the dishes around our table, I happily raced back to my dum ka murgh. I was reminded, once again, that the thrill of discovery can be far more invigorating than the comfort of the familiar.

Saveur India, 6831 Wisconsin Ave. NW, (301) 951-0062

My new best friend: the dum ka murgh at Saveur India

The soggy crispy calamari pakora