Y&H had been trading phone calls with the mysterious Atul, owner of the previously mentioned Masala Art in Tenleytown, before we finally connected this afternoon. Atul, it turns out, is Atul Bhola, a man with just a little bit of experience in Indian cuisine. He was manager at Heritage India for ten years.
“It was always my dream to open a place of my own,” says Bhola, who has also served as a Hyatt banquette manager back in India.
Bhola says he would have already opened the 45-seat Masala Art if it hadn’t been for his first choice for chef. “I selected a person, and he never came through for me,” Bhola tells Y&H.
So the owner has been searching for a replacement. It hasn’t been easy since Bhola plans to offer dishes that few, if any, Indian restaurants prepare in the area. Specifically, he says, Masala Art will have a section on the menu devoted to the tawa, or griddle. I pointed out to him that Rasika, the new four-star performer in the city, also does tawa dishes and named a few for him, like the onion uttapam and the crispy tawa fish and the ragda patties.
Bhola indicated those are more Southern Indian. His tawa dishes, he promises, would offer “something new.” Like the cake-shaped lamb kebab cooked on the tawa or the peas-and-ginger patties griddled on both sides and served with a bread cooked specifically on the tawa. He even mentioned a dished called shrimp tak-a-tak, in which whole vegetables are placed on a tawa and chopped up with a spatula, which creates the onomatopoeia tak-a-tak sound.
Bhola says he’s currently negotiating with a chef who can handle these dishes, as well as the staples you can find at most Indian restaurants. He hopes to make a chef announcement in the next two to three days. If so, Bhola plans to open Masala next week, either Wednesday or Thursday.
The restaurant is ready to go, he says. He just repainted the old Kuma space, changed out the artwork, replaced the tables, and added a sofa or two. He even has a stipulated liquor license in hand until the public hearing on his permanent Class C license on Nov. 16.
“I have been ready for a month,” he says, chomping at the bit to start his dream.