Daru will open its doors in the former Star Grocery building at 1451 Maryland Ave. NE on Tuesday at 5 p.m. It’s been 31 months since Dante Datta and Suresh Sundas revealed their plans for an cocktail bar with an Indian twist. The pandemic delayed them, but the first time business owners didn’t give up.
While the initial idea was to serve cocktails and snacks, they ultimately directed their attention to food. “As the pandemic went on, we shifted to more of a restaurant than a bar focus,” Datta says. “Everything Suresh was making was was awesome. We wanted to add entrees instead of a bar with a couple bites.”
You’ll find everything on the menu from a traditional chicken tikka masala to original dishes like jackfruit phulka tacos. (Find it in full at the end of this story.) Instead of tortillas, the vegetarian tacos utilize a North Indian flatbread flavored with oregano, thyme, and mint. Datta says not to skip the Nawabi duck kebab that was a hit at pop-ups, the sea bass steamed in a banana leaf, and the Lasooni lamb chops.
To make the lamb chops, Sundas marinates them in Greek yogurt, cashew paste, black garlic paste, ginger paste, and green chilies. Then he chars them in a tandoor before serving them with a chimichurri-like sauce and crushed pink peppercorns.
All of the breads are made in-house. The za’atar olive naan is inspired by the time Sundas spent cooking at Maydan, the Middle Eastern restaurant off 14th Street NW, while Daru was a work in progress.
Datta says they’re labeling Daru’s cuisine “Indian-ish,” referencing the title of Priya Krishna‘s popular cookbook. “We love that term,” he says. “Part of the fun of having Daru as more of a restaurant is we’re able to deepen our understanding of South Asian and Indian cuisine. Keeping a little bit of both [traditional and original] dishes on there tells a cool story.”
Pair a meal with wine, a 22 oz. Taj Mahal beer, or a cocktail from bar manager Tom Martinez. Datta and Martinez worked together at Columbia Room. Try the hari daiquiri, which references the mint chutney commonly served on the side at Indian restaurants. Bartenders clarify tart and creamy kefir and turn it into a syrup blended with mint and cilantro. Their take on an Old Fashioned uses Scotch, cashews, saffron, and ginger.
The partners met in 2012 when they were on the opening team of Rasika West End. Datta was making drinks and Sundas was working his way up from line cook to “tandoor master.” They began dreaming up Daru around 2017. Datta is a first-generation American whose parents came to the U.S. from West Bengal in 1980 while Sundas is Nepali and moved here in 2007.
Daru has 40 seats inside and 16 seats on a patio. They hope to add more patio seating in the future. The hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays from 5 to 10 p.m. Eventually, Daru will serve brunch. To start, the restaurant will only take walk-ins. Reservations coming soon.
Daru, 1451 Maryland Ave. NE, instagram.com/daru.dc