Diya, Tysons Corner, VA

If someone were to ask, “What’s the biggest Indian restaurant in the DC area?” then “Bombay Club” would be a pretty good guess, but that’s only if they haven’t been to Diya.

Diya sits on the Vienna side of Tysons Corner, on Chain Bridge Road in the old Hunan Lion space (which is easily remembered by being “that building with the giant cement circle out front” – affectionately known as The Toilet Bowl Building (Google it if you don’t believe me)).

And it is huge, with the capacity to handle 400 guests. Not only is it huge, it has become incredibly popular with the Indian-American happy-hour crowd – on this Friday afternoon, there were 50-100 people gathered in the bar area, and overflowing into the front patio.

It was a gorgeous afternoon, and I couldn’t see sitting in an empty, air-conditioned restaurant, so my young dining companion and I took a seat at an empty, roped-off seating area inside the patio, located outside the front door in the building’s courtyard.

Service was initially friendly and attentive (this was just before the bar area became overrun), and we started with a Mango Lassi ($3.00) and a Godfather ($9.00 for a 22-ounce can). If you’re not familiar with Godfather, it’s an Indian export, with a deceptively high ABV and a good, malty backbone. The lassi sorely lacked yogurt (mango pulp can only you take you so far, unless it’s really, really good mango pulp, and this wasn’t). We were brought out some Papadam, and a presentation of three chutneys which were all much better than the norm (the tamarind, for example, was thinner, less sweet, and less plum-sauce like than many versions you’ll find).

When the appetizers arrived, I was hopeful that I’d found a sleeper of a restaurant because they were also both very good. Aloo Dilnazar ($8.00) is one of only a few items on the menu that’s noted as a “House Specialty,” and you should order it. This is a stuffed potato, the potato itself halved, then hollowed a bit to make room for cheese, spinach, and house spices, the whole thing grilled in the tandoor. Mint Paneer Pakora ($7.00) is called a “cottage cheese sandwich,” with a layer of mint, battered in chickpea flour and spices, then deep-fried. You get seven pieces of this, and it’s wonderful.

Unfortunately, this is the point at which the meal pretty much fell off a cliff. The bar area became crowded, with the staff getting busy elsewhere, and the entree portion of the meal just didn’t live up to the restaurant’s initial promise.

Tandoori Machali ($18.00) was served in a hot, iron dish (promising!), but the salmon itself was so viciously salty that both of us struggled to eat it. If it was only the salmon (or, really, the dry rub of the salmon) that was salty, then that could have been neutralized by the basmati rice and naan (and raita which we should have ordered); but my Murchi Wala Gosh ($16.00) was saltier still, and unlike the dry salmon, its goat meat was simmered in a thick curry sauce from which there was no escape. The freshly cooked naan was so nastily glistening that I commented how the cook must have used a fire hose instead of a brush.

After a point, I realized I’d have to become pro-active to get the check, so I went inside and poked (not literally poked) the manager. A dinner that started off with a bang ended with a fizzle, and I just can’t see rolling the dice on a second meal here anytime soon. That having been said, if I were from India and missing my homeland, I might strongly consider coming here for Friday happy hour – it’s quite a bustling scene.

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