Masala Art, Tenleytown

I wish to recommend Masala Art’s $9.50 Indian Lunch Buffet.

I’m generally not a fan of lunch buffets, Indian food sometimes being an exception due to its long-cooked nature, but even Indian buffets often contain cheap, poorly made dishes; not at Masala Art, however.

For $9.50, you get about ten items to choose from, all of which are well-cooked, don’t skimp on relatively expensive ingredients, and it comes with a made-to-order basket of nan which is well-worth the 5-10 minute wait.

Yesterday, two items stood out as being downright generous: 

Meen Kokam is a south Indian (Keralan) curry made with fish, coconut milk, tamarind, and kokam (a round, semi-sweet fruit in the mangosteen family). I can’t say I loved this mild curry because it was made with large chunks of swordfish that tasted like they’d been frozen (I’m just not a fan of frozen swordfish). And yet, there was such an abundance of fish that the dish was certainly generous to have on a lunch buffet.

Rara Gosht was the star of the entire buffet, a steam tray filled up with succulent, well-seasoned chopped lamb that tasted like … lamb, really *good* lamb. In this dish, you’d find the occasional quartered kokam as well (or at least I think it was kokam). For my second helping, I got about 2-3 small spoonfuls of just this on rice, poured some raita on top, added some yellow lentil curry for variation, and polished it off with a 1/4-piece of nan. This was great lamb meat, having that strong, gamey taste that I *love* in lamb, and was worth the $9.50 price of the buffet all by itself.

Diet Coke was ($2.00, refills cheerfully offered) and I couldn’t have cared less. I felt like I was stealing from Masala Art, especially when I went back for a third round, and got a small dish of well-prepared, simple-cut, fresh fruit – cantaloupe, honeydew, apple, and good-quality mango – all dressed in what might have been the sparest quantity of simple syrup.

$9.50 for this? There should have been lines out the door. I left a $4 tip and still felt guilty for underpaying.

If this isn’t the best sub-$10 lunch buffet in Washington, DC, I’d like to know what is. You rarely see such a generous (and tasty!) lamb dish at a lunch buffet, certainly not one at this price. Masala Art isn’t making much money from this at all; it’s merely a chance to give their waitstaff some extra hours. I do hope diners will consider leaving 20% tips for this particular buffet; mine was closer to 35% and I didn’t bat an eye. These people are working hard, and not making very much money during this time of day.

Very, very well done, Atul and Surinder. Due to a recent change in schedule, you may be seeing me here more often.

Readers, please note also that Masala Art is firmly entrenched in Italic, and is absolutely one of the very best Indian restaurants in the DC area. Both Atul Bhola (the GM) and Surinder Kumar (the Chef) came from the magnificent Heritage India in Glover Park. This restaurant deserves your full support if you enjoy Indian cuisine.

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