Saravana Palace, Fairfax
Saturday night four friends and I had a great meal at Saravana Palace in Fairfax. We arrived late, almost at closing, so some disappointments may reflect the retiring kitchen rather than the restaurant during prime hours.
With the exception of the vegetable cutlet, the assorted combo appetizer was a medley of fried disappointment: samosa was boring, mysore bonda was tough, etc. Mini idlis sambar were about as tender as room-temperature grits (where can I get meltingly-soft idlis around DC?). These comments actually may overstate our appetizer quality, as I happened to be close to starving before we sat down. Mango lassis were pleasant and tangy.
On the other hand, most of our entrees were top-notch. Was pretty impressed by avial, which I'd never had before, a coconut curry of okra, carrots, and other vegetables I couldn't identify. Special spring dosa was a bit bland, stuffed with potato and too much cabbage. I look forward to trying another dosa, possibly empty, next time.
One couldn't help taste the tremendous amount of ghee in the channa palak, and I could't stop eating it over poori. The aloo paratha, and the poori, were dry and old-tasting but solid vehicles for spinach simmered in fat. Everyone else seemed underwhelmed by the tadka dal, but I thought these nutty lentils contrasted well with the more explosive flavors on the table.
Highlight of the meal was Gutti Vankaya: deep-fried, whole baby eggplant simmered in a pungent, startlingly-red curry. The mix of bright mustard flavors and smoky fried eggplant blew me away. I want a double order of this for my birthday.
There are undoubtedly more gems on the menu. What do you folks recommend?