Arlington -- Minerva Express Opening!
I stopped by A-1 Indian grocery today and found it renovated, with an attached restaurant "next door" -- Minerva Express. (Location is across from McDonald's near Glebe and Lee Hwy, N. Arlington).
They are opening tomorrow, January 20, 2010. I guess it was a trial run, but today they offered me some basmati rice to try -- and told me to stop back by in a couple of hours to sample some vegetarian biryani and eggplant curry. The rice was nice and flavorful (found a clove and green cardamom pod), and they use soybean oil, which gave it a nice flavor and texture (although he knew it needed to be cooked a wee bit more -- but I had heard him urging the cook to get me something to try...so I suspect it was still finishing up).
They have tables and chairs for 16 diners.
They plan to have all kinds of kabobs, biryanis, and curries. They wil not really be doing "sweets" right away, the man said.
They were friendly. I wish them well, and if their food is good, they'll thrive. The only issue is parking, which is a bit of a pain, especially getting into their lot if you're traveling east on Lee Hwy.
There was an Indian restaurant in that space several years ago. It didn't last too long but it was quite good; IIRC, the owner said they were closing because they had a dispute with the landlord. Parking is difficult there, and if you park in the spaces designated for Subway, you'll get towed.
Minerva Express is starting to get their feet under them and they are preparing pretty good meals. I tried the navratan kurma, which is basically a slow cooked veggie curried stew with rice and they threw in some naan that was fresh and hot. The stew was pretty rich, with a subtle bit of heat to it. I bought some achar and parathas at the grocery store, so it was more like three meals rather than one for the price. I didn't see the kabobs, but they are just moving in. I am looking forward to trying the lamb or goat next week. They also had a tray of chapattis and fried goods by the cash register that looked pretty good. Parking is fairly tight, but if you go before 4 you may be able to use the parking lot on the Dominos Pizza side. Definitely ask when you get there if you are good to go though.
Went last night & food was GREAT! A couple of items:
Parking - you CAN park on Subway side - its a shared lot (don't know about Domino's side) I have parked before on the side street just past the shops.
Food & Service - It was slow, but worth the wait. The Palak Paneer was made w. fresh chopped spinach. Channa Masala, Rice & Naan were likewise delicious. Will definately be going there a lot if they keep up the quality. Worried that they need to work on the delivery and atmosphere to make a go of it. Don't expect a bright shining new place - it reminds me of a place I used to go to when I worked in Delhi for a month...
Market - I have frequented the market for years and am usually the only caucasian. The spices have usually seemed good. One word - if you get a mix, grain, or bean, put it in a glass jar or ziplock. We think we've gotten tiny bugs in something from there once.
I live down the street from this market and its new cafe, "Minerva Express," and I absolutely love it! The samosas used to be sold in the market on Saturdays, and now they're part of a broader menu. We had the palak paneer and lamb curry today, and they were superb. The biryani was ethereal! The naan was good, too. Do be patient, as this fledgling cafe is still finding its way, but the folks who run this place truly aim to please. They are super nice and friendly, and I can't wonder why anyone would go into the neighboring Subway or Dominoes when Minerva is so delightful and inexpensive.
Just got back from lunch here. We liked it. One of the best Indian places we have found in the area. They are very nice and the prices are great. We had one of each fried thing in the case, a corn fritter, a samosa and an onion doughnut. All were good, but made better with a nice spicy chili sauce they serve with it, a good creeper heat on it.
For entrees we had the lamb vindaloo and the dhal. The dhal was good, he added some fresh chili peppers to spice it up a bit. It could have used a little more seasoning, but a very nice dish overall. The lamb vindaloo was nice. We asked them to make it very spicy. This was not spicy to us, but I think we are unusual here. The sauce was nice and sour and the lamb was very tender and tasty.
We are looking forward to trying the off-menu goat special fry the owner was talking to us about. Tomorrow sounds good...
Just finnished a delish dinner from Minerva Express. Of note, they have masala chai.... excellent! We had the channa masala, biryani and butter chicken. The raita is HOT HOT HOT, so yummy. The biryani was also very hot and complex.
Dinner for three was $27, excellent value. So happy this place is in the neighborhood!
Also, you can park in the Domino's lot, there are several spots reserved for the A-1 store.
Same thing happened to me...I regularly shop (about every month) at A-1 grocery. I particularly like that they have a number of great south indian items (such as the homemade idli mix). Today I walked in - and was stunned to find the attached restaurant.
I ordered on of my fave S. Indian dishes - the Masala Dosa was great. 2 dosas with tomato chutney, coconut chutney, and a amazing sambar. The sambar was not your typical mushy gravy-ish soup you sometimes get at restaurants that don't know how to cook sambar.- but it had distinct sambar flavors - and big plump pieces of eggplant. All for $4 - dreams can come true!
As a caucasian American who has lived in Mysore/Bangalore/Delhi, etc and been there 3 times, I am highly critical of good Indian food. I find it sad that DC has such limited options for really good Indian food. I have had S. Indian food at Amma's - but that cant compare to the taste, price, and quickness of this new GEM!
Bravo A-1 grocery!
4815 Lee Hwy # A
Arlington, VA 22207
Went here today around 3:30 expecting it to be empty but it was really hopping. The owner confirmed that it is a branch of the Fairfax Minerva (which has several branches, I believe). I had read such things but wasn't sure.
The vibe is awesome. It feels like you are in a dingy Indian roadside cafe or something (though I've never been to India).
I got the channa masala, hyderabadi chicken biryani, chicken 65, and masala vada. This order costs less than 30 bucks and could easily feed 3-4 people. The chicken biryani alone--priced at like 8 bucks--could feed two hungry people. This place is CHEAP.
The food was ok across the board. I have a pretty high tolerance for heat but I felt alot of stuff was bordering on too spicy. I like spicy food with nuanced flavors and some balance. This was kind of a one-note spicy as hell thing. Yes, I know its South Indian. It was also oily and heavy. I'll happily eat an oily dish if the flavor is so good that I can justify clogging my arteries, but that wasn't the case with anything.
The biryani was probably the best thing. The chicken 65 was also pretty good but really weird. It tasted like Indian-style boneless buffalo wings with curry leaves and mustard seeds. Wacky.
All in all, I will be back because its so dirt cheap and so close to my house. And the "authenticity" level seems high. I can't say that I'd order anything I got again though.
Here's an up date on this five-month old restaurant: Delicious! Friendly! Cheap! Parking nightmarish!
Our group ordered masala dosa, goat curry, spinach with cheese, and chicken fry. Of the five tables in the restaurant, diners at every single one ordered the dosa. Just a technicality: although the menu read "masala dosa", in fact, the crepe was filled with cauliflower rather than potatoes. No problem. The flavor was great and the sambar was amazing. In fact the sambar totally compensated for the lone drawback which was the fact that the accompanying chutneys were nothing better than all right. (I vastly prefer the versions at Bombay Tandoor in Tysons. Obviously, for the huge difference in price between these two restaurants, I'm willing to cope with less-than-stellar chutneys.)
The goat curry was the single best Indian dish we've ever eaten. Complex spices, tender meat. All-around deliciousness.
The palak paneer was good. If memory serves, I enjoyed Minerva's version more than the version at Saran, the vegetarian restaurant down the street. However, I'm still looking for the palak paneer of my dreams. I know it exists because I ate it at a friend's home -- cooked by her visiting mother. Unfortunately, I've never seen its equal in a restaurant. On my palak paneer scale this was a 7 out of 10.
No one in our group could recall seeing a dish by the name of "chicken fry" on an Indian menu before, so we ordered that. Considering what arrived, the dish is peculiarly named since the results don't suggest the ingredients have seen the inside of a fryer. Still, we'd order this dish again: large chunks of chicken were simmered with sauteed onions and spices. The result was tender, moist, and tasty. (I did an internet search this morning and the recipe is called "Chicken Fry" on at least two sites. I didn't locate an Indian name for the dish.)
Each diner got a portion of excellent rice and nan. There was plenty of sauce from the goat curry and plenty of extra onion from the chicken dish to add to the rice, but it was also unnecessary for purists. The rice held its own unadorned.
We would have preferred to drink beer with our meal, but this place doesn't offer beer. I guess we'll have to eat at one of the real Minerva restaurants to duplicate this meal with beer.
There was a white board that listed specials. I believe shrimp biryani was one of the specials, but I don't recall the others.
re: Indy 67
I tried the goat curry today, very tasty, rich, the goat was done just right. The naan was meltingly, fresh out of the oven-like, delicious, and I must have looked hungry so they threw in a coconut rice desert that was very good, and I usually don't like sweets. One small quibble, it could use just a touch of heat, so next time I may ask them to add a bit of chilis or something.