Report - Chicken & Rice (H St. NE & 8th)
(Continuing my quest--with a little help from my friends--to visit every new restaurant in DC...)
For me, the Holy Grail of new restaurants is a hole-in-the-wall that opens in an obscure corner of D.C. with no fanfare but amazing, affordable food. Granted, the hype that accompanies most restaurant openings these days makes this dream less likely, but a few places still slip under the radar; no "soft opening," just Open For Business.
Chicken & Rice opened quietly a few weeks ago in an unfashionable strip mall on H Street NE. I tried a few dishes recently and thought they were just OK. The spinach dish (Saag Chicken) and chickpea dish (Chole Aloo) both tasted mostly like salt (or maybe MSG?) with none of the subtlety of the best Indian food. They will make dishes spicy on request, but again, the heat isn't subtle, it's just cayenne or chili powder with no balance to the rest of the flavors.
As for ambiance, there isn't any. Chicken & Rice has tables and chairs, but it was a thousand degrees inside, and I opted to eat on a streetside bench instead of dining in. That's no slam on Chicken & Rice -- D.C. needs carryout and delivery spots as much as beautiful dining rooms. If the food is good enough, I'm happy to eat it under the stars. But C & R isn't in that category (yet), and I probably won't make an effort to come back here anytime soon. I will keep their delivery menu though, and will update this post if I find any notable dishes.
In the meantime, the search for the Grail continues...
We ate take out from here tonight, and I'd have to disagree with you. We started with the vegetarian samosas, which were freshly fried, filled with a chunky, well-spiced potato and pea filling, and excellent. My only quibble is that they didn't include any chutneys with our meal (luckily we keep several on hand for such chutney emergencies). For entrees we had the chicken tikka masala (recommended by the guy at the counter), and saag paneer. Both were made fresh to order while I stood and watched. The saag was several steps above the norm both in that it was freshly made (not that creamy baby food texture), and had layers of spice. The tikka masala was good as well, though next time I think we'll opt for something on the spicier side. We got raita and chapati on the side, both of which were great.
We'll be ordering from here regularly when we want Indian in the neighborhood, as our meal tonight was better than any we've had at any of the other joints on the Hill. As Patrick said, there's no decor or ambience to speak of, though there are tables if you'd rather eat in. My guess is that you'd be doing so with the same plastic utensils you get with the take out.
Glad you've had good luck here - I'll try it again and change my review if the food seems better. I visited soon after Chicken & Rice opened, and of course restaurants often improve with time. I'd love to have a solid Indian delivery option in the neighborhood.