Report: Lunch at Akshaya in Sterling
This restaurant is owned by people from Andhra Pradesh, and their two main chefs are from Andhra and Tamil Nadu. They have a diverse menu including a few typical Indian-American Mughlai/Punjabi staples, Indian style Chinese offerings, and an expansive selection of South Indian dishes, from curries to dosas to kothu parotta.
We decided to focus on South Indian specialties and a few Indian-Chinese dishes for our lunch.
For appetizers, we got chicken 65 (sort of like a chicken pakora tossed in seasonings, mirchi bhaji (long green chile pakoras), and calamari porichathu (squid ring pakoras). If these items had been bad, it would be like some batter dipped Indian Long John Silver's basket from hell. But all of these items were excellent, and each one tasted distinct despite all being batter fried. I would recommend any one of these again.
From the Indian-Chinese menu, we got Mumbai Chili in the paneer option (other choice was chicken), which is the classic dish, Chili paneer. This dish was perfectly seasoned, very flavorful, and the paneer was very tender. It was very enjoyable.
We also ordered lamb fried rice. The lamb was tender, and it was basmati rice instead of any of the types of rice one might find in a Chinese restaurant, but aside from that, despite being well made, nothing about this rice stood out to me as being different than a typical American Chinese style fried rice. I was very pleased with the tender lamb, though, as lamb in restaurants can sometimes be too gamey of tough.
In addition, we selected two South Indian curries: Chettinaad chicken, and gongura chicken.
The chettinaad chicken had a deliciously spicy gravy.
The gongura chicken impressed me the least, perhaps since it wasn't so brightly seasoned, and the sourness of the gongura greens wasn't appealing to me. Gongura is a leaf vegetable known as Indian sorrel, and is characteristic of Andhra cuisine.
Lastly, we ordered a plate of egg kottu parotha, which is a classic South Indian street food of chopped up white flour griddle fried flat bread which is cooked with vegetables and the protein of your choice (Akshaya offers veg, chicken, egg, and shrimp kottu parotha.) This was really great, and even though everyone was stuffed as could be, we were all still helping ourselves to a little bit more.
This is a really great restaurant to try some unique regional South Indian food and well made Indian style Chinese food. (The Indian Chinese here beats Masala Wok by a long shot.)
I actually made a take away order of mirchi ka saalan (long green chiles cooked in peanut-coconut-sesame-tamarind sauce) and Hyderbadi biryani, two other classic Andhra specialties from the city of Hyderabad. Both were excellent, and I would highly recommend these, too.
I would recommend this restaurant and definitely will be back there again. There are quite a few other interesting looking things on the menu that I would like to try, like some specifically South Indian style biryanis, and more of the South Indian curries. (They seem to have a good mix of Andhra and Tamilian classic dishes.)
They also offer dosa, idli, uttappam, and vadas, so I will keep them in mind for those items, too.
They have a lunch buffet but also allow you to order off of the menu at lunch time, just FYI. Diners are spoiled for choice here, and although we didn't try any of the Mughlai type items, every other genre we hit proved to be quite good.
Thanks for the report, luckyfatima. I was stuck in a lunch meeting yesterday, and had to miss it.
Great write up! We asked for spicy and got it.
The starters were all so beautifully prepared and excellent. I especially like the way the mirchi bhaji (long pepper pakora) was done. The exterior batter was more like a layered shell, with several levels of crunch. The lamb fried rice is maybe ok as part of a group of dishes, more a curiousity than anything I'd order as an individual or couple.
I can't help but think how this place compares to Karaikudi in Chantilly, especially since two of the dishes (chettinad chicken and kottu parotha) are direct comparisons. What do you think?
I think both compare similarly if not equally. One thing different is that at Karaikudi they give you yoghurt sauce and serwa (gravy) with your kottu parotta, but at Akshaya they only gave us yoghurt sauce. But both places make delicious kottu.
You had said you thought Karaikudi's Chettinaad Chicken was better. It may be the case, but I thought Akshaya's was quite good.
Both restaurants are near to me so if I were to pick one over the other it would just be because I had errands to run closer to one and not the other. But for people coming from MD or DC, I'd say that both a excellent places, but check out Akshaya if you are seeking to experience well made Indian Chinese food. Also, Karaikudi focuses specifically on Chettinaad style food of Tamil Nadu, while Akshaya has more of a general Tamil-Andhra thing going on.
Enthusiasts should try to explore both places.
I'd just like to add that the appetizers were really large portions, enough for a reasonable lunch. Cheap, too, and I think the most expensive entree we had was $13, and the entrees were large portions, as well. Good thing we had five serious eaters in the group. ;)
Following your lead, we got the hyderabadi biryani, which was perfect, and also the mirchi ka salaan with a nice, rich gravy. The biryani and the chicken 65 are about as good a one-two punch there is. The smokiness of the latter was impressive and completely satisfying.