"Familiar with the expression, “Third time’s the charm?”
Well, in this case, it would seem that it’s the fifth time that’s the charm.
Basmati opened in January at the Solomons Island Road site that previously had been home to the Calvert House, Domenica’s, Blue Martini and Kava. And the early reports are in: It’s a big success. Easy to understand, for the handsomely redesigned space is suffused with warm light, the décor is appealing and inviting, and the food is super.
Having heard several good things about Basmati, our party of three was looking forward to our first visit. Starting with the friendly greeting we received as we entered, and lasting until we left — happy and well fed — everything about our dining experience was positive.
It’s an established fact that restaurant meals are enhanced by good service (just as they can be adversely affected by poor service), and the service at Basmati was a definite plus. During our dinner, our table received charming and capable attention from three different servers starting with the delightful young man who arrived bringing the complementary basket of papadam (lentil crackers).
Gesturing to the accompanying tray of dipping sauces, he said, “Let me tell you about our sauces. This one is green, this one is brown, and this one is red.” After we finished laughing, he told us about the ingredients of the three sauces (one minty, one sweet-hot mango, and one with tomatoes and onions). Now that’s a good way to start off dinner, both the clever remark and the yummy free nibbles.
Ordinarily we’d drink beer with Indian food (and the 10 brew selections include the excellent Indian beer Kingfisher for $5.25), but we were in the mood for wine and chose a Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc ($30) whose citrus tones harmonized nicely with the flavors in the Indian food. Basmati’s full bar also provides an impressive array of premium spirits including Hendrick’s gin and Johnny Walker Blue Label scotch. Several single malts are available as well.
By the time we had emptied our papadam basket (it was promptly refilled), our appetizer choices had arrived.
Eager to sample as many items as possible, we had ordered Alu Tikki ($6), Meat Samosas ($7) and Paneer Pakora ($9).
The Alu Tikki consisted of patties that had been made from mashed potatoes, and were then dipped in spicy chick pea batter before being fried expertly to a golden brown.
The samosas, always a tempting treat on an Indian menu, involved flaky triangles of pastry stuffed liberally with a mixture of minced lamb and green peas. The spices were spot on, not too hot and not too subtle. The dish presented with a small salad included, a thoughtful addition and one that we enjoyed, though not as much as we enjoyed the yummy samosas.
As much as we liked all of our appetizers, the clear favorite among the three of us was the Paneer Pakora. The menu describes this dish as “homemade cottage cheese cubes dipped in chick pea batter and fried golden brown.” Such a pedestrian description could not have prepared us for something that tasted so good. The menu also mentioned that the dish was served with chutney. Ours came instead with more of the salad, and we didn’t miss the chutney in the least.
All three members of our party had difficulty deciding on a main course because everything sounded so good. Ultimately, we ordered two lamb dishes and one shrimp dish.
The Shrimp Tikka Masala ($19) was an amazing version of this favorite. First, the Tandoori-cooked shrimp were large and succulent, cooked in a manner that prevented their falling victim to the tough and rubbery outcome often encountered with shrimp that are served in sauce.
And speaking of sauce, this one was delectable. Spicy, buttery and very flavorful, it lent itself nicely to being a sauce for the rice as well as a dipping sauce for pieces of Naan ($3). The Basmati menu includes a bread section that includes three kinds of naan as well as varieties of kulcha and paratha. Be sure to try their bread.
From a menu section entitled Lamb Specialties, one diner in our group selected a dish called Keema Mutter ($17). This dish featured well-seasoned ground lamb mixed with green peas, onions, tomatoes, ginger and garlic in a stew-like preparation. Again, the use of herbs and spices was masterful.
At Basmati, the server asks when you order main courses if you want them mild, medium or spicy. (If you have liked the mint sauce served with the papadam, specify medium because that sauce is representative of what the kitchen considers to be a moderate use of spices.) If you fail to “nail it” in terms of spiciness, they are more than happy to bring additional spices to the table in order for you to tweak the heat level to your own taste.
Ten menu items are listed in the section called From the Tandoor (a clay oven that allows foods to remain moist during the cooking process), and the final member of our party chose the Seekh Kabob ($18) from that section. These kabobs were made from seasoned ground lamb that had been cooked on skewers in the tandoor oven. Mouthwatering.
Unfortunately, one is rarely able to rave about restaurant rice, but Basmati gives us that rare opportunity, big time. A large bowl of basmati rice is served family style at the table, and this rice is outstanding. (Probably a good thing, considering that you wouldn’t want to name your restaurant Basmati and then serve inferior rice). This rice was so good that it prompted our commenting that we’d be satisfied eating it unadorned right out of the bowl.
Kudos to this kitchen.
Our exceptional meal concluded with orders of homemade pistachio ice cream and mango ice cream ($5). This is traditional Indian ice cream made with condensed milk and served cut into cubes. It was delicious — unusual and quite refreshing.
The management of Basmati is thrilled with the welcome it has received from the Annapolis community, and they already have expanded their lunchtime buffet as well as changing from being closed on Monday to remaining open seven days a week. Plans are in the offing for adding outdoor seating in the front near the lovely landscaping that has been put in place.
Natives and long-time Annapolitans can remember the “dark days” in our restaurant history. It used to be that one had to go at least to Washington or Baltimore to get a truly outstanding meal, and now? We can get great Indian food on both sides of town. Yay, us."
-Capital Gazette Newspaper