Lunch at Masala Art: Delicious Indian Cuisine at a Mouthwatering Price

The latest installment of Tenleytown, D.C.’s amateur restaurant reviews takes us to local favorite Masala Art Indian Restaurant.

Masala Art entrance2

Walking into Masala Art for lunch the other week, I felt like I was entering a stylish friend’s home. The manager cheerfully greeted me as soon as I stepped into the light restaurant, comforting with its soft greens, browns, and natural tones. Indian-themed art on the walls was appropriately tasteful rather than kitschy. Pleasant Indian music gave energy to the room, while remaining at a level soft enough to be conducive to conversation.

The manager described the dishes featured in that afternoon’s lunch buffet, kindly pointing out which had an extra spicy kick in case I were someone who was sensitive to spice. Fortunately, I love some heat in my food, so I was able to dive into the ample selection of dishes.

Masala Art's soothing, stylist interior

Masala Art’s soothing, stylish interior

I am by no means an expert on Indian food, an appellation that requires knowledge of the broad diversity of flavors across the Indian subcontinent. Rather I am someone who simply enjoys Indian cuisine. It can sometimes have a bad reputation for overly soft textures or flavors that are either too bland or too spicy. You’ll find neither at Masala Art. There is heat to many of the dishes, but it adds to rather than detracts from the flavor, and the vegetables and meats have wonderful texture. They prepare some of the tastiest Indian food I’ve eaten, and I’ve had the pleasure of traveling to India where I’ve enjoyed home cooked meals.

The lunch buffet, which includes an assortment of dishes featured on Masala Art’s regular menu, has something for every diner – spicy and mild, vegetarian and meat, savory and sweet.

A small salad bar starts off the meal with a selection of fresh vegetables and sauces. The mint yogurt is light, refreshing and a perfect counter to the spicy dishes among the main courses. I didn’t include it on my plate in the first visit to the buffet and wished I had.

The only – pardon the pun – sour note of the meal was the assorted pickle dish featured in the salad bar. The very strong flavors, featuring a blend of spices that my waiter said were the restaurant’s secret mixture, overwhelmed my palate and the sourness of the pickled vegetables made my mouth pucker. I gamely tried a couple bites, but this staple of Indian cuisine was just not for me. That being said, everything else was absolutely delicious.

The lunch buffet features a selection of dishes from Masala Art's larger menu.

The buffet features selections from the larger menu.

The main courses on the day I dined at Masala Art – they change regularly – included: Pulao, basmati rice with spices; Murg Makhani, tender pieces of chicken in a tomato cream sauce that brought out the natural sweetness of the tomato; Rara Gosht, a richly flavored, spicy dish of stewed lamb; Aloo Mattar, a spicy potato and green pea curry with tender, firm peas; Channa Masala, lentils with a nice bite to them; and Vegetable Jalfrezi, a mixture of green beans, zucchini, and yellow squash that was perfectly good, but not a stand out among the other excellent dishes.

More than half the dishes on the buffet had a kick to them, so the ample warm flat bread and yogurt sauce were essential. Otherwise the spice builds with little reprieve, but the yogurt sauce acts almost as a palate cleanser allowing the tongue to recover and become ready for another enjoyable bite.

Capping off the meal were two dessert options: Suji Halwa, made with semolina, sugar and clarified butter, and a fresh fruit salad. A little bit of the suji halwa goes a long way. It is sweet, but not overly so; however, it is definitely a rich, comforting dessert. The fresh fruit is a welcome balance to its heaviness.

Normally, at this point in one of my amateur reviews I would include photographs of the food, but I have to admit at Masala Art nothing stayed on my plate long enough for a picture. The dishes were just too tasty to stop for a photo.

Masala Art’s lunch buffet offers a wonderful tour of the restaurant’s menu of high quality food that is clearly prepared with great care. Diners can order a dish off the regular menu for lunch, but limiting yourself to just one dish seems a crime given the variety of the buffet. A little sampling of each dish provides a substantial and delicious meal. And to top it off, at just $10 for all you can eat, the lunch buffet is a great value. With a welcoming, serene dining room, Masala Art is a great place for a business lunch, a meal and conversation with friends, or a solitary indulgence in good Indian food. Just don’t forget to come back for dinner.

Masala Art is located at 4441 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, just steps from the Tenleytown Metro Station, and offers lunch from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. and dinner from 5:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. daily.

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We know lots of Tenleytown residents love Masala Art, too. Share your experiences in the comments section!

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