- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Indique opened a year ago on Connecticut Avenue NW, at the Cleveland Park Metro station, in the heart of the restaurant row that has grown around the anchor of the Uptown Theatre. The heat and spice of Indique’s dishes will melt all the ice and snow the weather can throw at the avenue.

The first impression of Indique’s decor imparts the impression that you’re walking into one of those spacious mansions representative of colonial India. A few tables are scattered about the entrance room, which has been turned into an atrium. The center of the second floor has been eliminated, making way for a balcony. A glass chandelier drops between the floors.

The walls are light, accented by two deep-red side panels. It’s all quite simple, yet very elegant and open — and very Indian. There’s a pleasant, small bar with a few tables in the room (actually part of the town house next door) that adjoins the dining room.

The cooking at Indique, a branch of the Bombay Bistros of Bethesda, can vary from ordinary to outstanding, and, in the case of breads one recent evening, alas, to cold. The appetizers are almost all outstanding. At Indique, they are called “first tastes,” or small plates. Portions are indeed small, so if you want more than just a taste they’re not for sharing.

These small plates, however, make a tasty snack, with a glass of wine or beer, before or after a visit to the movies at the Uptown in the next block. From Sundays to Thursdays, Indique offers a pre-theater menu for $18 with a choice of appetizers, an entree and a dessert.

However you sample the small plates, expect pleasant surprises. Samosas and dosas at Indique are unlike those served in most Indian restaurants. The puffy samosa is stuffed with vegetables, primarily potatoes, and served with chickpeas. The spices are sophisticated and subtle and the pastry is crisp and a bit less doughy that the usual version. The dosa is a crepe with a filling of mild chicken. Accompanied by chutneys and yogurt, it’s a delicious way to get started.

Tandoori quail, still on the bone, is marinated in yogurt, ginger and garlic. Mine was somewhat over-salted and somewhat difficult with the tiny bones, but flavorful.

Crab tikki is Indique’s little crabcake, delicate and excellent. Calamari, mixed with shallots, ginger, various spices and tomatoes in a slightly thick combination and served at room temperature, is a fine variation on the Mediterranean versions.

Chicken shashlik is pleasant enough. The brochettes consist of pieces of chicken, onion, tomato and green pepper. The mini oothapam, a delicious savory pancake made of ground lentils and rice, is good, too, served either with chicken or with vegetables, and, like the dosa, with an assortment of chutneys.

The main courses can be inconsistent. A specialty of the house, chicken Chettinad, is a highly spiced chicken curry. It’s not quite as hot as the menu suggests, but the peppercorns do add heat. The sauce is dark, rich and full of slowly cooked flavor.

Lamb rogan josh is an equally rich and filling curry, cooked with spices and tomatoes. In the biriyani, the lamb is mixed together with the rice and spices. Indique’s version, somewhat resembling a flowerpot turned upside down, is both well prepared and attractively served.

Jumbo shrimp from the tandoori oven, on the other hand, came to the table tough and overcooked, tasting of iodine. In addition, the three enormous shrimp — prawns actually — were served at barely room temperature. At $19, Indique’s most expensive main course, it was a real disappointment.

Curries are prepared from a multitude of ingredients such as shrimp, fish, lamb and chicken. Indique does not serve beef, but there is a dish of marinated veal scallops, served with a pepper sauce and orange salsa.

The chicken curry Indique is excellent. Flavored with a touch of coconut milk, it is both spicy and creamy, one of the best we’ve found. Similarly, saffron malai chicken is a lovely, mild chicken concoction of chunks of breast of chicken marinated in yogurt, cream cheese and saffron. The cheese is hard to detect, but the result is creamy and delicious.

Most main courses are accompanied by wonderful rice, cooked so that each kernel is an entity unto itself. The dal — the traditional lentil dish served at all Indian meals — is unusually good. Each table is graced with a trio of chutneys to add to dishes.

Indique prepares eight vegetarian main courses, ranging from traditional aloo gobhi, cauliflower and potatoes cooked with ginger and cumin, to roasted eggplant with onions and tomatoes. As with curries, the vegetable dishes come with basmati rice and dal.

In addition to naan, roti and four other breads (but no lovely puffy puri that is unique to Indian restaurants), Indique makes an unusual spongy rice bread with a soft center. Appam is usually eaten with stews, but can be ordered separately. Appams taste exactly like what they are — bread made of rice.

Naan, which is similar to the flat bread of Iran, is delicious when freshly made and hot. At Indique, it sometimes comes to the table hot, soft and delicious, and sometimes cold and hard. As with the tandoori shrimp, this shouldn’t happen.

Indique serves Kingfisher beer from India and Samuel Smith ale. Its wine list of more than a dozen each of whites and reds represent French, Italian, Spanish, South African and primarily American vineyards, with prices ranging from $24 to $85 per bottle. Service can be slow and not overly attentive, but the staff is willing and cordial. Like the little girl with the curl, when Indique is good, it’s very, very good. Unlike that little girl, it’s never horrid, but sometimes misses the mark.

RESTAURANT: Indique, 3512-14 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202/244-6600

HOURS: Lunch, noon to 3 p.m. daily; dinner, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and until 10:45 p.m. Friday and Saturday

PRICES: Small plates $4 to $7; main courses $10 to $19; breads $2 and $3

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Street parking

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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