- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The White Tiger on Capitol Hill promises on its menu to offer “A taste of India,” implying that it will serve those scrumptious, exotic and complex flavors and textures we associate with the giant nation ofthe Asian subcontinent.

It also says the white tiger is a symbol for a “passion for perfection.” We wish. The promise and symbolism fall terribly flat.

We really wanted to like this place. It’s a mainstay in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and word of mouth had it that it wasn’t half bad. On a recent Tuesday night it was. The service was uninspired, the food disappointing and the interior — carved Indian wooden panels and such — dowdy and dated.

We started with an assortment of appetizers, none of them memorable, at least not in a good way. The mulligatawny shorba, curry-flavored chicken and lentil soup, was perhaps the best of the bunch. Smooth, flavorful and hearty, it hit the spot on a cold winter night.

The sabzi ke pakore — fried fresh vegetable fritters dipped in spiced chickpea flour batter — were dry and bland; the keema samosa — flaky pastry with ground lamb and potato filling — tasted as if it came from a supermarket frozen-foods section. It was, like the pakore, dry and bland.

The namkeen thali, a combination platter, included unpleasantly fatty chicken tikka and flavorless seekh kebab. The presentation was repetitive and unimaginative: shredded kale on the bottom and a heap of meat or fritters on top.

The greens of India dish consisted mostly of dry spinach. Not sure what made it Indian.

We wondered as we sat there, getting increasingly frustrated and saddened, how this place can make it, particularly with new restaurants offering superb Indian food. We concluded it would have to be because of the cheap, all-you-can eat lunch buffet and the proximity to Congress.

We didn’t have high hopes for the entrees. We ordered the murg makhani, tandoor-roasted chicken in a tomato-based sauce. And surprise, it was good. The chicken was tender and the tomato sauce (albeit a little ketchupy) was nicely flavored with fenugreek and garlic. Yum, a word that can’t be used for the Goan fish curry, which consisted of a nondescript, far-from-fresh, odorous fish cooked with onions and tomatoes. Before ordering we inquired about this dish and were told by our non-Indian waiter that it was good because it was cooked with onions. What? The gosht chaamp — lamb chops marinated in yogurt, cardamom and garlic — was another disappointment. The seasoning was fine, but the lamb was tough and sinewy. One or two bites into it and we gave up on the gnawing. Not worth the trouble.

The gobi aloo matter — a cauliflower and potato stew seasoned with cumin, red chili, turmeric and coriander — was above our by-now-low expectations, but nothing to write home about.

The nan, which we ordered plain and mint-flavored, was tasty and seemed fresh.

Our waiter, while not very knowledgeable, was speedy in clearing and delivering the food and new drink orders. So, speed of service is not White Tiger’s problem. In fact, it’s one thing it does right.

Another White Tiger attribute that could be seen as a plus are the relatively moderate prices. Then again, it really isn’t reasonably priced if the dishes are mediocre at best, or if the kitchen can’t produce them.

We ordered the rice pudding and were told after several minutes of waiting “we don’t have.” An Indian restaurant that doesn’t have this signature Indian dessert?

It should be said that the service was friendly throughout; and the stuffed toy white tiger in the upstairs dining room would have been a cute touch had the dining experience been better. Now, it just seemed sad, indicative of the low ambitions of White Tiger. We’re thinking the menu should say, “A below-average taste of India.”

RESTAURANT: White Tiger, 301 Massachusetts Ave. NE; 202/546-5900

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday through Friday; dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

PRICES: All-you-can-eat lunch buffet on weekdays $9.95; first course $2.95 to $8.95; main course $7.95 to $24.95; desserts $3.95

CREDIT CARDS: Major cards accepted

PARKING: Limited street parking.

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: Union Station (Red Line)

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