The rave reviews showered on Spice Xing inspired us to go to Rockville Town Square. Also, one of the owners is Sudhir Seth, who is behind the fabulous Passage to India restaurant in Bethesda.
What greeted us was a beautifully and comfortably spacious dining hall with high ceilings draped in earth-toned silk, a glittery tree mosaic (inspired by Hindu mythology) covering an entire turquoise-colored wall, and a saffron-yellow wall displaying poster-sized pictures of spices such as cinnamon.
Yes, spices, because they indeed play big role here. Not only is Mr. Seth a master of traditional Indian food, but with Spice Xing (pronounced “crossing”), he has attempted to show how Indian food also has been inspired by foreign cultures, such as that of the Portugese, who colonized the Goa region and claimed it as a territory for about 450 years.
A good example of how this European country influenced the cuisine is showcased with the balchao shrimp, a spicy delight with vinegar and chilies.
We were even more impressed with some of the Indian staples, such as the chicken tikka masala and the fried samosas, which were impressively moist. The mulligatawny soup, of Anglo-Indian origin, was magnificent, with just the right amount of lemon infusion; the naan and cucumber raita, too, left nothing to be desired.
The same can’t be said for the service. Our waitress was clueless about wines, and when asked for recommendations, she had little to nothing to offer about preparation and ingredients. If it’s “fine dining” — as the restaurant Web site indicates — service has to be taken seriously.
We also were not impressed with the fact that several dishes arrived with the same side salad: a mix of chopped onion, cucumber and red cabbage. Why not mix it up a little?
Also, if the desire is to showcase “fusion” Indian, why are so few dishes on the 62-item menu (plus eight desserts) listed as being inspired by foreign cuisines?
Spice Xing does well in serving straightforward Indian fare, but not well enough to draw from the crowds otherwise bound to places such as Heritage India, Bombay Club and Rasika in the District as well as Passage to India in Bethesda.
Prices at Spice Xing are an attraction, with entrees starting at $10.95. So a dinner for four can easily cost less than $100, a bargain these days.
The space is also very appealing. It’s nicely decorated and has enough room for the tables to be quite far apart, not something many restaurants in downtown Washington offer.
But we need more than a comfortable space and a good value to make the trek from Washington. We need the service to improve, yes, but even more, we need the restaurant to fulfill the promise of its name to offer spiced-up Indian fusion.
RESTAURANT: Spice Xing, 100-B Gibbs St., Rockville; 301/610-0303 or visit www.spicexing.com
HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily; dinner 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
PRICES: Starters $3.95 to $7.95; entrees $10.95 to $14.95; desserts $4.50 to 4.95
PARKING: Limited street parking
ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible