Masala Art

In the quiet Tenleytown neighborhood is a new Indian restaurant that seems to stand out among the Subways and Dominos Pizzas dotting the area.

Enter Masala Art, a restaurant that boasts culture and unique flavors with every bite. The owner of this spot is Atul Bhola, a former manager of Heritage India in Glover Park.  

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“I first opened the restaurant in October 2009. My chef also used to be the master chef at Heritage India,” Bhola said, speaking of Surinder Kumar. “After I moved on and opened Masala Art, he came along with me. We enjoy each other’s company.”

The 45-seat dining area is a dim, candlelit room that adds a calm atmosphere. The Indian artifacts on display and the light green walls with Indian print bring in a cultural perspective that one could easily appreciate. The restaurant’s constant drumming and string of sitars add to the experience, especially if patrons are eating at an ethnic place for the first time.

Bhola suggested the chicken 65, an appetizer that is an Indian re-creation of chicken nuggets. They are boneless and tender gems of chicken doused in very hot and sweet spices with cilantro to add a desirable aroma. It packs a powerful punch of flavor. One of the customer favorites is the pani poori appetizer, made of puffed hollows stuffed with diced potatoes and chickpeas and topped with chutney.

“We want the customers to definitely think about coming back when they leave the restaurant,” Bhola said. “We want them to enjoy the unique food and the best part is when they leave with a smile on their face.”

The menu includes special dishes such as ghandeeri seekh, chicken mince kabab on a sugar cane skewer or tandoori malai paneer kut, which are cottage-cheese dumplings stuffed with crumbled paneer and raisins in a tomato-based sauce. The sweet tanginess of Tamarind chutney sauce with the vegetable samosas melts in your mouth and pleasantly overwhelms the taste buds. The rock salt on top of cilantro naan (seasoned flatbread) is also highly recommended. The gaulati kabab with ulta tawa parantha, is an entrée of hearty proportions. It’s a stacked plate that has a delicate mound of thyme-flavored rice, a side salad, a bowl of baal sauce, small slabs of flat bread and lamb kababs from Nizam. They all taste great with enhanced spices, especially when you mix and match combinations of food on the plate.

“Our chef cooks with ingredients that are mostly imported from India, and many people enjoy the preparations and flavors, which are true to Indian tradition,” Bhola said.           

I was slightly disappointed with the softness of the meat in the Gaulati lamb. One of the waiters was quick to explain the reason for the softness dates back to historical India and tradition. Hunters found it difficult to tenderize tiger meat, so they hunted and domesticated lamb instead. The meat is easier to beat to a lean and tender texture so the elderly or people with sensitive teeth can enjoy this delicacy as well.

The restaurant also offers more than 29 choices on the wine list at half-prices Sunday through Thursday. The waiters are attentive and helpful. Masala Art serves food that is undeniably full of savory goodness that will keep customers coming back for more.

Masala Art is open daily for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 pm. Appetizers range from $3.50 to $5.25. Entrees are $8.50 to $21.50.