Despite Improvements, Penn Quarter Eatery’s Makeover Uneven
After almost a three-year stint in the burgeoning Penn Quarter neighborhood near the Verizon Center, the fusion Indian restaurant Indebleu has undergone a culinary and interior makeover.
From talking with some of the management staff, we learned that although the restaurant had opened to enthusiastic crowds near the end of 2004, business began to dwindle and divide by age, with the young and chic crowd patronizing the first-floor bar area and older clientele on the second-floor dining room.
The design firm of Adamstein & Demetriou helped to liven up the place, especially the upstairs. For instance, the high-ceiling dining room was formerly white and rather subdued. It is now a deep ocher color, with kinetic abstract art hanging throughout the walls, giving the space more style and warmth. The downstairs Tantra Lounge has also been rearranged to better control the club’s sound.
Likewise, the menu was redesigned so that it shifted away from the French influences to focus more heavily on American food married with Indian touches. Portions were also increased and prices dropped to lure the younger crowds upstairs, where a stream of ambient house and techno electronic dance music has been piped in to also temper the formal atmosphere.
First, we thought we would try some of what was attracting the young folk downstairs to the thriving bar, so we ordered a blackberry mojito and “Mini Skirt,” which was essentially a raspberry martini. Although the “Mini Skirt” was luscious, the mojito was too pulpy and lacking in flavor.
We were quickly served a bread plate of several warm, buttered naan, or Indian flat bread, sprinkled with salt. We also tried an appetizer of naan pizza with chicken tikka and mozzarella cheese, a good example of a dish that successfully fuses an American classic with Indian cooking. The wild mushroom dosa was a creative combination of a lentil crêpe filled with blue cheese and sautéed wild mushrooms, which was our favorite.
The scallops, meanwhile, were seared brown with a thick, tart lemon sauce, arugala and pieces of shaved parmesan. The lobster bisque had a somewhat smoky curry flavor and gritty texture, but was satisfying without being overly rich. Dappled with drops of curry leaf pesto, it was served with a breadstick dipped in the soup.
Upstairs, the wait staff was knowledgeable and helpful, even as busy as they were. Our waitress offered to serve us family-style because we were all sharing dishes, which made it more convenient for us.
The tandoori chicken tikka was similar to a butter chicken dish but a little spicier and was served with rice, tomato-butter sauce and a large warm naan in an oversize white bowl.
The black cod was carefully cooked and nicely browned but a bit too soggy. It was accompanied with basmati rice, tomato coconut curry and a shrimp tempura that was savory but pretty much what you would expect.
The pork loin, on the other hand, was not what you would expect at all: The meat was served with a complex star anise glaze, which was a bit similar to Chinese plum sauce except that it was based on anise with hints of mint and tamarind. A pineapple coleslaw accompanied the dish, which although it may seem creative on paper, tasted rather weird in reality.
A side of lentils demonstrated the kitchen’s intention to hot-rod what could be the blandest of dishes into a superb dish by mixing in tiny pieces of carrot and Indian spices. But a side of masala-seasoned French fries was less interesting, tasting more like fries sprinkled with Old Bay minus the celery salt.
The yellow fin tuna, however, was a standout. Seared only around the edges, the interior was so rare that it was a dull maroon, gorgeously tender and tasty—all topped with avocado chunks and a chili cilantro sauce. The tuna was aptly paired with a corn salsa for texture, making it a dish to recommend.
Desserts were addressed in similar fashion, starting with American favorites and adding an Indian spin. “Some More” was a pleasant combination composed of a chocolate cake shell with a candied banana in the center and filled with a chocolaty syrup and marshmallow ice cream.
The most “Indian” of the desserts was the “Spaghetti and Meatballs,” a whimsical concoction made from saffron and cardamom ice cream squeezed through a potato ricer at your table and served with three jalubi balls and a sweet, light version of farmer’s cheese. Another excellent pick is the “Mango Mango,” a refreshing bell-shaped mango mousse.
Although we applaud Indebleu’s attempt to revitalize itself, we were not sure it was entirely successful. At our first visit at the beginning of 2005, we thought that the Indian-American fusion leaned too heavily toward the American side, but this menu takes that even further and the Indian influence is almost an afterthought. Adding a few more dishes weighted on the Indian side to the menu might add more interest and adventure for diners, be they young or old.
Indebleu 707 G St., NW (202) 333-2583 Hours: Sun. to Thu. 5:30 p.m. – 10:45 p.m. ; Fri. and Sat. 5:30 p.m. – 11 p.m. Bar Menu: Sun. to Thu. until 1 a.m.; Fri. and Sat. until 2 a.m. Prices: Appetizers: – ; Entrees: – ; Desserts: – Dress: Urban Casual Valet Parking: Available
About the Author
Rachel Hunt and Stephen Qualiana are the restaurant reviewers for The Washington Diplomat.