Today’s blog is going to be about an experience at ‘Punjab Grill’ in DC. Punjab Grill is a fine dining Indian restaurant that is Royal-inspired by a traditional Punjabi restaurant. I wanted to take my wife out to eat at Jose Andres’ Zaytinya but they were fully booked that night, so I kept on looking for something upscale and found this place. After looking online at their site, we saw that they had an interesting tasting menu. The way things were vaguely described made you curious to how it tasted or was presented. We set our reservation for July 31st.
Upon arrival we were quickly seated and served. There were three water options if I remember correctly, which were sparkling, bottled, or “DC’s Finest” which is tap water. I went with the sparkling, I felt it would set the mood, being in a fancy restaurant and all. Did it? Yes. Did my wife enjoy the sparkling water ? No.
The restaurant used QR Codes to access the menu, prior to this I haven’t been to a restaurant with QR codes, so I was kind of lost but eventually got it when the server came back. We decided to go with the tasting menu, that included 7 courses. We also upgraded our tasting menu by adding wine pairings. With each dish that was brought out, there was a chef that came tableside to elaborate on the history of each dish and the cooking method for some dishes too. Me knowing a thing or two about culinary arts(Associates Degree), found that very interesting because it gave me ideas for future dishes. Now lets get into each course.
The first course that was served was “Lassi” with strawberry flavored pop rocks on top. The chef explained that Lassi is a very popular probiotic food/drink in India. There are many flavors and it is good for the digestive system. The way we were told to eat it was in one go. When you put it all in, you felt the smooth texture and tanginess of the Lassi, then you feel the popping strawberry flavor hitting your teeth, tongue and gums. It was one of those dishes that made you laugh while eating. I think it was a smart way to start the courses as well.
The second course was a cold tomato soup. When the plates arrived to the table, only the tomatoes, nasturtium and flower were on the plate with a drizzle of oil. The cold soup was then poured from a glass kettle around the tomatoes. It was also served with some type of bread that seemed to be filled with minced beef or lamb, and under that was a puffed grain, probably rice or kamut. This course could have easily been my favorite. For one it was very appealing to the eye. But the real thing that shocked me was their play on the temperatures. When I tasted the soup, it was a refreshing flavor of tomato, garlic and cumin seed. When I got a bite of the actual tomato with the soup, the tomato was warm. They probably lightly poached or roasted the tomatoes before plating. When you eat foods with different temperatures like that, it excites the brain. I believe that the oil that was at the bottom of the plate was cumin seed infused olive oil. As for the bread with the meat filling, it was nice and warm, well seasoned meat on the inside. When we lifted the bread we didn’t know that the stuff under was eatable though. It almost looked like pebbles that they probably used to elevate the bread. So I ended up being the test dummy, and it was eatable. It was similar to “Rice Krispies” cereal in both taste and texture.
The third course was roasted corn on the cob, served atop popcorn. There was a lemon slice and an antique looking drawer that went on the table. It came with two paint brushes and four condiments, pineapple chutney, garam masala, tamarind chutney or paste, and mint chutney. The concept was that you use the paint brush to paint your desired sauces onto the corn and then eat it. It was fun, my favorite condiment had to be the pineapple chutney, it had a nice sweetness to it and a hint of cinnamon or nutmeg. After our corn was gone, we sprinkled the garam masala over our popcorn and snacked on that until our next course came.
The fourth course had four little pieces of fried chicken, nasturtium, edible flowers and in the middle was like a steamed dough, probably similar to “fufu” (I’ve never had fufu, but they look similar). At table side there was a box with liquid nitrogen, they poured a sauce or jus into the box and moved it around with a spoon to turn the the sauce into frozen blocks. After these gastronomically frozen sauce blocks were put on the plate, the hot jus was pour onto the plate and toasted coconut flakes were sprinkled. This dish was close to my favorite, but was my second favorite. The chicken was amazing, the crust was perfectly crispy and kept hot even during the table side service. There was a play on hot and cold in this dish as well to excite the brain and I believe it worked. The sauce was rich and thick, tasting of turmeric and cumin. Delicious dish.
The next course was Lychee popsicles. It came served in a glass bowl that was emitting smoke. The chef explained that this was a common street food in India. In the summer, a street vendor would be out by the gates to sell the lychee popsicles to people after they had dinner. The popsicle was sour with a slight taste of pears. I know that this served as a palate cleanser to get us ready for the true entrée of the dish.
The sixth course is called “24 Carat Sikandari Raan”, and this is the only dish that we ate that is still on the menu currently. Essentially it is minced curry lamb topped with micro herbs and a 24 carat edible gold leaf. The two sides were “Dal Punjab”, which was a lentil puree and the other side was steamed basmati rice. We also got garlic naan on the side as well which was delicious. The dish in my opinion, needed the naan. The flavors of curry came through in the lamb very well, my only complaint about this dish was that it was a tad too salty for me.
The last course was called “Textures of strawberry”. At the bottom tasted like a mixture of strawberry lassi and oats, the pearls were like tapioca balls that when you bit into, a burst of strawberry liquid came out. The red cubes were a strawberry gel, in the center was strawberry sorbet, the red square on top of the sorbet tasted almost like a strawberry flavored fruit roll up. The last two components were a strawberry syrup and dehydrated strawberry dust. Although there is a lot going into the dessert it was not overly sweet at all. There was still balance to the dessert. My favorite part of this dessert is probably the sorbet, it really brought everything together.
This was my first ever fine dining experience and it was amazing, huge props out to Punjab Grill. I definitely plan to go back when a new tasting menu is out. If you live in the DMV or are willing to travel for great quality food reflecting the flavors and culture of India, they are the place to go.
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