Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that we watched the first (and only) season of America's Next Great Restaurant. The runner-up on the show was a guy named Sudhir who wanted to create a fast casual Indian restaurant. Basically, his goal was to create the Indian Chipotle. As we watched, I kept telling B "there is a new restaurant in Penn Quarter that is already doing this!" Merzi, on 7th Street, looks to be a lot like what Sudhir wanted to bring to cities all across the U.S.

Merzi's fresh and modern decor (and use of some standing-room-only tables) looks a lot like a jazzed up Chipotle.

The similarities continue when you get to the counter to order. You choose a base for your meal (naan, rice, roti wrap, salad, or chaat), then pick a protein (chicken, lamb, tandisserie chicken, shrimp, beef, or veggies only), then choose some veggies, and finally pick a warm sauce or cold chutney to top it all off.

My naan topped with chicken, veggies, tikka masala sauce with a side of spicy red chili chutney was a flavor and texture party. Merzi has not dumbed down the bold Indian flavors and a couple of bites of the spicy chutney had me wiping away tears.

B enjoyed his lamb rice bowl and was impressed with the freshness of the ingredients, but felt that he could get more food at our local Kabab House for a slightly lower price.

I don't think Merzi is a substitute for your favorite local Indian restaurant, but it is a healthier (so they claim... less butter used + calorie counts on the menu) and faster option. I like having it in the neighborhood as a lunch option because its in-your-face flavors spice up a work day better than any deli sandwich can. Sudhir didn't win the glory (or the chance to have his restaurants shuttered within a few months), but you can get a taste of the concept in DC any day of the week.

Second Thoughts from B

When my father was 19, he traveled around the world with a budget appropriate for a 19 year old. He hitched rides on barges with murderous thieves, found shelter in rat-infested monasteries, and ate whatever was cheap and available. In short, he had the time of his life.

However, after 9 months, his stomach quit on him somewhere in India. He never trusted spicy food again.

The point is, I didn't grow up with Indian food. I had only heard about how it turns my dad's stomach inside out. I was scared of it. In fact, I still remember my apprehension when I first went to an Indian restaurant with my high school girlfriend's family. Thankfully I was brave enough to try it and from that day on, I've craved Indian food.

People from India probably view Merzi the same way people from Mexico see Chipotle, or the way I look at Panda Express. It is more Indian-inspired than true Indian food. But if Merzi can be that entry point for great Indian flavors to be appreciated by American palates, it will open up a whole new world for many people. I'll still frequent Kabab House, but would encourage anyone looking to spice up the usual meal of a hamburger and fries, to check out Merzi.
Merzi on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Alejandro Momofuku said...

There's nothing I love more than a big plate of Indian food and simply put this looks awesome...AWESOME!