Natalie is scouring the U.S. in search of great places to eat!
The Scene: We went the day after Thanksgiving, so the population at Masala was sparse. From what I understand, Masala usually has a packed house, so walking into an empty restaurant was an unusual but welcome sight for us. We wanted to take our time with dinner, and savor as much as we could. There were 4 adults and 2 little ones [ages 2 and 1], ready to eat and not shy about ordering everything that seemed to wet the appetite.
First thing we noticed upon walking into Masala was the huge bar. Granted, it is literally right in front of you, but this isn’t your local pizza places’ bar. We didn’t indulge in what they had to offer, but the size of the bar made a pretty decent statement. What also caught our eye was that they had belly dancers coming in later that night, and while we would have loved to stay for the entertainment, 11 pm was way too late for the kiddos. Deep reds and subtle yellows filled the restaurant; lights were dim, candles were lit, and the ambiance was very calm.
The Apps: We ordered Papadum, Naan, Garlic Naan, and a Mixed Vegetable Appetizer. The Papadum seems like a very fragile wafer, but it is very filling and full of flavor. Ours was served with both a tamarind chutney sauce and a mint chutney sauce. The tamarind was a little spicy, while the mint was refreshing and cool. Both the Naan and Garlic Naan were your run-of-the-mill Naan breads. Large, airy and plentiful; this bread was hard to put down. I personally like to dig in with both hands, scooping up some Saag or leftover Lamb Kofta ‘juice’. I could honestly gorge myself on this bread… I had to keep reminding myself that dinner was right around the corner. The Mixed Veggie Appetizer consisted of fried veggies and tofu. Light batter made the extra crisp go a long way, and this appetizer literally had people calling dibs on what they wanted from the dish.
The Main Course: Our dinner party opted for the “let’s order everything we want and split it all”, so that we could all get a little of everything. The dinners included Chicken Tikka Masala, Dal Maharani, Saag Paneer, and Lamb Kofta. The Tikka Masala was downright perfect. When we ordered this, we had the option of different spice levels, ranging from 0-5. 0 being the mildest, with 5 being extra hot. We played it relatively safe and ordered a 3, which we later agreed should have been a 4. With that said, it was spicy, but the tongues at the table could have used more kick! The chicken was moist and grilled to perfection, and while it isn’t cooked to fall off the bone, it was very flavorful. Dal Maharani is a pureed black lentil dish with a very mild spiciness to it. This can be paired with the Naan [if there is any left ] or served over rice. This is a very hearty dish that can fill you up fast, so take your time with it and enjoy every bite. Onto Saag Paneer. I will admit I had VERY high expectations for this dish. I could honestly eat my weight in Saag, and I may or may not have threatened my dinner mates to deter them from touching it… The Saag from Masala not only met my standards, it went above and beyond. How? How could this possibly happen?? Well friends, it is the manner in which it was served. Masala does this neat little candle-under-the-serving-bowl trick that keeps your food warm. With every bit of Saag soaked naan, I was met with rich, creamy, warm food that is making me salivate this very moment. If you like cheese and spinach, this is for you. If you don’t, well you should order this anyway and give it a chance. Up until my visit to Masala, I had never had Lamb Kofta. I have had variations of Kofta dishes; chicken, Malai [veggie] – and knew that it would be served in a tomato based sauce. They were essentially lamb meatballs, but they were moist and perfect. This can also be the perfect compliment to a bowl of basmati rice, which was also served as a side to various dishes. All of the dishes went a long way, and while they weren’t huge in portion size, there was some that was brought home. Granted, it could have been left at the restaurant – the ‘take home’ was some naan and a few spoonfuls of various sauce; SOMEONE could argue that it would make the perfect midnight snack… that someone being a saag/naan/makeshift sandwich lover…
The Finale: While we were stuffed to the brim, we didn’t refuse dessert. Rice Pudding is a popular dessert in Indian cuisine, and always a safe bet. While I didn’t partake in this, I was told that is was great – rich, creamy, sweet and just the perfect ratio of milk to rice. I ordered the Gulab Jamun, not really knowing what I was getting. The menu describes it as “Freshly made cheese balls deep fried in butter to a golden brown, then gently cooked in a lightly flavored syrup garnished with pistachios”. Honestly, they had me at deep fried cheese balls… This dessert is not as heavy as one would think, and the consistency of it was perfect. For being a ball of cheese, it almost had the texture of a doughnut ball; very airy and light. You could tell that it would be light in flavor on its own, but paired with the sweet sauce, it was nothing short of amazing. I will definitely order this again. Last but not least, the most popular dessert seemed to be the Mango Ice Cream. Rich and creamy, the ice cream was topped with a sugary mango syrup, leaving anyone with a sweet tooth asking for more. We literally had to take it away from the 1 year old. This prompted a meltdown, as well as concluding our very fulfilling visit to Masala…
The Verdict: The ONE gripe I had with this restaurant was that they didn’t have a changing table in the restroom. While I realize that they’re also a bar that stays open until the wee hours of the morning; it was very disturbing having to put my daughter on the ground to change her. They ARE a restaurant, and you would think they would have this amenity… it wouldn’t stop me from going there – just a gripe.
Note: Masala is located in Bothell, Washington – just 30 minutes north of the heart of Seattle. There is also a second “Masala of India” in Seattle, just 7 miles from the Space Needle.