WORLD ON A PLATE — Silver Spring has seen it share of ups and downs since the economy virtually imploded last year. In order to survive, restaurants, like anyone who wore fanny packs in the nineties, have had to adjust or face certain failure. Located on Colesville Road across from the AFI Theater, Planet Bollywood Indian restaurant has chosen to adjust.
“When we first opened we were called Across the Street Café. We served international food. But then AFI started playing ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and people came over after the movie and they started asking why we didn’t serve Indian food. I’m from India, so I put a few items on the menu and it was big hit. Now we just serve Indian food — except for the mussels, people still love the mussels,” said Stanley Gomes, the owner and operator.
Gomes was raised in Northern India so the move to Indian cuisine was a natural one. “I went back to my roots, and people responded well,” said Gomes. Gomes’ particular region specializes in meats cooked in a Tandoor clay oven. The clay oven seals moister while cooking the spice rubbed meat quickly and thoroughly, lending an earthy, slightly smoky flavor to the finished product.
With this in mind, I tried the Kebab Platter a combination of Tandoori Shrimp, Chicken Tikka, Seekh, Malai, and Bollywood Kebabs. The plate came absolutely stacked, verging on overflowing and was easily enough for two people.
The Chicken Malai Kebab, because of the cardamom spice rub, retained a bright red color and fell off the bone with a slight pull of the fork. The meat was juicy, mild, yet easily distinguishable from, let’s say, baked American chicken. The Bollywood Kebab, composed of boneless chunks of chicken breast had a coriander rub and therefore came out bright green. This dish was a little drier than I prefer but had an excellent smoky/spicy flavor. The shrimp’s subtle sweetness countered the intense bite of the rub beautifully.
And while these were all very good, the Seekh Kebab, a lamb dish, was my favorite amongst the tandoori meats. Similar to American sausage without the casing, Gomes minces the lamb very fine and then blends the meat with spices and herbs and then presses the mixture into a finger shaped meatball. It’s like eating a very rich, very complex sausage without the fat.
Of course, Planet Bollywood serves much more than tandoor cooked meats. The menu includes a wide array of vegetarian dishes. I tried three, the
Bollywood Veggie Burger, Vegetable Samosas, and Paneer Makhani, a mixture of homemade cheese cooked with fresh tomato, spice, spinach and cream. Of all the entrees I tried this was my favorite dish. The cheese, sharp and a little wild, melted and blended with the other ingredients to form a kind of freeform fondue. And if you are like me, always searching for the perfect bite, try mixing the Paneer Makhanni with a little rice and tandoor cooked meat. You won’t be disappointed.
The other vegetarian dishes were very good as well, particularly the Indian Veggie Burger — a firm, garbanzo bean, seasonal vegetable and spice paddy served on a roll.
I finished the meal with a massive slice of raspberry drizzled Three Layer Coconut Cake. For AFI moviegoers who just want a quick desert and maybe a cup hot Chai this would be an excellent option.
One of the more interesting aspects of Planet Bollywood is that they serve brunch–good news for a town starved of creative breakfast options. Here Gomes stays with his theme of meeting his customer’s needs, serving American classics such as Eggs Benedict and Pancakes and Apple Smoked Bacon, while infusing the menu with his own homespun items, like the Chicken Tikka Omelet with a buttery, tomato based curry sauce.
“We wanted to blend American standards with the best of India,” said Gomes, “it has been very popular.” If this blend of culinary culture intrigues you, perhaps the knowledge that brunch comes with a free mimosa, champagne, or orange juice will push you over the edge.
For the after work crowd Planet Bollywood offers drink specials and snacks.
Planet Bollywood hours of operation are Tuesday thru Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Brunch is served on Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. For more information call 301- 562-8622 or go to planetbollywoodusa.com.