By Travis Mitchell
D.C.’s newest Indian restaurant is out to inject the country’s rich and flavorful food with some fresh ideas — ideas it hopes will make Karma Modern Indian a go-to gathering place for everything from bar bites to a multi-course feast.
Located in Chinatown at 611 I St. NW, Karma Modern Indian opened in late December, just across from the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. In the kitchen is executive chef Ajay Kumar, a New Delhi native whose resume includes designing menus for Washington receptions attended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Ricky Singh, co-owner with Sachin Mahajan, says the “modern” in the name signals an inventive and refined approach in all areas: food, cocktails, dining room and bar.
“It is not to be confused with fusion. We are not mashing Indian spices with the flavors of another cuisine,” says Singh. “We are instead refining age-old recipes and tweaking traditional cooking methods, while paying close attention to the quality of ingredients used and the presentation of each dish.”
Aware, no doubt, of D.C.’s crowded Indian restaurant landscape, the Karma team has developed a menu that goes beyond the dishes commonly found at other establishments. The menu here is designed to be flexible, with small plates, shareable bites, large-format entrees and grilled options.
“One of our goals included making the cuisine more approachable,” explains Singh. “Indian food can be overwhelming for some, so having smaller portions to try a variety of different flavors and finding what you like was important.”
When it comes to ordering, pair some garlic naan with roasted eggplant spread for a comforting start. From there, try the tender zucchini kofta (dumplings) with a savory tomato and onion sauce ($22), one of the many tasty vegetarian options. Halibut with a coconut milk and spicy tamarind and turmeric paste ($24) and dal makhani, slow-cooked black lentils in spices ($19), are equally satisfying, as is the lamb roganjosh with Kashmir chili, ginger and tomato ($24).
Some entrée prices hit $40 — not exactly an everyday price point. True to its name, Karma also donates a portion of daily sales to local and international charities, including DC Central Kitchen.
Cocktails here are given just as much attention as the food. Bar director Dominik Lenikowski works to create beverages that pair with the spices coming out of the kitchen, using house-made ingredients wherever possible. That shows in the Temple of Salt, a bourbon-based cocktail with Green Chartreuse, lime juice, honey, Himalayan salt, Kashmiri chili bitters and egg white. Lenikowski also plans to rotate out a half-dozen classic cocktails, such as the gimlet and the Martinez.
Like the food, cocktails are priced at a premium, starting at $14. The restaurant’s cocktail hour, weekdays from 4 to 7 p.m., is a good opportunity to experience Karma Modern Indian, sharing some plates and sampling custom mixed drinks and glasses of wine ($9) and rotating beers ($6).