Arts & Entertainment

Restaurant Spotlight: Aladdin

332spotlightWith the opening of the new restaurant Aladdin, Northern Virginia is getting a taste of the cuisine of Bengal.

The Bangladeshi eatery opened in August in the Garden City Shopping Center in Arlington, serving an assortment of curries and kabobs and promising to launch a $9 weekday lunch buffet. In the meantime, diners can choose from a variety of dishes inspired by the cuisine of this region.

Special attention is paid here to one particular dish: biryani. “This flavorful dish is very unique and will allow you to travel through the Royal Mughal Emperor’s culinary culture,” the menu reads. The restaurant serves the mixed rice dish in a handful of varieties: chicken, beef, goat, shrimp, or vegetable, ranging from $9 to $13 in price. There’s also the kachhi variety. It’s only available on Saturdays, and by calling ahead, as preparation takes several hours. To make the Kachhi Biryani ($13), select pieces of goat or lamb are slow-cooked with the rice. But the Goat Biryani ($11) is a part of the regular menu, and doesn’t disappoint.

The Goat Biryani comes to the table quite simply, as all the dishes at Aladdin do. After an order is placed at the counter, the dish is prepared and brought to the table heaped onto a styrofoam plate. The smell is delightful. Cinnamon, clove, and cardamom flavor the dish and give off that wonderful aroma. The basmati rice is speckled with spice and flecks of meat; larger chunks of the nearly fork-tender, savory meat can be found throughout, as can the small bones they’ve cleanly pulled away from. It’s a hearty and inviting dish.

Goat Biryani is a rustic dish, reminiscent of a home-cooking style. So too is the Shobjee Bhajee ($7) mixed vegetable curry. A bowl of the stuff, again served in a disposable container that greatly belies the dish’s quality, comes with a serving of rice. The yellow-tinted dish is laden with sautéed onions that have all but given up their shape, curling around hunks of potato, carrot, and other vegetables made in big, uneven chops.

The menu also features beef, chicken, and lamb curries, and kabobs and delicacies like chicken tikka masala cooked in a clay oven. There are also a few seafood curries, including the Fish Dopiaza ($9). Here a large tilapia fillet is coated in a thin curry sauce potent with the sweet and tart flavors of tomato, chunks of which cozy up to the fish on the plate.

The restaurant offers a few appetizers, a welcome bite to eat before a meal that takes some time in making its way to the table. The Chat Patee ($4) features an interesting blend of flavors and textures. It is presented with the warning that pieces of powerful green chilis are lurking in the bowl, amongst the warm chickpeas and beneath the cool chopped onion and tomato and boiled egg. And in the spicy sauce that surrounds the chickpeas, and the occasional crunch and burst of heat, the chilis make their presence known.

Aladdin is, in a single word, surprising. Its tiny storefront in the old Garden City strip mall, the blue banner tied to it in lieu of a sign, the plastic forks and disposable plates, the cafeteria trays used to scuttle the dishes from kitchen to table – it’s all so unassuming. But a single bite reminds that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and reveals the value of this restaurant: It offers, at a reasonable price, the great flavors of a unique regional cuisine.

Aladdin is located at 5169 Lee Highway, Arlington. For more information, call 703-533-0077. Restaurant hours are Monday – Friday: 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; 5 – 9 p.m.; Saturday: 12:30 – 10 p.m.; and Sunday: 12:30 – 9 p.m.