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Oct. 7, 2010

A night in Bollywood, but without the crowds

by Claire Sleigh, Print Managing Sports Editor, Ombudsman and Design Team
The entrance is almost hidden and the place is dark. The sign outside proclaims that the restaurant is "Open!" but it doesn't look convincing. But inside a different story unfolds, a story of travels and trips, of delicious food and spices.

On a Wednesday night, Planet Bollywood is empty, despite its convenient location directly across from the American Film Institute on Colesville Road.

Planet Bollywood opened in January of last year and seems unknown to most of Silver Spring's frequent visitors. A tribute to the epic Indian blockbusters, Planet Bollywood is decorated with posters of stars and collections of saris and bangles and serves deliciously spicy Indian food.

The door of the restaurant is pushed 15 feet back from the main sidewalk, with glass cases angled out on either side of it. Behind the glass, one of the cases is filled with Indian artifacts and the other case with tables for two. Sitting in what used to be a display case for merchandise is unusual but fun.

Booths line the far wall, and tables are clustered in groups in the center. The chairs, tables and bar stools are made of elegant dark wood and give Planet Bollywood a distinctive edge. Graceful lights hang from the ceiling and give off a soft glow.

In accordance with the mellow lighting, the samosas are a gentle introduction to the spiciness of Indian cuisine, with a lingering burn that becomes apparent only after a couple of bites. The thick pastry shell encompasses a mixture of potatoes, chickpeas and other vegetables to make a gargantuan appetizer. The two accompanying sauces, a green mint sauce and a cool and sweet brown sauce, add a refreshing tang to the heavy samosas.

The entrees cover the full spectrum of the rainbow, from the red Chicken Tikka Masala and the orange Paneer Makhan, to the green kababs. Soon, the table is weighed down by the colorful dishes and many drinks. A sip of Lassi, a thick and creamy Indian smoothie-type drink will help with the spiciness and is delicious as both a
standalone drink and a nice refresher for a burning mouth. Naan also goes well with the meal; a full basket of the moist, flavorful bread can go a long way.

Given the wide range of exotic dishes available, it is best to get an array of entrees and share them. Part of the fun is encouraging fellow diners to be adventurous.

The Paneer Makhan is one dish that looks like an adventure. The pastel orange sauce looks far from edible, and the large chunks of cheese don't add to the dish's overall aesthetics. But poured over rice, this yogurt and tomato based sauce with hints of curry and cilantro is delectable. The pieces of cheese that were originally
alarming turn out to be gold mines of deliciousness.

The chickpea lover's delight, Chana Masala, consists of whole chickpeas served in a chickpea puree with many spices. Onions add a delightful crunch and flavor to what could easily turn into a monotonous paste.

Following the colorful theme is the rice: white and yellow with flecks of green. The sweet rice, a staple of Indian cuisine, goes well with everything and helps cool down the spices. Served on a bed of the same rice are bright red and dark green lumps which are initially confusing, but turn out to be kababs already taken off the stick.

The kebab platter is overpriced and is the one regret of the evening. The kebabs are so spicy that all other flavors are masked.

The meal concludes on a high note with a delicious layered coconut cake. The cake itself is average, but the thick layer of frosting in the middle and on top is rich and creamy. This dessert is coconut heaven.

It was a slow meandering meal, with plenty of time to chat and pass around all of the different dishes. The only thing missing was catchy Bollywood classics energizing the diners and more customers enjoying the flavorful food.

Planet Bollywood in Silver Spring. Open for lunch on Tuesday to Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Also open for dinner from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday through Thursday and on Sundays and open until 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Entrees range from $10 to $15.



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