Punjab Grill, D.C.’s new ultra-luxe Indian restaurant, opened in Penn Quarter on Monday with a menu boasting chutney flights, paneer cheesecake, and lamb garnished in real 24-carat gold leaf.
“We aren’t trying to force you into dining like a king, but if you want to it’s readily available,” says Karan Singh, CEO of the Punjab Grill group that owns restaurants across India, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, and Thailand. The inaugural stateside location of the luxury Indian brand is now serving lunch and dinner at 427 11th Street NW.
Petrossian caviar appears on the menu as an optional garnish for adraki tuna tartare with sago crips or tawa-seared scallops served with saffron tandoori cauliflower puree, broccolini, and shikanji (salted limeade) foam. Full caviar service, available at any seat, comes alongside circular discs of warm tandoori naan, sour cream, and white butter made on-site.
“We made it sufficiently Indian without losing the integrity of caviar service,” Singh says.
Every inch of his 4,700-square-foot restaurant is designed to look like the home of rich regional rulers in India known as maharajas. There’s a 40-foot slab of chiseled pink sandstone lining the bar and a private dining room covered floor to ceiling in 150,000 tiny mosaic mirrors (with Hermès plateware picked to match the pattern).
There’s also plenty of thought behind the food. Chef Jaspratap “Jassi” Bindra grew up in Kanpur, India, and has helmed kitchens across some of the finest resorts and restaurants across his country. Singh says he picked Bindra over a handful of Michelin-starred chefs in New York and London.
Opening Dinner Menu (1) by on Scribd
Bindra adds playful, global twists to Punjabi cuisine from North India. Take the burrata starter, served with spiced eggplant and tomato. While it’s not a traditional Indian dish, there is a Punjabi tie-in: Singh says Punjabis have a significant presence in Italy’s dairy industry.
“This burrata was most likely made by Punjabi dairy farmer,” Singh says.
Another highlight off the small plates section ($10-$16) is the chana masala, a popular Indian chickpea dish that’s transformed into a spreadable “hummus” alongside amritsari kulcha — a tandoori bread — and pickled radish achar.
Bindra is offering four types of naan (butter, garlic, sundried tomato, olive and basil, and lemon). The latter comes alongside the chicken “red curry” tulsi tikka, marinated in Thai makhni sauce. That citrusy naan also pairs well with seafood dishes like a a Chilean sea bass ($38) with a jaggery cumin glaze, Brussels sprouts thoran, and tangy kokum coconut sauce poured around the fish in front of diners.
The middle “lion’s share” section ($12-$42) of the menu includes lots of dishes from grill or the tandoor. One inventive vegetarian order is a bowl of malai broccoli with amul cheese — a ubiquitous cheese in India (similar to Kraft) — that takes on a fondue form, topped with crunchy spiced churma.
While each Punjab Grill celebrates Punjabi cuisine, menus are unique to each location. It was Singh’s idea to execute an Indian take on Peking duck, inspired by one he had in D.C. The preparation follows a similar process as the Chinese staple, taking a minimum of five days to prepare. It’s carved table side, adorned with Indian spices, and served with super thin roti bread.
Diners are also encouraged to load up on sides. Black or yellow lentil dal — a staple at Indian restaurants — takes 24 hours to make. Other accompaniments includes eggplant, Brussels sprouts with fresh coconut and curry leaf, and a gamut of chutneys and house-made pickles.
The opening list of 10 cocktails ($14 each), made behind the dramatic mother-of-pearl and brass bar, also have an Indian bent. Consultant Luca Giovannini and his team developed the cocktail menu in collaboration with India-based mixologist Nitin Tewai.
Bartender Chris Porter, most recently at the Inn at Little Washington, is now stirring drinks at D.C.’s Punjab Grill. His spin on the Old Fashioned features a theatrical table side presentation: The Kasauli 1820 cocktail, named after the first distillery in India, is revealed under a billowing cloud of smoke.
Inside the stunning Sheesh Mahal room, which diners access directly through a private door, a concierge helps curate the experience. That means any off-menu item is fair game. Other potential requests include a private performance by a sitar player or an all-vegan menu.
There’s only a handful of needs that can’t be met. Singh seriously investigated the possibility of allowing guests to make royal entrances atop elephants (that’s a no go).