Inside an unfinished dining room on a hopeful day in May, Suresh Sundas’s large eyes and smile both grew wider as he talked about the cubes of chicken breast he had just removed from the brand-new clay tandoor he seasoned himself with jaggery and oil. At Daru, the anticipated Indian restaurant and cocktail bar that will finally open Tuesday, August 3, just off the H Street NE corridor, Sundas wants to pull ingredients and techniques from all over. That philosophy, taken in part from his experience working for James Beard Award-winning Rasika chef Vikram Sunderam, explains why the marinade for Daru’s reshmi kebabs contains an undercurrent of blue cheese mixed in with yogurt, cream cheese, cardamom, and white pepper.
“This is from Washington, D.C.,” Sundas says, referring to the chicken plated in a pool of sour cherry sauce with olive-shaped orbs of candied mint chutney. “I want to get out of the Indian comfort zone for ingredients.”
At Daru (1451 Maryland Avenue NE), there’s a chicken tikka masala, sure, but also a side of daal makhani served on a sphere of burrata. Paneer cheese arrives in a pesto tikka, pieces of naan get dusted in a Middle Eastern za’atar blend, and achiote-red jackfruit goes into phulka flatbread tacos.
Sundas makes a nariyal (Hindi for coconut) lamb shank by marinating the meat overnight in a host of warming spices such as garam masala and mace, then roasting it in a sauce of Kashmiri chile paste, coconut milk, and saffron. The striped bass paturi — a reference to a Bengali preparation of grilling fish in a banana leaf — boasts a turmeric-yellow coat and a marinade that folds in Makrut lime leaves, lime juice, coconut powder, and Kashmiri chile. A tomato-based Sichuan pepper chutney comes in a ramekin on the side.
Sundas had more time than he would have liked to fill out his menu. He and business partner Dante Datta, an accomplished bar manager he met nine years ago, when they were coworkers Rasika West End, announced plans for Daru in January 2019. Since then, through construction, permitting, and pandemic-induced setbacks, the pair have hosted pop-ups for takeout and cocktails at local favorites like Thamee and the Green Zone. Datta, who at one point ran the bar at essential all-day cafe Ellē, inched toward opening by running food at Reveler’s Hour and tending bar at Michelin-starred Bresca. Sundas moonlighted on the open-fire line at Maydan.
Datta and Sundas planned to open Daru primarily as a bar. As the pandemic progressed, the partners decided they’d have to be more family-friendly and began playing up the food menu. Based on the taste of the Hari Daiquiri, though, the six cocktails on the opening menu from Datta and bar manager Tom Martinez will still be a big draw. That refreshing, tart rum drink channels the flavors of the green chutney that’s ubiquitous at Indian restaurants with lime and a syrup made out of clarified kefir yogurt, mint, and cilantro. At Daru’s Green Zone pop-up, it sold out in a flash.
Datta and Martinez cut their teeth at Columbia Room, widely recognized among the top cocktail bars in the city, and each say they had to show off a firm grasp of the classics before they could start subverting them. They take on a Tom Collins with their Kali Cooler, named after a Hindu goddess who’s often depicted sticking out a red tongue. A hibiscus tea simmered with sugar and smoky black cardamom forms the base of a highball that features pisco, rhum agricole, amaro Montenegro, soda, and a fragrant basil garnish. A kesari (saffron) Old Fashioned features ginger and blended scotch that’s been fat-washed in cashew butter.
Earlier in the summer, Daru hoped to ease into opening with takeout and delivery only. Now the partners have reversed that thinking. The restaurant will open for indoor and outdoor seating from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Datta says to-go orders and Sunday hours will follow soon after Daru finds its footing.