D.C. empire builder Ashok Bajaj translates iconic Indian dishes into takeout-friendly fare with the anticipated debut of Penn Quarter’s Bindaas Rolls and Bowls.
Bajaj and his James Beard Award-winning chef Vikram Sunderam unveil the 35-seat offshoot of their sit-down Bindaas brand on Thursday, April 21* (415 7th Street NW).
Located right around the corner from their fine-dining Indian flagship Rasika, Bindaas Bowls Rolls and Bowls marks Knightsbridge Restaurant Group’s first foray into the fast-casual market. Over the past 30 years, Bajaj has mostly opened fancy fixtures that cater to high-profile regulars and special occasions through impeccable plating and service. That includes La Bise and Bombay Club near the White House, Modena near CityCenter DC, and Annabelle in Dupont.
“Having a lot of upscale restaurants, it’s a lot of stress. Having something casual and fun will balance things out,” he tells Eater.
The “bowls” side of the equation at Bindaas Rolls and Bowls lets diners start with a grain like basmati rice, curried quinoa, lemon rice noodles, or coconut brown rice. From there, they can pick a protein like salmon, chicken tikka, lamb meatballs or a vegetarian paneer-sweet potato kofta. Sauce finishers include options like ginger and coconut-based moilee, creamy tomato tikka masala, mellow cashew korma, or a spicy red chile vindaloo.
Customers can also mix and match proteins and sauces, with staff trained to provide recommendations on combinations. Bowls come with a side of kachumber — a simple and fresh chopped salad with onions, tomato and cucumber. The restaurant also offers four bowl creations of its own that will change up based on seasonality and demand.
The “rolls” part of the menu centers around kathi rolls, a quintessential street food favorite in Calcutta. In Penn Quarter, fillings like chicken tikka, paneer and peppers, or lamb roast are wrapped in flatbread and travel well out the door. Much of the menu is $12 and under.
Bajaj toyed with breaking into D.C.’s hot fast-casual market for years, but the fact “everyone was pivoting to takeout and delivery” during the pandemic — on top of an ideal space that fell into his lap — pushed him to do it.
“A chance meeting with the landlord outside the vacant space got this moving. He said that if I wanted the space it was mine,” he says. “It seemed right for a casual concept.”
The new offshoot also introduces diners to snacks like curry puffs, a common item in street-side bakeries in India. At Bindaas, the flaky puff pastry surrounds chicken or chili-cheese fillings. Growing up in India, he used to buy the puffs by the dozen as an afternoon snack with a cup of masala chai. For sandwiches, buttery buns house Parsi-style fried chicken or a spiced, 10-vegetable patty — a twist on Mumbai’s popular potato-based vada pav.
His hit gunpowder fries, another crossover from Bindaas, join samosas and masala popcorn on the snacks front. Masala chai, cold beers, seasonal cocktails, wines, and mango lassi are also available.
For those in a hurry to get back to work, a grab-and-go section lets customers pick up pre-packaged bowls, rolls, and snacks and pay via an express checkout line.
After mulling over various cuisines for his fast-casual debut, Bajaj decided to lean into his tried-and-true Bindaas brand. The original opened in Cleveland Park in 2016, followed by another a year later in Foggy Bottom. He doesn’t want diners to compare the Bindaas offshoot to his fancier Indian mainstays Bombay Club or Rasika.
“The focus on quality and consistent recipes across our concepts will not be compromised. Come in, have fun, and try something new,” says Bajaj.
All proceeds from its first 100 customers during opening week will go towards José Andrés’s nonprofit World Central Kitchen to help Ukrainians in need.
*The opening date has been changed from Monday, April 18, to Thursday, April 21.