I have not been quiet about my affection for Celebration by Rupa Vira and its modern Indian cuisine. But somehow, it took me a year to try her first restaurant, Rupa Vira’s The Signature, which opened in 2015.
Clearly this was a mistake. The fully vegetarian eatery is more traditional than Celebration, but like the newer restaurant, there’s still evidence of a chef having fun with hopping across India’s 29 states.
This became abundantly clear as soon as I sipped the paan milkshake. It’s a bit of a misnomer; the mocktail is milky, but contains no ice cream. But it does indeed taste like the bundle of betel-leaf-wrapped sweets and nuts. In fact, it’s so aromatic, that it could almost be described as liquid incense.
My dining partner and I shared the Gujarati thali, a multi-course affair that, though only $16.95, left us more than full when paired with an order of the crunchy mango palak chaat. The Gujarati thali changes each day, to allow the chef to stretch her creativity. Off-menu, the Mumbai native also offers a Rajasthani version of the meal.
Proceedings begin with a trio of farsans, or appetizers, placed on the plate in order of heat, from yogurt-drowned to fiery. My favorite was the dhokla in the middle, a fluffy cake made of fermented gram flour and resting in a pool of mint and tamarind chutneys.
The thali itself centers around four petite pooris, fried to perfection and ready to scoop up raita, pickles, the lightly sweet Gujarati kadhi, and three sabzis (entrees). Each mild dish lent its own homey character to the meal, most of all the pulse-filled kathol in the middle. The meal ended with a pair of desserts: a sweet, cardamom-scented bread and a saffron-suffused, yogurt-based shrikand.
The meal was another stunner from one of the best Indian chefs in NoVA. And for the brief time that I was eating, this omnivore didn’t once think of meat. // 21760 Beaumeade Cir., Unit 120A, Ashburn
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