A card on the table greets diners. “Welcome to the only restaurant in America serving the real dal bati churma!” It’s a powerful boast, but it’s possible that it’s true. Never having visited Rajasthan, I can’t attest to its authenticity at Bhai Sahab or anywhere else. At any rate, the Leesburg restaurant’s dal bati churma is the only one I’ve found in a restaurant in NoVA, and it’s only available on Thursdays.
The dish is also known as a Rajasthani thali. Although it’s vegetarian, it’s not exactly a dieter’s dream. That’s because ghee (clarified butter) pervades the dishes. Just look at the bati, the rolls at right. Though they’re accompanied by a trio of fiery chutneys, their overriding flavor is of the ghee in which they’re drenched. I used the bati to scoop up not only the chutneys but also the trio of stews, leaving my fingers well moisturized with grease, reminding me of an ayurvedic ghee massage I once had in Singapore.
It’s impossible to pick a favorite among the three. The baingan bharta could be described as a spicy Indian cousin to baba ghanoush, with its base of smoky eggplant, but it’s also tangy with tomato and hot with chiles, adding to its appealing complexity. The cumin-scented dal, or stewed lentils, is the least spicy, making it a pleasant stop between the spicier curries. The hottest of these at Bhai Sahab is a dish with which I was less familiar, gatte ki sabji, made with gram flour balls in a creamy but chile-laden sauce. To cool down the onslaught, there’s a glass of lightly spiced buttermilk on the side. At the end, the churma, a crumbly bread-based sweet, serves to further relieve the palate. I didn’t have room for more, but real trenchermen will enjoy the dish’s unlimited refills.
Not there on a Thursday? Chef Deepak Sarin, also of Vienna’s Bansari Indian Cuisine, isn’t playing when it comes to both standards and more creative dishes. His butter chicken is among the best-balanced I’ve had in NoVA. Meanwhile, he’s folding such standards into tacos every Tuesday. But any day is a welcome time for a visit to Bhai Sahab. 19405 Promenade Dr., Ste. L-106, Leesburg
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