Friday, September 2, 2011

Lehja: Richmond Bucket List #5*

I am going to get right to the point here: I should not have liked Lehja, but I did. I thought it was the best Indian food I had ever had in an Indian restaurant in the U.S.

Without spending too much time on it, here are a few reasons why I was predisposed to dislike Lehja:

  • I am an Indian food snob. It began in graduate school, when an Indian house-mate's mother moved in with us for three months and took over the kitchen. Once I started travelling to India and discovering the food there, the bar was raised forever.
  • Lehja is in a mall. Enough said.
  • Descriptions of  Lehja's "updated and reinvented Indian food" -- reminded me of Rasika in DC. While Rasika can be good, in general I find their food overwrought and overpriced.

On top of everything, the day we went to Lehja, the brutal August heatwave suddenly chose to subside. As a result, the airconditioning inside felt too cold, while a raspy wind made sitting outside uncomfortable. We opted for the outdoor seating, placed our orders and sat there, enduring.

Now, if there is one thing that Chris and I are good at, it's turning a bad situation into a good one. When plans go awry, we usually find some fun way to save the situation. This time, we decided to get our food to go, and have a picnic in the car. The restaurant staff were quite obliging given this change of plan. Soon, we were on our way, big brown bags in hand.

Then, something happened.  Before we could make it to the car, a table magically sprang up in front of us, set into a sheltered patio. It was unoccupied, and had two chairs, waiting just for us. It seemed obvious that we should sit there to eat our dinner.**

And so, covered now in pixie dust, we did: I had the Market Vegetable Kozhambu: Zesty Vegetable Curry in a Tamil Nadu State Inspired Sauce. I was surprised at how good it was. Then I tried Chris' Chicken Tikka Masala. And this is what really amazed me. Don't be fooled by the ordinary sounding name: the flavors were just like they would taste in India -- fresh spices popping out at you separately and together at the same time, hitting different taste buds in a progression of sensations. I couldn't quite believe it, and after a few minutes, sheepishly asked if I could have a second bite, just to make sure. And another and another. So there you have it -- this is good stuff. The menu  is chock full of things I would want to try. Only, a mall is so the wrong place for this restaurant. Come on, Lehja, you deserve a location that will let our imaginations soar!

Outdoor seating at Lehja. In the winter, the reflecting pond is reportedly replaced by a fire pit. Too bad it was not in service the evening we were there!

*As a result of "On Fumes Alone", Chris created a bucket list of Richmond restaurants for us to visit. This is the fifth of such visits. For a full list of visits, click here.

**In reality, the sheltered nook we found was part of the Comedy Club, but to us, it seemed fantastical: we had just been wishing for a table in a protected space, and there it was before us. Nobody seemed to mind us sitting down to dinner there. So, thanks, Comedy Club, for indulging us.

Lehja on Urbanspoon


Mollie said...

That sounds delish! I'm so bummed it's not in DC! What's your favorite DC Indian? I'm always looking for the best one...

Antoinette Ego said...

There is a food cart called Indigo at the Union Station courtyard that I like quite a bit. In the winter months they will do a food truck, so watch out for it. I also really like the dahl at Masala Art in Tenley Town. What's your favorite?

Anonymous said...

Chicken tikka masala like you would taste in India? Next you'll be blogging about general tso's chicken just like it was made in china. Chicken tikka masala was first made in the u.k.

Antoinette Ego said...

Chicken tikka masala is Britain's most popular dish, but it's origins are disputed, and it is likely to have been invented in India even though the Brits are claiming it. In fact, there is no one way of making this dish, since "tikka" just means chunks of chicken, and "masala" is a mixture of spices. I was referring mostly to the way the spices were used in the dish, which had the same quality as food I have eaten in India.

bharat that is india! said...

the origins of Chicken tikka masala are indeed suspect. I am inclined to agree that it is more likely a Brit invention or at least invented for the Brit palate.

But origins apart, CTM is quite popular in India too. perhaps not as popular as the drier or spicier chicken tikka, but popular enough.

Lehja sounds delightful.