My friend Sunny and I just spent Labor Day weekend in Baltimore. It was the first time I’d ever spent a weekend there despite living in the Washington DC area. First of all I’m going to say that the people are very friendly and apt to take a good chunk of time out of their day in order to give you directions. It isn’t a mecca of wealth and status like other East Coast cities, which is a good thing. It has a vibrant performing and visual arts scene, but it isn’t much for fashion or perfume. The streets are narrow and there is a great variation of architecture.
Akbar Restaurant is a well-respected, 27-year-old Indian restaurant in Mount Vernon. It’s had the same chefs the whole time, and there is another location in Columbia, MD. It has white tablecloths and a small, cozy environment that is made authentic by Indian paintings and knickknacks. They play Indian music in the background.
First we got a platter of three different chutneys: onion and spice, sweet and sour sauce, and mint and green chile cilantro with papadam (lentil) flatbread to serve with it. The papadam is the texture of a large tortilla chip. The onion dip was my favorite, while Sunny, who is from Bangladesh and likes spicy food, preferred the mint and green chile cilantro.
For an appetizer I got sabz soup, made with puree of cauliflower, corander, garlic, and cream. It was appropriate cup size, not served in a massive flattish bowl like a chain restaurant would give you. I tasted mostly the cauliflower and ginger. It was counterintuitively good with lemon.
My entree was a bubbling hot dish of mattar paneer: cheese served with peas and spices. The cheese sauce has fenugreek, homemade cheese pieces, onion, and tomato paste. It was an abundance of textures in one dish, and was a bit spicy. Sunny got the tandoori chicken. It was bright red because it was made in a special sauce and put in a clay oven. She said it was white and moist on the inside even though she ordered it well-done. The outside was hard and crunchy in a good way.
The dessert was the best part. I ordered kulfi, Indian ice cream made of thickened milk with almonds. They serve it with rosewater and pistachios, sliced on the plate. Akbar’s version is thicker than others and contains more almonds. It was amazing, and so thick that it took a bit of effort to get the spoon into. Sunny said she liked it even though she doesn’t usually like nuts.
I should add here that our waiter, Debendra, was quite happy to tell me the history of the restaurant and to take my card. Some restaurants care more about bloggers’ reviews than others, but Akbar was one of the most helpful. The owner came by to talk to us too. I would eat there all the time if I was in Baltimore: Akbar is a low-key, well-established restaurant that respects the people who eat there.
My Rating: 10
Recommended Dish: Kulfi
Atmosphere: Small, intimate, fairly casual. A great place to bring a date. The atmosphere, vibe, and quality is similar to Benito One‘s.
Price Range: $18-$35 per person.
823 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
9400 Snowden River Parkway
Columbia, MD 21045