Image: Power Puffs.
There is a trick that restaurants can pull off. With just a few touches and accents they can make you feel removed from the grit of the world outside. Pappe’s interior does this. The high ceiling with draped boldly-colored fabrics and warm lighting set a mood. It doesn’t transport you to another world, but it does feel like a bit of a refuge from this one. The locals and others coming through the neighborhood to eat set a buoyant mood without music blasting. Part of the trick is to set the conditions to make it seem to happen organically.
Once you are settled, the food rounds out the experience. The menu has a combination of traditional dishes you will recognize, but also ones where the kitchen is showing off. House specialties, that often outshine the standards, were no longer broken out on the menu at our last visit. But the idea still holds: look for the interesting dishes. The dahi puri, not listed on the online version but available a recent menu, is the traditional street food dish served in the very thin “cups” of puffed pastry filled with yogurt, chutney, chickpeas, and a few more things. It is sweet and spicy, creamy and chewy all in one bite. Baingan bartha of smokey, spicy eggplant was also a winner and a menu mainstay. The deep brown sauce that goes with the delicate pieces red snapper in the fish chettinad, is indicative of many of the dishes. The menu lists it as including the following ingredients in addition to the evident chunks of tomato, “red chilies, black peppercorn, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, fennel, curry leaves & mustard seeds.” The same rich flavor, though different elements, holds for the lamb curry. Even daal makhani is in our notes as “rich,” while the chicken tikka masala has a touch of sweetness. Tom, in the Post notes the spice level, but we have not found it that intense – though it should be said we have not tried the vindaloo.
The wine list is not deep, but bourbon and other whiskies are well represented along with a few beers. The bar reflects India’s affection for whisky and may reflect the owners’ passion as well. The restaurant was conceived as friends bonded over a love of vindaloo (pappe means brother in Punjabi). It was the product of three partners. Leave it to Laura Hayes to get the best version of the story. “’Sanjay [Mandhaiya – the chef] and I met about five years ago at Equinox gym in Tysons Corner,’ [partner and investor Vipul] Kapila says. ‘He said he owned an Indian restaurant a half a mile from my house. I told him, ‘That place, the food there is awful!’’ Kapila hadn’t been in since Mandhaiya took over the restaurant tucked into a strip mall in Falls Church. ‘He made it work—I started eating there again,’ Kapila continues.”
Other Guidance: It is a casual spot, but neighborhood nice in vibe. It is located at street level with no steps. Being Indian, GF and V can do well.
Neighborhood: 14th Street
Address: 1317 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005
Washington Post: 2 Stars from Tom in 2019, and included in the Spring Dining Guide. Positive First Bite in 2018.
Washingtonian: Mini-review along with Bombay Street Food and London Curry House (Va) in 2019. Preview.
Lori Gardner (Been There Eaten That): From 2018.