Washington, D.C. restaurateur Asad Sheikh turns traditional Indian cuisine fast and casual with the Butter Chicken Company, which opened last October. Sheikh is well-known for his collection of distinct Indian restaurants throughout Virginia and the District, including Bombay Street Food with locations in both Columbia Heights and Capitol Hill. His newest venture, located at 818 18th St. NW, opens at 11:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday.
Butter Chicken Company boasts a slogan of “300 and we’re done,” closing daily after serving its 300th tray of its namesake dish. The restaurant also offers plates of main items chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, chana masala and vegetable biryani. Each $11 dish also includes two smaller portioned sides, which can be any of the five menu items, a piece of plain or garlic naan, and unlimited chutney and raita. Though the menu is limited in its dishes, it is refreshingly affordable and surprisingly comprehensive, offering vegetarian options and many spice levels.
Orange lighting and loud, colorful wall art greet patrons upon entry. Guests line up to make their selection from several huge, steaming copper pots, each of which contains one of the five menu options. After crafting their meal, they are quickly handed their reusable plastic container with generous portions on a cafeteria-style lunch tray in true fast casual style. At peak meal times, the line can form out the door of the 40-seat establishment, but Butter Chicken Company’s employees are speedy and efficient, preventing a long wait for any customer. The nature of the establishment as an informal dining spot centered on convenience means that the wait is never too long.
The interior mirrors the vibrant red and orange color of the dishes while incorporating a mural wall, which includes photos of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and Gandhi. The restaurant also pays homage to the inventor of butter chicken, Kundan Lal Gujral, on one of the walls. The interior highlights the cuisine’s authenticity and history while also presenting a modern and energetic eatery.
Every dish highlights a different flavor profile, as recognizable spices are combined harmoniously to create plates that were sensorily complex. The namesake dish is a rich and velvety curry with slight hints of cardamom to complicate the flavor. The smoothness and richness of the sauce is true to its name. Though the tomato flavor of the sauce could be overwhelming, when paired with the robust vegetable biryani, the two dishes create a culinary masterpiece by balancing sweet and spicy flavors, preventing any one ingredient from dominating the plate.
The second most popular dish, the chicken tikka masala, also consists of tender chicken in a warm, well-seasoned and vibrant curry sauce. Both chicken dishes present different flavor profiles — the butter chicken sweeter and richer and the tikka masala spicier and tangier — while still being bold and succulent dining options catering to different preferences.
As a less meaty option, the saag paneer offers a bite of fresh cheese and flavorful spinach that provides the ideal balance between garlic and slight acidity. Eaten all together, each of the dishes contributes to a complex and delightful combination of textures and flavors by juggling the velvety and thick sauce of the butter chicken, the bold seasoning of the tikka masala and the vegetables of the saag paneer to create a robust Indian cuisine experience.
The dining experience would be incomplete without sampling the creamy, tangy and zesty mango lassi for dessert, which complements the meal’s strong spices and hearty texture with its sweetness and refreshing cold temperature in contrast to the spicy warmth of the entrees.
Sheikh’s restaurant concept — combining traditional Indian foods with speedy and convenient service — has proven to be such a success that Butter Chicken Company-2 is expected to open soon in H Street Corridor. Despite the limited five-dish menu, the restaurant excels in flavor and execution as well as affordability. A trip to Butter Chicken Company is a quality and flavorful dining experience, but one that also exemplifies the creativity and dedication of its owner, who has expertly made a sampling of Indian cuisine quick and accessible.