Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Merzi, DC

Merzi means "choice" in Urdu, Hindi, and Punjabi and that is the premise behind this fast casual Indian establishment in Penn Quarter. When it first opened many, many years ago, I'm pretty sure they had the distinction of being the only fast casual Indian restaurant in DC. Now, there's competition with the new Rasa in Navy Yard, but Merzi is under new ownership and Rickey, the owner, is setting out to make Merzi better.

When you first step in, you are greeted by inviting red and wood walls. The dining room features booths as well as table seating. It's a pretty standard concept--you build your bowl step by step. The lighter portion is $8.25 and the large is $9.25. Where they are lacking is in options for bases, proteins, and toppings. Maybe I'm just spoiled by Roti and Cava Mezze Grill, but I love having lots of options. You choose your base--rice, salad, or no base for a vegan bowl. Then you can choose from or just order all five vegetables: braised red cabbage, potatoes, green peas, chickpeas, and curried cauliflower. And for protein, they are now offering crumbled tofu.

What is cool is that the new ownership is looking to cater to all diets and they are trying to veganize what they can to make it more accessible to everyone. Before, you could only have one sauce if you were vegan: the "spicy" onion tomato masala. Now, the tikka masala, the creamy sauce, is vegan because they replaced the dairy with coconut milk. Win!

Once you've chosen all the ingredients for your bowl, you can top it with a few toppings such as cucumber tomato salad, romaine lettuce, corn, and pickled red onions along with a tomato or tamarind chutney.

I ordered the salad bowl with romaine, all veggies, both vegan sauces (one on each side), pickled onions and a little chutney.

The first thing I noticed was that the spicy sauce wasn't very spicy at all and Rickey said that that is because it is Americanized Indian--so it is American spicy. Well, that is disappointing. I think for a spicy sauce, it should be a bit more spicy than it is. The veggies tasted unseasoned, except for the cauliflower, which is really good--seasoned with cumin and turmeric. Apparently the veggies were over seasoned before so they went back to the basics with unseasoned veggies. I think a little more seasoning would be nice, but, then again, the sauce is pretty flavorful. The tomato masala sauce is good, but somewhat plain. That new vegan tikka masala sauce, however, is great--it's super creamy and flavorful and brings all the flavor to the dish. I loved the pickled onions too.

The second time I went, I got the rice with all veggies and the new tofu option with the tikka masala sauce. The tofu, because it is crumbled, was hard to taste, but, again, that sauce made the meal!

I also tried the samosas, but I wasn't a fan. They were just way too deep fried. I am a fan of the mango chutney though.

For drinks, they just started offering two freshly made drinks--Chai Iced Tea and Turmeric Mint Lemonade. I only tried the lemonade and I thought it was pretty good. But, where they really shine is that they just made the Mango Lassi vegan--now made with coconut milk and it is absolutely delicious!

I asked Rickey why he cared to veganize more items and he said that he has been vegan on and off and really wants the food to be accessible to all. Everything in the restaurant is gluten free, so now it's time to have more vegan options. I'd, personally, love to see more veggies like eggplant and more protein options like lentils or chickpeas. I think he's on the right track though and I really look forward to seeing this restaurant evolve under the ownership. He even just joined the Vegetarian Society of DC's Green Rewards program, which gives members discounts at local veg-friendly businesses. Thanks, Rickey, we appreciate you.

Be sure to go and try the new tikka masala sauce! It's delish.
415 7th Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 656-3794

Merzi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Full Disclosure: Although the meal was provided to me at no cost to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

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