East Finally Meets West
[from February 2005 issue]

Sybarites, mark your date books for DC's trendiest, hottest-if not newest-destination: IndeBleu. Eat, drink, and definitely be merry in this two-story funhouse with its chic, ultra-contemporary décor, and various wine and dine settings. And before you set foot in the door, make a reservation, or you may cool your heels in some darkened corner before a table is vacant.

For what you really want to do at IndeBleu is eat. As our waiter explained it, it's French food injected with Indian and other exotic spices. Purists may look askance at such a combination, but oddly enough, the whole concept works. Indian tandoori bread speckled with snippets of fresh rosemary? At first bite, the butter-washed discs of baked and blistered dough have an almost unidentifiable flavor: Cardamom? Mint? Cumin? Rosewater? You wonder, and take another bite. Well, that's rosemary, chopped up fresh and kneaded into the dough. And with an act of great generosity, the kitchen sees to it that your bread plate is never allowed to remain empty: A waitress passes by regularly with her basket brimming with hot, freshly baked bread.

Of course, the service at IndeBleu warrants mention. Engaging young staffers orchestrate their movements so that you, the pampered, never want for anything. A course being served to or cleared at your table? That happens in a synchronized move, so that all plates arrive simultaneously, or conversely, are whisked away in a duplicated movement. Spill something? A glass of soda water appears at your elbow. Water glass nearly empty? The water pitcher materializes. Cutlery is removed and replaced with such deftness that conversations continue unimpeded. I have a feeling that if you asked, the staff would draw up plans for a fancy wedding and have them ready for you by the time you paid your bill.

And since you are here to eat--you can drink wine and cocktails anywhere else in town, so hasten to the dining rooms upstairs--pay attention to the menu. Your waiter, as you soon learn, can explain every twist and turn in its set up: The menu, by the way, is illustrated with the various postal marks of every city from which the executive chef Vikram Garg has gathered his inspirations. It's all very mix and match, for the kitchen desires that you eat three courses--first, second, and main--plus dessert. But the trick is that you can mix and match anything with anything.

Convention dictates that an appetizer course should be more petite than what follows, though it's hard to decide what fits better as an appetizer on such a men--the white tandoori shrimp with shaved fennel on a chiffonade of romaine and artisanal goat cheese from the first group or Maine lobster brandade and bisque with kari leaf foam and caviar from the second. We gave up, and decided on the lobster and beef carpaccio with a raw artichoke salad and the white tandoori shrimp. Not surprisingly, the appetizers are displayed like works of minimalist modern art, and of the two, the shrimp clearly showed off more of its Indian roots. The beef-lobster arrangement intrigued for neither of us could figure out how the kitchen merged both lobster and beef into one unit, which must be what happens here. Otherwise, where's the lobster?

Our main course dishes in their well-disciplined portions also mimicked artwork, and were as uniquely contrived as were the appetizers. Who would ever imagine making a "crust" of shrimp as a coating for salmon, and then set the whole assembly in a butter bath? Oh, the calories. More exotic was the pan-seared lobster meat in a composed salad sparked with bits of chorizo sausage. This assembly sits directly in a pool of an intense mango-lemon verbena cream that vibrates with flavor.

Desserts here are de rigeuer, and it's anyone's guess which one bests the others. I chose the Oreo kulfi ice cream nestled and sandwiched in three, split profiteroles and accompanied by a mug of intensely chocolaty hot chocolate, really the essence of chocolate swirled with whipped cream. That beverage is worth the price of the entire meal, and at that, the meal does come at a price.

Sticker shock awaits with the bill, but you'd have to know beforehand that such overt luxury doesn't come without some tariff somewhere in the evening. Never mind. My friend smiled happily and decided that this was the best meal she'd ever had in Washington. Ever. Some things in life are worth what you pay for, and this meal is one of them.

IndeBleu, 707 G St., NW; tel., 333-2536.. Hours: 5:30pm-1am, daily. Entrée prices: $25-$39. All major credit cards accepted. For more info, visit http://www.bleu.com.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

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