Celebration by Rupa Vira restaurant review: Modern Indian cuisine is worth savoring

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Cooking meals on demand proved to be a good experience for caterer Vira after she and her family moved to the United States in 2003, for educational opportunities for her two children, son Priyank and daughter Darshni. Vanodia. The catering business led to the chef’s first Ashburn restaurant, Rupa Vira’s the Signature in 2015. The celebration followed in January 2020.

The youngest restaurant, at Cameron Chase Village Center, is a family affair. Priyank is general manager, and Sharad and his daughter are the interior designers responsible for the look of the space, whose 120 seats are spread across a lounge and dining area visible behind an interior window. The display of shiny chafing dishes near the entrance is a tease; the ongoing pandemic means no buffets for the foreseeable future.

The living room has cool written all over it. Citronella-colored chairs frame the tables and the sleek bar, illuminated so that the spirits on the shelves seem to glow. The general manager says that “TVs were a debate for us”. In the end, screens were hung up for patrons to enjoy any game that might be shown. One of the many monitors plays a video of Celebration’s catering successes – tempting incentives to hire Vira for your next special occasion. The second, larger room finds pink-colored seating and paintings by a local artist that play up the restaurant’s theme.

Rasika in Washington is the rare Indian restaurant to start a trend, meaning just about every Indian restaurant around serves some version of the palak chaat made famous by chef Rasika Vikram Sunderam. Celebration’s leafy appetizer is a stunner that uses fried kale in addition to spinach in the yogurt striped salad, and add juicy pear, shiny pomegranate seeds and what look like pearls to the equation. (It’s actually blueberries and yogurt in gel-like spheres of the kind made popular by modernist chefs, including José Andrés of Minibar fame.) Full of flavor, the texture is a marvel. “Like the air!” said a table companion, inhaling the fried greens.

Rupa Vira is not an imitator. Nowhere else have I enjoyed chicken tikka meatballs, tender orbs of ground chicken that split open to reveal yellow (turmeric and saffron) and green (cilantro) cores and share their bowl with a smoky chili sauce and a drift of ricotta. Ignore the naan on the table and you could be forgiven for picturing yourself in an Italian trattoria. The chef has a modern way of looking at Indian cuisine, or at least making it all stand out. A trio of sautéed scallops are presented in the shells, with dollops of turmeric mousse to match the chairs, a shimmer of eggs and splashes of chili oil. The touches of color are welcome, even if the mousse seemed too sweet to me.

Delicious lamb patties are staged on flaky paratha alongside a trio of colorful sauces in an appetizer with a backdrop to an ancient Lucknow Nawab. The aging monarch loved meat, but had lost his teeth, prompting royal cooks to create something chewy. Vira’s contemporary version is the galouti kebab, lamb seasoned with star anise and other spices hot and mashed so as not to overload the jaw.

Chef’s drive-in dinners in Mumbai are remembered in his butternut squash kofta, a dish she made for her husband and associates, and a prize among the Vegetarian Selections at Celebration. Thumbs of mashed squash and fried potatoes bask in a creamy onion sauce that gets its red hue and sweet touch from goji berries.

I was worried on one visit when my server asked what we would like and didn’t bother to take notes. My party’s request was long. To everyone’s surprise, she repeated the order to us and didn’t miss a single detail. The attention at Celebration is reserved but helpful. Our guide’s vivid memory was followed by, among other dishes, Bombay cheese toast – rafts of bread smothered in mashed vegetables and the subtly sour Indian cheese called amul, and a rich lobster curry whose milk Coconut and lime leaves channel the tropics of Kerala, South West India.

Edible florals and edgy touches create eye-catching looks — Vira says her husband prefers different colors on his plates — and the chef’s presentations tend to be underpinned by good taste. In fact, two of the best entries are modestly dressed in comparison. Tender chunks of chicken in a velvety green cloth of cilantro and cashew puree are added to a superlative korma, simply streaked with chili oil. Goat meat cooked to sweet succulence pulsates with fresh ginger in a curry colored with ratanjot, a plant whose roots produce a natural red dye. We ask for the “spicy” goat, which translates into teasing rather than sweating. Nevertheless, it is delicious.

The celebration is not without a few lesser moments. The lamb chops requested medium-rare came out well done; the highlight of the plate was the electric green chili sauce (almost wiped out with chili and paneer stuffed naan). Some dishes, and not just desserts, suffer from being too sweet. A showy nest of vermicelli fried in ghee, sprinkled with crushed walnuts and arranged with saffron “eggs” made from cottage cheese would be better with half the sugar. The best ending is ghevar, a disc of fried cake soaked in syrup, which breaks apart like a honeycomb and sits on top of rabdi, the creamy, nutty confection made from reduced milk.

The owners aimed for a restaurant where every plate would attract attention and where diners could count on a festive moment, whatever the day of the week. Celebration by Rupa Vira lives up to its name.

Celebration by Rupa Vira. 44260 Ice Rink Plaza, Ashburn, Virginia 571-281-2233. celebrationva.com. Open for take-out, delivery and indoor dining 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Sundays. Price: dinner entrees $8-$21, entrees $16-$30. Sound control: 68 decibels / Conversation is easy. Accessibility: No barriers to entry; restrooms are ADA compliant. Pandemic protocols: All staff are vaccinated and wear masks.

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