It’s been a few weeks, but court is now back in session. Our next case: H Street newcomer Cusbah.
General manager Ken Fulkroad told HOH the owners are affiliated with Barrack’s Row mainstay Capitol Hill Tandoor & Grill (419 8th St. SE), but declined to provide specifics about the complexities of the relationship. He did mention that their head chef, Snooti, is an alumni of the T&G kitchen.
According to promotional materials, the start-up “spice bar” aims to mesh the tastes of Northern Indian and Pakistan with nods to American culture. The concept has led to some ingenious marketing plans (such as a $5 vegetable samosa-draft of Pabst Blue Ribbon deal).
Sadly, those grandiose plans do not translate well to either plate or glass.
The restaurant went ahead and opened even though it had yet to finalize the menu, which means guests are limited to a handful of appetizers and shareable small plates. Offerings include familiar fare (stewed vegetables, tandoori-fired proteins), with some sort of twist.
And it ain’t always a good one.
For starters, the appetizer sampler is billed as a “kabob plate.”
Which is doubly confusing since the kitchen doesn't currently serve kabobs — or even skewer any of the items it does prepare.
The vegetable samosa was the clear-cut winner of our initial taste-around, delivering pleasantly curried potatoes wrapped in tender pastry. The vegetable pakora was moderately crispy, but mostly just bland.
Things quickly went south from there.
The chicken tikka was so flavorless that one companion pined for a bowl of soothing raita. Another questioned whether the bone-dry bird had ever enjoyed the benefit of an actual marinade. A lamb dish suffered just the opposite fate, its woefully overdone meat further battered by over-the-top spicing.
Signature concoctions didn’t fare much better.
One confusing beverage, though muddled with jalapenos and cucumber, tasted overwhelmingly of lime. (We’re talking antidote to scurvy levels.)
Across the spectrum was the eponymous house cooler, a cloying mojito knock-off that didn't produce a single sip of originality.
Fulkroad said the menu is almost complete, promising a fully rounded carte of roughly 40-50 separate items, including additional beef, lamb, chicken, seafood and vegetarian selections. Key among those will be actual kabobs served in house-made roti and garnished with mint sauce.
And he mapped out plans to roll out lunch service shortly thereafter.
Hopefully not before they iron out all the pre-existing kinks.
Cusbah: 1128 H St. NE, 202-506-1504. Open for dinner daily.