Friday, May 11, 2012

Blemished Gem: Jewel of India Disappoints on First Visit

After reading a glowing review in the Washington Post, I was finally persuaded to make my first visit to Hillandale's Jewel of India last weekend. After a Saturday spent in eager anticipation of the scrumptious Indian delicacies I was to enjoy that evening, my experience at the restaurant proved to be a disappointment, and I didn't even make it to the meal. While a cricket metaphor might be more apt in this situation, I don't fully comprehend the rules of that particular game so I will rely on an overused baseball reference and say that Jewel of India struck out.

Strike 1: Nobody puts baby in a corner. When we arrived (toddler in tow) the restaurant was at best a quarter full, yet the host attempted to seat us in a tiny space located between the entrance and the host stand. While I had initially assumed this to be a waiting area, upon closer inspection I saw that it was indeed a seating area, though it contained just a pair of two tops that I would imagine would only be used when the dining area was completely full. I guess it also serves as their baby ghetto, never mind that there was no space at the small tables for a child in a high chair. There was already an older couple sitting there waiting for the rest of their party to arrive, so it was a bit awkward when we made the move to seat ourselves on the host's instruction. The tables were also positioned directly underneath a HVAC vent dropping a constant stream of chilled air, making the prospect of remaining there for any extended period of time an uncomfortable one.

Though he acquiesced when we decided to request that we be instead seated in the main dining area, when asked why we couldn't have been seated there to begin with the host responded "you have a child". (For what it's worth, Sligo Jr. is very well-behaved at restaurants and has yet to create a scene that disturbed other patrons. He also really loves Indian food, based on past experiences at Ghar-e-Kabab. There they never fail to provide him with a complimentary, baby-sized mango lassi.) 

Strike 2: Stale papadum. This is a standard appetizer in many Indian restaurants, so you'd think they'd be serving it regularly enough to maintain a fresh inventory, however this was not the case on this particular evening. Disappointingly, the crackers served to use were quite stale. Ultimately this was the only food I ended up eating at the restaurant.

Strike 3: Complete neglect by wait staff. Thirty minutes after being seated, we had not yet been provided with menus. Despite repeated attempts to flag down one of the employees floating around the dining room, there was no acknowledgement of our presence. I couldn't even find a waiter working our section. Meanwhile, the aforementioned stale papadum was gone and our emergency Cheerios supply was nearly exhausted. While Sligo Jr. might be relatively well-behaved at restaurants, every small child has his or her limit when it comes to being confined to a high chair without something to do/eat. With bedtime fast approaching, we made the decision to abort the dinner and pick up Chipotle on the way home.

To his credit, when we got up to leave the manager (?) was extremely apoligetic and offered to put our meals at the top of the kitchen queue, but by that point it was too late. While my experience at Jewel of India is probably atypical, it's almost enough to turn me off for good. I still really want to try their food, so I'll likely give them another chance, though perhaps next time I'll go for the buffet.


Terry in Silver Spring said...

We went last night and had great service and exceptionally good food. Papadums were perfect. Appetizer: samosa chat, samosas covered in a chickpea sauce, phenomenal. Naan, fresh and hot and addictive. Entrees: 1. curried shrimp, called shrimp jalfresi (pardon my spelling if I get some of these wrong), very nice, the first time I've had curried shrimp; 2. Malai kafta, cheese croquettes in a great cream sauce, much much better than it sounds; 3. Jeera aloo, potatoes smothered in tomatoes, cumin, and other spices. OMG, so good. Dessert: Malai kulfi, a type of cardamom ice cream, awesome; Shahi tukda, kind of a bread pudding that's thin sliced and toasted then covered in a creamy sauce, great; Gulab jamun, Little milky balls floating in a clear sauce that smells of rose water, wow

One of the best Indian dinners I've ever had. Reminded me of eating at a great Indian restaurant in London.

Give them another chance.

wmsiii said...

I work near there, and have been to the lunch buffet several times, it is excellent. That, of course, mitigates the servers. The variety on the buffet is really what stands out, compared to any other Indian buffet that I have been to.

Jenny said...

That's brutal. It would be tough for me to go back after being treated that way, regardless of other rave reviews.

Anonymous said...

I've had takeout twice from there.

The first time was great. Very little wait time, but it was in the middle of the afternoon.

The second time was Saturday night, probably the same time that you were there. I called ahead, they said to give them 25 minutes, I got there after 30 minutes, and waited an additional 30 minutes. The food was mediocre.

The eggplant mash thing was delicious though, and I don't even like eggplant. One of the best Indian dishes I've ever had.

But I'm never going back there during regular dining hours. The diners waiting for their food were pissed off. The servers had no idea what they were doing and they were getting yelled at by the manager, who also had no idea what he was doing. There was no organization of any kind. They need to get their s together if they want to stay in business.

BenK said...

I went once for the buffet. There were many regulars, many indian and quite a few europeans. The food was very good and everyone was happy. The lines weren't too long. The manager was very friendly, the staff a little harried and diffident but basically no problem. They didn't charge for the young child, even though I was expecting to pay. I haven't returned yet, but not for any reason in particular. I do know the seating area you are describing. It's a little awkward, but that time, a large indian family occupied it, apparently satisfied.

Seth Gitter said...

Hard to recover from that type of service, but after a WP review a lot of places like that get slammed and just aren't ready.

I had two decent experiences there. One buffet and one take out. I found for buffet I really had to flag waiters down to pay or get a drink. Takeout was great but expensive, but I think Woodland is better (both are owned by the same people I thin).

Unrelated. A new food truck called De Pana is parked at Bonnifant & Fenton in the citgo. I got some great ropa vejia there. Really solid lunch with beans for $7, guy says he'll be there regularly so give it try. I'm going again this week for lunch. I'm not affiliated with the truck, but the dude did give me two free empanadas today, which were really tasty.

DTSSER said...

Methinks you should try it again. That's my own rule with restaurants whenever the first time disappoints, especially when the place has a good reputation.

You neer know when they're short-staffed, have a substitute cook, or a just in a funk.

Anonymous said...

Given how annoying young children are in public I'm not shocked. They had no way of knowing your kid was well behaved

Jenny said...


Happy Mother's Day to you too!

Not all children are annoying in public. It's about the parents, not the kids. If my kids acted up even briefly, I marched them outside and warned them we were leaving and they were going straight to time-out if they didn't stop. And so they stopped. I never had any problems with my kids in restaurants; it's the parents who refuse to deal with the problem and let the kids run wild who create dumb attitudes like yours and ruin it for the rest of us.

Doesn't sound like Sligo's child was a holy terror, so why treat them that way?

Anonymous said...

I will say that many times when I go to any Indian restaurants there is a large party of an Indian family. They generally have many small children, and they let them run around with little supervision. It can get very annoying. Not everyone with children is like this, but seems to happen more often than not at the Indian places I frequent.

I now generally get takeout...

Anonymous said...

Not sure it's a dumb attitude when there are so many instances of it.

Stuart said...

You are more patient than I am, waiting 30 minutes for menus.

Anonymous said...

As others have said, the lunch buffet is the way to go. Never tried dinner, so I hope what you experienced was atypical.

Tom said...

A little research shows this place is the "sister restaurant" to Woodlands, which is bar none the BEST Indian food I've ever had anywhere. That in itself peeks my interest, but since they're so close I'm not sure why I'd go to this place.

Sligo said...

If you wanted dishes with meat. Woodlands is purely vegetarian. It was the same deal with Udupi and Tiffin in Langley Park, before the former closed.

G Gonzalez said...

I agree with you on the odd service. We went with our three kids on the early side. We had made a reservation, which seemed unnecessary when we arrived, but, by the time we left at 8 or so, the place was packed. The food was very good. They need to figure out the admin side, but they've got the food side down.

Anonymous said...

We went on a Sunday eve a few months back, as a couple (left toddler at home) and we too were relegated to those tables you are talking about. We were surprised since there was definitely seating available -- esp for 2 -- but figured the "do you have a reservation??" question we were first asked (and of course we didn't, it was Sunday in Hillandale!) had something to do with it.

I too thought the waitstaff was rather standoffish. We definitely waited a while for our food. But without the toddler, it was bearable.

At least our food was good. Perhaps your next experience should just be with takeout. I'm not sure I'd go back to a place that was this rude to a family. It's not K Street! It's Hillandale.

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