By Olivia Anderson | oander[email protected]
Kismet Modern Indian’s recent opening in Alexandria might have been guided by destiny.
When restaurant owner Sachin Mahajan decided to create a sister restaurant to Karma Modern Indian in downtown Washington D.C., he initially planned to do so in another large city. But then COVID-19 hit, the pandemic spread like wildfire and his plans changed.
“Our goal was to expand, but we said, ‘Well, let’s not go to another big city,’” Mahajan said.
Instead, he leaned into the evolving nature of Alexandria’s business scene with its ever-increasing number of restaurants and an empty location in Old Town fell into his lap. Mahajan had also been spending more time in Alexandria since he currently resides here.
This serendipitous sequence of events, Mahajan postulated, may actually have been in the cards the entire time.
“How the neighborhood changed here, how things evolved over the last year or so – that could be kismet,” Mahajan said. “Maybe this location sat empty for a while because COVID-19 happened. … It just made sense. That’s what I’m saying: You have your own plans, but there is destiny that kind of plays a part as well.”
The result was a restaurant aptly titled Kismet, a word synonymous with “destiny” or “fate,” and a concept – along with karma – that Mahajan holds close to his heart.
“I believe in those philosophies, with regards to how destiny plays a big part,” Mahajan said. “I was born in India; now I live here. There were certain aspects of it that were karma – what decisions kind of led me to move away. I’ve seen and experienced life by going around and living in different parts of the world – people you meet, how certain things are destined and [how] certain … decisions you make have come about.”
The common thread of these ideologies will course through both restaurants, as will the popular type of modern Indian cuisine they offer.
The modern theme extends to Mahajan’s vision for the customer’s overall experience, from the table to the atmosphere to the aesthetics of the restaurant.
“The experience in the restaurant, both from the bar program to the dining, is similar [to Karma] in the sense that the aesthetics are modern, the experience is modern, the menu, the whole feel,” Mahajan said. “Some of those things can only be experienced when you dine at both restaurants. You can feel that way because being in the restaurant – the music, the lighting, the service, all those play a part in affecting your senses.”
But Kismet, located at 111 N. Pitt St., will differ from Karma in several ways, too. While Karma focuses more on fine dining for an upmarket clientele, for instance, Kismet plans to present what Mahajan calls a “fun dining” experience.
“[At Karma] we obviously have to do the Saturday diners that come in for a fine dining experience in the city, but during the week we do have a lot of the corporate business clientele, so we have to manage the experience from that standpoint, whereas here we do have a business clientele as well, but it’s a different experience than what D.C. has,” Mahajan said. “[Kismet] will be one notch down on that formality. It’s comfortable, it’s not going to be as formal as D.C.”
Additionally, while some successful Karma dishes like chicken tikka and lamb seekh kebab will appear on the Kismet’s menu, others are brand new.
One such staple entree is the lamb ghee roast, a slow cooked dish infused with cloves and cardamom. Another will be snapper periperi served with lemon rice, which had only previously appeared as a Karma special.
“We tested it out with our clients there and it was a really big hit, so we thought we should definitely put that as an item,” Mahajan said. “It will be unique to both Karma and Kismet in regards to our families, so it’s a new dish and it was very well-received.”
Chef Ajay Kumar, who brings with him a Michelin Bib Gourmand award from Karma, will lead the culinary team. He’ll also bring popular Karma menu items such as the tangy sweet potato and Calcutta jhaal muri, an Indian street food, homestyle chicken curry and butter paneer.
Patrons need not worry about the drink selection, either; Kismet will offer a full bar and wine selection that is published in its entirety on the menu.
As with any restaurant’s grand opening, the process of opening Kismet’s doors wasn’t without obstacles. Mahajan was ready to open the restaurant in early October and hoped to do so by mid-month, but ongoing staffing shortages precluded this from happening.
“Currently, as well, we’re not fully staffed where we want to be, but we’ll maybe reduce the intake of guests on a regular basis just so that we can handle what we can handle. We had to get to a certain point and just open because I didn’t know when we would fully staff, unfortunately,” Mahajan said.
In order to try and satiate the many guests who are hungry to try this new spot, Kismet opened its doors for takeout on Nov 2. It’s an experience Mahajan said left him feeling simultaneously excited, because of the positive feedback, and drained, because of the sheer amount of labor exerted.
Despite the staffing challenges, Kismet’s soft opening on Sunday evening went smoothly. On one hand, Alexandrians get to experience a local, more relaxed take on modern Indian cuisine while still tasting all the Michelin-level deliciousness of its sister site across the river.
“It was very suitable for them because they still get the same quality of the food and the experience, and this is close to home so they don’t have to go to D.C. on a Saturday night,” Mahajan said.
On the other hand, Mahajan finally gets to see his dream – whether by destiny, hard work or a combination of the two – come to life.
In its completed form, Kismet Modern Indian offers a lengthy menu, suspended luminaire and heated outdoor courtyard patio. Indoor dining officially began yesterday, and the restaurant will be open Wednesday through Sunday.
“We’re really excited to get this food out to people, getting guests to come in to dine [and have] the experience,” Mahajan said. “That’s the whole goal of opening a restaurant: to get your food out to people. That’s the satisfaction you get when people enjoy the experience that you worked hard to deliver.”