A month after opening Bansari Indian Cuisine (2750 Gallows Road) in Merrifield, Yash Bhatt picked up the phone.
It was Tim Carman, a food critic for The Washington Post.
He had been ordering takeout from the new Punjabi-style restaurant, enjoyed the food, and was writing a review.
“We had no clue,” Bhatt said. “We were serving him like a normal customer.”
His favorable review, published last week, buoyed the team.
“You feel that sense of pride when, not knowingly, you were doing the right thing the whole time,” he said.
The reward came after months of work and new obstacles caused by the shutdown. With regulatory agencies reachable only by mail or email, obtaining permits was slow going, but Bhatt “can’t complain.”
News of the restaurant is spreading. Outdoor dining fills up quickly, but people are skittish to eat indoors, he said.
The small team he has is “going crazy” trying to keep up, but Bhatt said “it is exciting to hear the phone ring all the time.” Bhatt wonders if it’s time to hire more wait staff.
The restaurant used to be Punjabi by Nature, but the owners wanted out of the business, Bhatt said. His wife Nirali and head chef Deepak Sarin, who used to cook for Punjabi by Nature, became co-owners in June. The space was closed for renovations and opened in mid-July.
About six other Indian restaurants can be found within a 5-mile radius of Bansari, which Bhatt said was intimidating at first.
“It looked really challenging, but in the end, we knew our chef has magic hands,” Bhatt said.
In fact, Sarin’s “magic hands” caught Carman’s attention during the summer, when he tried the chef’s pani puri. The cold Indian street snack, which provides a moment of respite from the summer heat, is made from hollow, crispy crêpe balls filled with chickpeas, potatoes and spices, and doused in water flavored with mint, cilantro, chilies, sugar and black salt. Sarin lets diners assemble the pani puri themselves.
All the dishes are made in-house, and Sarin divides his time between Bansari and his other restaurant, Bhai Sahab in Leesburg.
Bhatt, a mechanical engineer by trade, had always dreamed of owning and operating a business. He established a local chain of four smoothie joints in Toronto.
“I love cooking,” he said. “I’m passionate about it.”
He moved to the U.S. and married Nirali, who works in IT. When Bhatt agreed to handle day-to-day operations of Bansari, he convinced Sarin, who he calls Uncle, to add egg dishes to the menu — an homage to the street food vendors in Gujarat, Bhatt’s home state.
A lot of folks from Gujarat eat eggs because they are vegetarian, Bhatt explains. Small carts and food trucks dish up curried eggs, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, eggs in rice and omelettes with garlic, chili and gravy.
“It’s non-stop eggs,” Bhatt said.
The extensive menu mines the riches of northern Indian cuisine, especially Bhatt’s home state of Gujarat and Sarin’s home state of Rajasthan, both of which border Pakistan. The team is always developing recipes, exploring new regions through food and fusing them with other cuisines, he said.
Eventually, he wants to equip Bansari with the ability to live-cater Indian weddings: multi-day affairs that increasingly feature chefs cooking in front of guests.
“There is alway something exciting going on in the kitchen,” Bhatt said.
Bansari Indian Cuisine is open Monday through Sunday for lunch from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner hours are 4-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 4-11 p.m. Friday through Sunday. There is free parking in the rear of the building.
Order online through the website, or through DoorDash, UberEats and GrubHub.