Around Town

Longtime D.C. area Indian restaurant reemerges in Fair Lakes after pandemic closures

A new restaurant specializing in North Indian Mughlai cuisine has landed in Fair Lakes.

Aroma Restaurant Bar and Banquet, operated by husband and wife duo Daljeet and Jyoti Chhatwal, opened its doors at 12821 Fair Lakes Parkway last month on Fourth of July weekend, according to Daljeet.

The restaurant is still in its soft opening period, but the couple aims to celebrate Aroma’s grand opening in mid-September.

“Our menu is so complex, I wanted my staff, especially my kitchen staff, to be very comfortable before we do a grand opening,” Daljeet said.

The menu blends old and new with classic hits — like the butter chicken served since Aroma first opened in D.C. in 1994 — featured alongside recently launched fusion cuisine. Aroma now serves Indo-Chinese and Indo-Mexican dishes, like hakka noodles and seekh kebab taquitos.

Daljeet, a culinary school graduate, created the dishes himself in his mission to bring Indian spices into famous dishes from other cultures.

Seekh kebab taquitos offered at Aroma (staff photo by Vivian Hoang)

Daljeet has also introduced other unique delicacies, like shahi batair (quail), scallop balchao curry and coco mussel curry, that he says are well-loved in India but typically not served in the U.S.

To ensure those who don’t eat meat aren’t left out, Aroma has an expanding variety of vegetarian options. Soya chops — vegetarian lamb chop mimics that still retain their “meat texture” despite being made from soya beans — just made their debut, Jyoti says.

Designed as a space to be rented out for gatherings and parties, Aroma’s Fair Lakes restaurant features a banquet hall that seats 200 people and three private rooms, including a men’s cigar lounge for small, official meetings or karaoke. Up to 70 guests can use the back patio, where the couple says they have already hosted wedding ceremonies. There are also two bars with 12 different beers on tap.

The restaurant’s large banquet hall is what initially drew the pair to the Fair Lakes location, which previously housed a sports bar.

In addition to its original D.C. restaurant, Aroma had locations in Arlington and Lorton, but all three shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic, Daljeet says.

The previous restaurants didn’t have dedicated square footage for private events, so the Chhalwats say having the Fair Lakes site as their first culinary endeavor post-Covid has been particularly exciting.

“We are very happy [and] fortunate that we are getting involved and getting [to be] part of a new community altogether,” Daljeet said. “Our neighbors have been very helpful, forthcoming with suggestions, forthcoming with solutions. So we are working around our hard times.”

Since launching nearly 30 years ago, Aroma has catered events hosted by the White House under the George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations, according to Jyoti. Their largest catering event ever was for 3,000 people at a New York Life Insurance convention over the course of three days, Daljeet recalls.

Aroma even recently catered for India’s former vice president, Jagdeep Dhankhar, when he was visiting locally, Jyoti says.

Though much has changed over the past three decades, the core of Aroma has remained the same. Jyoti says Aroma has been serving the same recipes since the 1990s, and the same chefs have stayed since the beginning, through every location change and hardship brought on by the pandemic.

Now, the Chhatwals hope to make an impact in Fairfax County with their renowned food and service

“A lot of people have appreciated the location because there isn’t an Indian restaurant around here,” Jyoti said. “If [there is], it’s not up to the par that they’re looking for. So a lot of people have been saying, ‘Thank you so much for coming here so that we don’t have to drive so far off with the family.'”

“Our Google write-ups are all coming up with five star reviews, to the best of our knowledge,” Daljeet added. “So the community is accepting us by coming up with good reviews that show you how good we are.”