Have Merzi

Spicy sauces shine at Penn Quarter's newest lunch spot

Penn Quarter's new fast-casual Indian restaurant has taken its name to heart. Meaning "choice" in Urdu, Merzi is like a matching game: Customers get to choose sauces, chutneys, and meats and vegetables served in a base of rice, salad or a wrap.

The concept of mixing and matching proteins with wraps or salad bowls isn't new, but Merzi sets itself apart with rich, spice-laden sauces that taste like long-simmering curries in a traditional Indian kitchen.

Tender marinated leg of lamb ($8) is seared and grilled. It's excellent with mild, buttery makani sauce layered over chaat (pictured), a chilled salad of chutney, onions, peppers, beans and yogurt, all topped with crunchy, noodle-like sev, made with chickpea flour.

Smoky grilled shrimp ($8) shine in a bowl of fluffy basmati rice, topped with the creamy, garlic- and paprika-laced tikka masala sauce.

"Tandisserie" chicken ($8), which is tandoori-seasoned and rotisserie-cooked, is best complemented with a spike of heat from the tomato-and-onion masala sauce, which is packed with chilies and turmeric so that its fiery flavor builds with each bite.

Temper the burn with a Mango Fantango ($2.50), the restaurant's lighter answer to a mango lassi, or some cooling cucumber-and-tomato salad.

Owner Kaz Kazmi worked hard to keep the kitchen safe for diners with food allergies. Ingredients for each dish are all compartmentalized and prepared in separate spaces, and all but two options on the menu are gluten-free.

Merzi, 415 7th St. NW; 202-656-3794 or merzi.com