Shanti's Restaurant in North Laurel might look inconsequential on the outside, but inside, this tiny Indian/Malaysian restaurant has big taste. Its appeal could be because of its menu, which has more than 100 items. Shanti's has more than variety. It has an owner with grand ideas and infectious charm.
Ramu Arumugam has vision. On one level, his goal is to offer good Malaysian food - a rarity in the area, Arumugam said. However, for the busy entrepreneur who also owns and operates an assisted-living facility in Laurel, being in the restaurant business is about hospitality.
He should know. His father had a restaurant in Malaysia; his brother owns a restaurant in England, and Arumugam managed a Hardee's franchise during the 1980s.
"It's service and taste. We want [our guests] to be treated the way we want to be treated," Arumugam said.
Since opening Shanti's two months ago on Washington Boulevard, he has hosted several private parties for guests who welcome the familiar spicy aromas of home and find his simply decorated, adjoining open dining rooms perfect for family gatherings.
The restaurant seats 80 people. Not only does his menu appeal to diners who love North and South Indian cuisine, but it also draws Malaysian guests and Chinese patrons. The restaurant's four noodle dishes reflect the Chinese influence in Malaysian cooking, such as Mee Gorenge, which is stir-fried egg noodles in mild dried squid sauce with tofu, potatoes, shrimp, egg, bean sprout and shrimp pancakes, sprinkled with ground peanuts. Noodles are fried dry, said Arumugam, which means that they are not too oily.
Arumugam feels so strongly about the quality of his Malaysian food that only he and his wife, after whom the restaurant is named, season those dishes while cooking. Shanti's imports all of its spices from Malaysia.
Guests will find popular Malaysian dishes, including Nasi Lemak, a coconut-flavored rice with cloves and screw pine leaves, served with chili anchovy curry and hard-boiled eggs or Sambal Udang, featuring shrimp with red and green pepper and onions with spicy Malaysian shrimp paste.
Fish and goat curries have been added to the 14 dishes on the buffet, which is open for lunch Monday through Thursday and all day Friday through Sunday.
Lovers of Indian food will enjoy traditional offerings at Shanti's such as a variety of pullaus and Indian rice dishes, including five kinds of biryani. The restaurant has a signature biryani of chicken, lamb, shrimp and vegetables in basmati rice flavored with saffron and garnished with nuts, raisins and coriander leaves.
Vegetable curries such as Matar Paneer - green peas and Indian cottage cheese with cream sauce - and Malai Kofta - vegetable croquettes simmered in a tomato sauce - and tandoori food - Indian-style barbecue - are staples along with naan and roti breads, dosais (crepes), soups, appetizers and desserts. Arumugam's favorite is Ice Kacang - shaved ice with red beans, corn, palm seeds, jelly, red rose syrup and milk.
Dishes range from $3.95 to $5.95 for appetizers and $7.95 to $12.95 for most entrees.
Shanti's, 10024 Washington Blvd. (U.S. 1 south), is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Every Friday, children younger than age 10 eat free from the buffet. The restaurant provides carryout. Cash, VISA and MasterCard accepted. Call 301-497-4444.