“Hello, Welcome!” You hear this uttered dozens of times during the lunch rush at Sapphire Tysons restaurant. News traveled fast between the office towers of Tysons Corner, and after only three weeks, Sapphire Tysons has a steady crowd for their weekday lunch buffet. The restaurant’s team is in constant motion bringing out fresh platters, filling water glasses and delivering hot Naan bread to each table (by request). In the middle of the room sits a gleaming buffet of brightly colored East Asian delicacies.
When groups and office workers go out for lunch, they’re looking for a few key factors. They want fast service, well priced food, a welcoming atmosphere and easy commute. Sapphire Tysons meets those requirements plus a little more. The restaurant excels by serving high-quality food inspired by multiple cultures.
While Sapphire calls their buffet “Indian,” some recipes originated in Nepal, China, and Pakistan. For example, Biryani and Butter Chicken are traditional Mughal dishes. Mughlai is a cooking style from Northern India and parts of Pakistan that is rich with aromatic spices, nuts, and dried fruits. Saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg are used liberally.
“What we’ve done here is marry the flavors of the East and West, to create fusion cuisine,” says Mazhar Chughatai, co-owner of Sapphire. Working side by side with his wife and partner Tasneem Chughatai, they are eager to expose Tysons diners to new dishes, including a few that are popular in Pakistan. “We bring in chefs from different regions of East Asia,” says Mazhar. “We would like to be a place where these communities come together.”
Sampling the lunch buffet is an ideal way to taste many of your favorite dishes and try some new ones. You may have eaten Tandoori Chicken and smoky Yellow Daal (lentils) before, but perhaps not Goat Curry. The Goat Curry here is robust, fall-off-the-bone mutton, seasoned with onions, garlic and ginger, chilies, curry, and thyme. With the addition of chopped tomatoes and bits of mint, the sauce thickens into a luscious meaty broth after slow cooking for hours.
Vegetarians have several choices including the Chana Masala, chickpeas in a turmeric tomato gravy. Then there’s a mélange of cauliflower, carrots, peppers, and zucchini sauced in coconut and yellow curry. The stewed Cabbage and Peas dish is fragrant with some serious heat. Paneer Pakora is Sapphire’s deep-fried spinach, a common Indian snack and street food, made with chickpea batter and green chilies, so it’s gluten free. Fried onion rings don’t remain crisp on a buffet, but they nod to Sapphire’s effort to offer American dishes too.
The star of the buffet line is Chili Chicken, an Indo-Chinese dish, and specialty of Sapphire Chef Jahir Islam. Similar to Buffalo sauce, the Chef leans hard on the hottest chili powders, plus soy sauce and tomato, to coat bite-size slices of dark meat chicken in a fiery crimson glaze. The chicken is garnished with slices of green pepper, onions, and jalapenos. You’ll need some Raita, a soothing lemony yogurt sauce on the condiment section, to cool off, but it’s a tantalizing dish you should not miss. Another nod to Chinese cuisine is the divine basmati rice with egg and vegetables.
Butter chicken is a fan favorite according to the servers, and the most ordered dish at Sapphire. Made from leftover Tandoori chicken that was first roasted in a clay oven, it’s bathed in the butter, tomato sauce and cream. The sauce is spiced with fenugreek seeds, cinnamon, cloves, onions, garlic, ginger, paprika, and lots of ground turmeric. This is one of the few dishes not packing heat on the menu.
Indian restaurants aren’t often known for their desserts, but Sapphire has a couple of standouts. A perfect end to a scorching meal is the cooling mango soufflé with raspberry drizzle. Chocolate lovers should try the chocolate samosas with vanilla ice cream and fudge topping. The traditional Nepalese dessert called Gulab Jamon is a doughnut ball of milk powder floating in sweet syrup.
For the after-work crowd, Sapphire has a well-stocked bar with five televisions tuned into a variety of sporting events. The bartender says he plans to rotate the eight taps with a variety of local, national and international beers. As of this writing, the lunch buffet is available 11:30 am to 2:30 pm for $11.99. The Curry-N-Hurry program offers guests a quick dish of curry and rice for $9.
Sapphire Tysons has a private room and guest table for groups. A Taj Mahal mural and colorful peacock mural overlook the restaurant, inspiring the blues and golds in the décor. White tablecloths make this restaurant a more formal place then when it was a Bennigan’s. Sapphire Tysons offers the fun fusion of an exotic dining experience in a neighborhood restaurant.