Manish Mehrotra’s Gotham outpost of his New Delhi fine dining establishment had opened about a year before we finally made our way there, and we really did hold out for a special occasion; no restaurant has been quite worth the wait like this place. Superlatives abound on this blog at times but they are completely deserved here: this is the best Indian food I have ever eaten in my life.
The dining space and bar area is merely comfortable, clean and uncluttered but unremarkable. However, the food is punchy, colorful and incredibly delicious. Three courses for $75 or four for $90 means that you’ll be getting small plated morsels of delight, and the $10 supplement for the ghee lamb is well worth it. It all adds up incrementally and we left feeling very full – I couldn’t imagine drinking a beer with such rich food. The Bandit Queen (a smoky agave cocktail) suited me well, and their mocktails are also layered and interesting.
We started with the messiest: butter-pepper-garlic crab claws, which yielded a surprising amount of meat; a mathri trio: smoked eggplant bharta with duck and chicken khurchan served in paper cones supposed to resemble Hindi newspaper wraps; there was a mid-course too, for which we had soy keema with a raw quail egg on top to mix in – sensational flavors and a texture that you’d swear was real lamb and not a simulacrum. Tiny butter pao rolls are cutely speared into the clay lid to dip into the pot of pure ecstasy. The sweet pickle ribs verged on the right side of Indo-Chinese and the pork chilli fry wasn’t so remarkable with all the stars on the table, especially when the ghee-roasted lamb arrived with roomali rotis. Pumpkin cheddar kulchas were certainly good, but we’ll be having the pastrami ones next time (inspired by Mehrotra’s visit to Katz’s Deli). We didn’t have desserts, but they served some dry sweets which were fine.
Service was attentive and the waitsplaining that other writers have complained about was non-existent; they may’ve taken the criticism to heart. This is a special place and what it lacks in atmosphere, it makes up for with impressive haute cuisine.
57th St (F,N,Q,R,W)
Chef Floyd Cardoz is remembered in the city for the New Indian cuisine he brought in at Tabla, which he closed in 2010. This new venture explores his own heritage – Goan food, with an emphasis on bread – especially the ‘pao’ or bread roll. Wada Pao or Pao Bhaji are popular street-food choices that resemble Sloppy Joes or Veg burgers, but there was nothing like that on the menu when we went. Instead, we ate delicately textured fish and vegetable dishes in the 72-seat restaurant on a busy Sunday afternoon, and were wholly unimpressed by the flavors: Buratta with Sea Island Peas ‘Ma Ki Dal’ ($17) was the blandest lentil soup I’ve ever encountered, though the cheese is a fascinating addition to it. Shishito Pakoras ($14) fried in a chickpea batter, were peppier and perfectly crispy. Kerala Style Banana Leaf Skate ($23) was the star of the show, but Upma Polenta with wild mushrooms and peas is also a creamily tasty mix of everything that’s good about vegetarian fare.
Service is great, the space is wonderfully relaxed with privacy in various corners, and the drinks choices are extensive. The Rosemary naan, subtly flavored, comes recommended, but the idea of paying extra for chutneys still annoys me.
If I came here again I’d leave the friends with restrictive diets behind and get some of the tempting meat dishes: pork-rib vindaloo, goat roast, lamb roganjosh. Or maybe just not order dishes family-style. I’m sure there’s great flavorful spicy food to be had at Paowalla, but on our recent trip we were expensively disappointed.
Subway: Spring St (J)
We had great lean and fatty brisket here, a hearty Tuscan kale Caesar salad, and cold, unfriendly service. Morgan’s tries to be slightly more upmarket than Hill Country and Fletcher’s, especially as you order everything from servers and nothing from the counter, but it really isn’t that inviting. We loved the ribs and sides, the Texas red chili was rich and hearty and the pork links were a heavy option after all the cow that had been consumed. We’ll be back, sitting outside on the patio and expecting better service.
We were brought here by an Istanbullu homesick for his mother’s food, and over the course of a three-hour meal we felt that he was mostly satisfied with the dishes he ordered; we were thrilled by all of it, of course. Big groups get to try almost everything, and the arnavut cigeri (fried calf’s liver) is something I would never have ordered for a smaller table; it was a great choice for a big group to share, as 3-4 pieces of deep-fried, spongy cubes of liver ($10) constitute the limit for most people. The mixed meze platter ($20) was well-balanced with light babaghanoush and hummus, while the sigara boregi (cigar rolls filled with cheese and parsley, $7) were perfect addictive comfort food. Kalamarizgara (grilled calamari, $11) are a must, though the mucver (zucchini pancakes) were nothing special at all.
All the meat and fish we had was of the finest quality, well marinated and seasoned. Special mention must go to the salmon scaloppini ($19) cooked in garlic wine sauce and sun dried tomatoes, and the kuzu bacagi (lamb shank, $20) which is one of the restaurant’s specialities.
Turkish wines are served, great baklava is available and the atmosphere is pleasantly higher-end. But of course none of this was as good as our Turkish friend’s mother’s cooking – of course not.
The converted garage space that La Urbana has added to its already achingly-hip restaurant is worth a look; large-scale skeleton murals, cocktails and tacos on basic street-eat tables and bar orders make this a quick and casual spot. The short rib gorditas were juicy and well-balanced in texture, while the fish taco was above average. Sopes, tortas and tostadas are also available. Sangria is merely good, but their Mexican Mule with its punchy ginger beer and jalapeño syrup is a real winner. Come here for the great vibe, to watch the football and be in an indoor/outdoor space with dramatic murals.
I was taken to the original iteration of this Anglo-Indian fine dining restaurant in Chelsea about 25 years ago and remember being impressed by their salmon kedgeree amongst other colonial-style mash-ups. Their new location is far more central though less cosy, but the menu has had an overhaul to chime with modern tastes in Indian cuisine. A wide range of mocktails and wines by the glass are on offer, Business Lunch works well for fish (salmon tikka and sea bass) and kebab fans, though lamb chops ($26) don’t work well for your pocket. The scrambled eggs akoori can be ordered for breakfast or lunch, and definitely shouldn’t be missed. The desserts are fantastic: salted caramel kulfi and dark chocolate chikki fondant. Prices are high, clientele classy but the cooking is exquisite.
The former site of the short-lived Latin-Caribbean family joint Fonda Cubana (awful decor and an uninspiring menu) has been occupied by a Bangla-owned Indian restaurant that has only partially removed the murals, blending the ersatz beach scenes into a cartoon-rendered Taj Mahal vista. But no matter, as the food is exquisite – delicately flavoured yet bold and punchy at the same time. Gobi Manchurian (cauliflower marinated and fried in ginger-garlic corn starch, $5) was a killer appetizer, excellent for clearing a blocked nose. In the mains, Goan fish curry (with a choice of salmon or tilapia, $14) may not have been coconutty enough, but there were no other lapses whatsoever: the Paneer Tikka Masala ($11) was creamy and just the right side of the Brick Lane curry house style, while the Hyderabadi biryani was so fresh the grains of soft rice were practically dancing on the plate. The naan was a delight to tear into warm pieces, and service was extra attentive and friendly. I’m proud to say this is my local neighborhood Indian joint and I will be flying their flag for as long as they keep up these high standards.
Subway: Halsey St. (L)