New York’s Indian food scene has been on a definite upswing, and a quintet of newcomers cut an even bigger swath of spice through the city this summer.
2016 was especially kind to the long-overlooked cuisine, which was traditionally represented by indifferent places offering uninterpreted versions of saag paneer, chicken tikka malasa, and lamb vindaloo (essentially the fried rice, lo mein and beef with broccoli at kindred, cut-and-paste Chinese eateries). In the span of only a few months, fine dining destinations like Indian Accent and Tapestry triumphantly took Manhattan, to say nothing of celeb-fronted triumphs (Paowalla), all-day cafes (Pondicheri), and even fast-casual franchises (Inday and Indikitch).
Perhaps the most celebrated entry of all, Babu Ji, temporarily closed this year, but is now thankfully back in business. And just this past July, Old Monk elbowed into its space, showcasing Akbar and Dawat’s Sushil Malhotra’s brand of contemporary Indian soul food.
Ordered under “Come Together,” (shareable bites like Goat Cheese and Pumpkin Seed Naan) “Stay Awhile,” (homey stews such as Punjabi Power Greens), “Share the Love” (sides including Okra Fries) and “Sweet Send-Off” (Saffron Milk Popsicles dipped in rose syrup), it’s obviously geared towards the young, hip denizens of Alphabet City, and the fact that they’ve commissioned an EMP and Jean-Georges alum — Kristie Petrullo–Campbell — to be consulting sommelier, indicates they intend to present a serious challenge to the venerated bars that pepper the surrounding neighborhood.
And Old Monk is hardly the only notable Indian arrival in 2017. A former Junoon chef serves up Soft Shell Crab in coconut milk, and farm-raised pork Chorizo Seekh with pepperjack cheese at Rahi in Greenwich Village; Chote Nawab’s Manuel Butler focuses on small plates at Imli (Achari Mushrooms, spiced lamb meatball Scotch Eggs, tandoori-grilled Wings) on the Upper East Side, and Charles Mani (Babu Ji) traffics in dishes inspired by classic Indian street food at Badshah in Hell’s Kitchen; think Quinoa Tikki, Spiced Southern-Style Mussels and Rogn Josh with lamb knuckles.
And then there’s aRoqa, from Gaurav Anand, who’s almost singlehandedly changed the face of Curry Hill. All flash and panache, aRoqa places decided emphasis on presentation and technique — a miniature bicycle pedals in Corn Paddu fritters paired with kaffir-lime coconut chutney, Chicken Tikka is served with an array of pipettes, for injecting habanero aioli, and hefty Chops are flambéed at table, in a shower of Old Monk rum.
If the Indian boom continues on this steady, upward trajectory, we’re stoked to see what restaurateurs have in store in 2018.
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