The past year has already been a banner one for quality Indian fare in NYC, with an import of New Delhi’s lavish, world-renowned Indian Accent, preceded by a duo of sleek fast-casual health chains (Inday and Indikitch), along with the modern, critically-adored Babu Ji. But in just the last couple of months, the status of the perennially overlooked cuisine has catapulted into the stratosphere, owing to the debut of not just one, but three different high profile restaurants.
First up was Tapestry, which marked the heralded return of Michelin-starred chef, Suvir Saran (formerly of Devi) to NYC. Injecting dishes from around the world with decidedly Indian savor (a nod to the country’s inherent, international essence, borne of centuries of colonization and trade), the menu cheekily includes “Noshes” such as Duck Confit Sopes topped with pickled kachumbar salad, Frito Misto flavored with black garlic and curry leaves, and chic Brussels Sprouts Chaat, tossed with chutney and kaala namak (Himalayan salt). And amongst the mains, standouts include Masala Fried Chicken sided with peanut slaw and aloo bharta, Harira Posole studded with chickpeas and stained with saffron, and squares of Wagyu Skirt Steak, on a bed of translucent falooda noodles.
Not to be outdone, Pondicheri burst on the scene at the beginning of this month; an outpost of the popular, Houston-based, all-day café. Patrons can jumpstart their mornings with Uppma (savory porridge with green peas and cauliflower), Aloo Paratha (carrot roti stuffed with spicy potato mash), or Saag Paneer omelets (folded around spinach, mustard greens and housemade cheese), and seamlessly transition into lunch or dinner — running the gamut from Goat Samosas to Masala Dosas to Thalis (sampler platters) piled with various salads, breads and curries. But it’s the dessert selection — so often an afterthought at Indian restaurants — that really stands out; thanks to a so-called “Bake Lab” churning out experimental sweets such as Gulab Jamun Donuts, Chai Pies and Besan Mithai (a kind of chickpea flour fudge), as well as a few quirky savories such as grab-and-go Mumbai Toasters; chicken, apple pickles, fried eggs and cilantro chutney enclosed in a compressed brioche.
But its buzz can hardly hold a candle to last Wednesday’s launch of Paowalla; the first real reflection of Floyd Cardoz’s roots, since the closure of the beloved Tabla. As opposed to merely referencing his culinary point of view through subtle flourishes and nuanced spices (as he did at North End Grill and White Street), Cardoz has crafted a love letter to his native Bombay with an extensive series of breads (cheese-stuffed Kulcha, soft Pav rolls, steamed Tingmo, garlic Naan), slathered with a lineup of chutneys, such as Mango, Tamarind, Tomato Kalonji and Spicy Chilli. Small plates, entrees and large format dishes are also largely traditional, with just a few modernist updates, such as Tandoori Quail, Squash Blossom Pakoras, Kerala-style Skate wrapped in banana leaves, and Black Spiced Chicken for two, teamed with kokum jus and basmati pilaf.
We’ll always have a soft spot for Manhattan’s Curry Hill, but it’s exciting to see Indian food getting the gastronomic respect it deserves.
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