Haute Indian food
In preparation for the April 7 Varli Food Festival, a high-profile celebration of Indian cooking, TONY highlights the essential dishes at a new breed of Indian eateries making their mark around town.
Tue Mar 29 2011
Photograph: Jolie Ruben
SEVEN-SPICE LAMB SHANK AT JUNOON To understand the complex cooking at this serene Chelsea eatery, descend to the basement, where you'll find the heart and soul of the restaurant: a glassed-in, climate-controlled spice room. There, chef Vikas Khanna hand-grinds and mixes house blends each morning, using more than 250 exotic spices and herbs. You'll also see an antique wooden masala dabba—a spice box with seven compartments, common in Indian households—that serves as the inspiration for Junoon's signature lamb dish ($26). Seven whole spices—including star anise, cloves and cardamom pods—go into a pungent, burgundy-hued curry that coats the slow-braised shank, cooked for more than four hours in a handi (like a Dutch oven) until the meat nearly slides from the bone. Other evidence of the spice room's sorcery fills the regionhopping menu, organized by traditional methods of Indian cooking—not just tandoor and handi, but also tawa (cast-iron), sigri (fire pit) and patthar (stone). Along the way, the thoughtful spicing finds its way into plump Goan shrimp with blazing piri-piri sauce ($14), a ginger-marinated chicken kebab ($22) cooled by pureed avocado and even cocktails served in the sultry front lounge. Flutes of champagne ($12) are dosed with aromatic saffron, while the Spice Trail martini ($14) gains complexity from garam masala--infused vermouth and orange bitters. 27 W 24th St between Broadway and Sixth Ave (212-490-2100)