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.

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  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    806metaphor02

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    806metaphor01

Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

806metaphor02

INDIAN STREET BURGER AT MEHTAPHOR Following up the cult success of his East Village cubbyhole Graffiti, Food Network star Jehangir Mehta has expanded his playful riffs on Indian flavors at this new venture in the Duane Street Hotel. Yet for all the wizardry on display—Pop Rock oysters, beef tartare with guacamole sorbet—the most compelling dish may be the one that most faithfully evokes his childhood in Mumbai. The meatless Indian Street Burger ($17) channels an everyday roadside snack called pav bhaji: essentially, the contents of a vegetable samosa (spiced potatoes, peas, onions) stuffed into a white-bread bun, like a subcontinental sloppy joe. "People in New York run outside when they hear the ice-cream truck jingle," says Mehta. "For us, it was the sound of a steel spoon on an iron skillet [signaling that the pav bhaji vendor was on the corner]." While the dish is simple, it's Mehta's balanced spicing that makes it sing—a lingering brush fire of Thai chilies, ginger and cilantro kept in check by sweet hunks of tomato and tart tamarind. Follow the addictive sandwiches (two per order, plus garlic fries) with a Coconut Fizz ($9) from Mehtaphor's short list of pastry-themed cocktails. The blend of house-made coconut-chili sorbet, vodka and seltzer is whipped furiously, producing a frothy head that gives way to a creamy fizziness you'd expect from a soda fountain float. 130 Duane St at Church St (212-542-9440)

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