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 Nels

    806tamarindtribeca04

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nels

    806tamarindtribeca01

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nels

    806tamarindtribeca03

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nels

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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nels

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TANDOORI SEA BASS AT TAMARIND TRIBECA A stunning spin-off of the original Tamarind in the Flatiron District, the Tribeca location convincingly draws from all corners of the subcontinent with its sprawling menu. But the most consistent dishes are the handiwork of Ramanuj Sahai and Vinod Kumar, two tandoor masters who cut their teeth at New Delhi fine-dining stalwart Bukhara. The duo have the forearm scars—sustained while reaching directly into the blazing ovens—to prove their pedigree, as well as the deft tricks of the trade (they throw lava rocks and oil-slicked whole cloves into the tandoor to re-create the smokiness provided by the coal and wood that fuel ovens in India). Nowhere is their command of the craft more apparent than in the nimble preparation of nontraditional proteins, such as remarkably moist fillets of sea bass ($26) cooked on giant metal skewers. Thick yogurt, strained overnight in cheesecloth, helps a subtle blend of roasted spices (mace, saffron, mixed peppercorns) cling to the flaky fish without overwhelming its delicate flavor; if it weren't for the low burn that lingers after each bite, you might close your eyes and think you were at one of the city's haute-French temples. Other tandoor specials are no less studied, though the red-meat renditions tend to register higher on the spice scale. You might try venison with pickling spices and crunchy chickpea flour ($30), or superlative lamb chops ($28)—tangy, spicy and tender, paired with a coriander-spiked disc of fried mashed potatoes. Whether you go with meat or fish, breads from the tandoor are a must: layered paratha showered with dry mint, plus pillowy nan topped with wild mushroom and truffle oil, like an Indian pizza. 99 Hudson St at Franklin St (212-775-9000)

Do this: The Varli Food Festival Now that you've got a handle on the city's upscale newcomers, explore NYC's evolving Indian food offerings in full at this blockbuster culinary showcase. More than 25 restaurants—including Junoon and Tulsi—will serve their grub at tasting stations, complemented by unlimited booze (including Kingfisher beer) from an open bar. When you're not chowing down, check out cooking demos from toques like Asian TV superstar Sanjeev Kapoor. The Altman Building, 135 W 18th St between Sixth and Seventh Aves (varlifoodfestival.com). Apr 7 6--10pm; $100.

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