Holi 2012: The best Indian restaurants for your Holi feast
Celebrate Holi at our favorite subcontinental eateries.
Wed Feb 29 2012
March 8 marks Holi, the Hindu holiday that celebrates the coming of spring. Also known as the "festival of colors," Holi devotees around the world mark the day by gathering at temples and in public plazas to spray their friends, family and countrymen with brightly dyed powders and paints. (Check out The Atlantic's gorgeous photo essay for a glimpse of raucous Holi celebrations in India.)
It sure is beautiful, but we're not sure that this kind of messy revelry would fly on the streets of Manhattan. Thankfully, Gotham has plenty of accomplished subcontinental eateries where you can ring in Holi without staining your sari. Herewith, we present a list of TONY's favorite Indian restaurants.
Chef Hemant Mathur earned his fine-dining stripes at Devi—he helped the Gramercy spot become the country's only Michelin-starred Indian restaurant. Here, the tandoor master supplements his signature grilled meats with other expertly wrought specialties. A standout selection of chaat ($7 for three) includes the dahi batata puri: spiced potato and chickpeas coated with tangy yogurt and tamarind, then stuffed into a crunchy whole-wheat shell (puri) with mint chutney. It's a fine preamble to the hearty dum biryani, a sort of Indian potpie served in a clay pot, with a puffy crust of nan giving way to an aromatic blend of rice and glistening hunks of goat meat. 211 E 46th St between Second and Third Aves (212-888-0820, tulsinyc.com)
The heart and soul of this luxe eatery is its glassed-in spice room, where chef Vikas Khanna hand-grinds and mixes house blends each morning. He deploys seven whole spices—including star anise, cloves and cardamom pods—in a pungent, burgundy-hued curry that coats a lamb shank, slow-braised until the meat nearly slides from the bone. Other evidence of the room's sorcery fills the regionhopping menu, organized by traditional methods of Indian cooking—not just tandoor and handi (pot cooking), but also tawa (cast-iron), sigri (fire pit) and patthar (stone). Along the way, the thoughtful spicing also appears in plump Goan shrimp with blazing piri-piri sauce, duck with Tellicherry pepper and even cocktails served in the sultry front lounge. 27 W 24th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-490-2100)
Following up the cult success of his East Village cubbyhole, Graffiti, Food Network star Jehangir Mehta expands his playful riffs on Pan-Asian flavors at this new venture in the Duane Street Hotel. Yet for all the wizardry on display—Pop Rocks oysters, beef tartare with guacamole sorbet—the most compelling dish may be the one that most faithfully evokes Mehta's childhood in Mumbai. The meatless Indian Street Burger channels an everyday roadside snack called pav bhaji: essentially, the contents of a vegetable samosa flavored with Thai chiles and tart tamarind, then stuffed into a bun. Follow the addictive sandwiches (two per order, plus garlic fries) with a Coconut Fizz—the blend of house-made coconut-chili sorbet, vodka and seltzer has the creamy fizziness you'd expect from a soda-fountain float. 130 Duane St at Church St (212-542-9440)
A stunning follow-up to the original Tamarind in the Flatiron District, the Tribeca location convincingly draws from all corners of the subcontinent with its sprawling menu. Beyond the requisite chicken tikka masala (one of the best we've had), the dishes delight at every turn: A lamb appetizer, Nizami Keema, combines tender grilled strips with soft minced meat and pillowy nan, while Punjabi Mutton—actually made with goat—falls off the bone in a rich, vibrant curry. But the most consistent pleasures come out of the twin tandoor ovens, visible from the main dining room: superlative lamb chops—tangy, spicy and tender—and moist sea bass slathered with thick yogurt and a subtle blend of roasted spices that enriches the flaky fish without overwhelming its delicate flavor. 99 Hudson St at Franklin St (212-775-9000)
This meet-and-eat headquarters for New York's Indian expat community offers more culinary draws than your standard diner. Watch Hindi soaps on Zee TV while enjoying samosa chaat topped with chickpeas, yogurt, onion, tomato and a sweet-spicy mix of tamarind and mint chutneys. Specials like murgh tikka makhanwala, tender pieces of marinated chicken simmered in curry and cream, are fiery and flavorful—be sure to ask for mild if you're not immune to potent chilies. 37-47 74th St between Roosevelt and 37th Aves, Jackson Heights, Queens (718-672-1232)
This bright, clean Curry Hill standout makes a great date place—especially if your date is vegetarian, Jewish (it's kosher!) or homesick for India. Start with the samosa chaat ($4)—two flaky pockets stuffed with potato and peas, covered in a colorful tamarind, cilantro and yogurt sauce. Then sample one of three $14 thalis—multiple servings of rice, curries, chutneys and more served on a single tray. A fresh lunch buffet, offered from 11:30am to 3pm on weekdays, overflows with South Indian standards like a creamy saag paneer and Gobi masala (cauliflower and peas)—all you can eat for $6.95. 127 E 28th St at Lexington Ave (212-685-7301)