Keep Calm and Curry On!

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It was very much within my lifetime that London’s most traditional meal switched from Fish & chips, to Curry & rice. By contrast, New York’s Indian fare is nowhere near the scope and scale of London’s, but the clutter of turmeric-awninged establishments up and down Lexington avenue in Manhattan’s Curry (Murray) Hill are just the preview of the larger story. Thanks to an incredible fellowship of chefs from all across the Indian peninsula, Michelin and the New York Times have been generously honoring Indian restaurants with stars, stripes and other accolades. Here’s how they shake down for me.

Chicken Kati rolls – IndiKitch

Categorizing from fastest to slowest (Curry in a Hurry notwithstanding), IndiKitch is the papadum and samosa version of Taco Bell. Good, clean, tasty and fresh. You build your meal from carbs to cattle with chutneys, sauces and rices on the side.

For in-home delivery I have Dhaba on speed-dial right below 911, thanks to their vast menu of all-time classic favorites, made just the way I like them: Tandoori, Korma, Paneer, Masala, Vindaloo…even a collection of British-inspired curry dishes. If you love Poori like I do (a hot-air filled, angry, blow-fish looking pillow of bread – the size of which remains curiously dependent on the weather) you have arrived!

Pondicheri

One of the newer kids on the block is Pondicheri. What the exposed-ceilinged, cavernous Flatiron space lacks in intimacy, with one teal wall and a massive gray mural with what looks like a couple of giant balls of wool quickly unraveling across another, or the head-scratchingly ominous tangle of cables and wires overhead, it more than makes up for in non-traditional, but authentic pan-regional fare. The Houston import is more of a “community concept” than just a restaurant. With a huge enviro-agenda, cooking classes, pop-up event dinners and a super-busy in-house bakery, where chef Anita Jaisinghani churns out the most extraordinarily yummy Indian interpretations on popular western confections.

Bakery Counter – Pondicheri

Donuts dripping with rose-water honey, Financiers with pistachios and cumin, Rice crispy bars with nuts and curry, coffee cakes, cookies and ginger snaps that populate the breakfast and lunchtime counter. Dinner is a bit smarter. Down goes the lighting, and out comes the wait staff. The best way to navigate the mainly street-food menu, is to go for one of the freshest and tastiest Samosa’s on the island, followed by one of the Thalis platters, that provide a half dozen different dish-lets of kebabs, soups, poultry, ribs, greens and more. I thoroughly enjoyed the one called Earth for its standing-ovation worthy Butter Chicken.

Paowalla

If you’ve ever wondered what happened to Tabla on Madison Park, turns out chef Floyd Cardoz is back, but this time he’s converted one of those typical West Village neighborhoodsy corner cafés into his next culinary canvas. Paowalla (named for the bicycle peddlers of traditional breads) offers so much more than just cumin/cardamom/chili delights. The carb-forward menu is a striking introduction to the real world of Roti and Naan, stuffed with cheeses, radishes, bacon and herbs. Cardoz also pulls together a few unexpected pairings, many of which make for happy surprises like Burrata submerged in a delicious puddle of Dal, or the tandoor-fried Black Pepper Shrimp, while others…not so much. The overly-soggy, coconut-laced Baked Crab might have been more comfortable under the protection of its shell, but I adored my first ever Dogfish curry, smothered in flavor, steamed in banana leaves and served with tart mango over brown rice.

Short and Saintly Rib – Tapestry

Going even further along the bridge toward experimentation, Michelin star winner Suvir Saran’s new downtown bistro is appropriately named Tapestry, in my mind suggesting the very fabric of what comprises our city, offering up a menu every bit as diverse as the kitchen staff, the clientele and the planet in general. Saran calls it “comfort food from around the world.” Maybe. I prefer: “The united nations of yum!” It’s where India whimsically intersects with Italy, Morocco, Mexico, Peru, Portugal and Louisiana – otherwise known as the F train.

Roasted Cauliflower – Tapestry

You can’t help smiling as you scan the remarkably affordable menu that has the chutzpah to combine a heavenly Arancini with green curry, or a tangy, sweet and crispy Okra salad with chaat masala. How about an irresistible Cauliflower roasted with hakka spices? Or the only time I can ever remember asking for left-overs to be boxed up: a super-tender Short Rib with cashew-poppy kurma. And the dish that just became my ultimate bribe ever – the utterly sublime Masala Fried Chicken. I still dream and drool about those flavorful sections of spicy, fried chicken tossed in a sticky, sweet and savory chutney, alongside a peanut slaw. And finally, almost triumphantly, a guava and passion fruit, flaming tribute to a baked Alaska called Fire and Ice. We’re not talking fusion here. This is pure kitchen magnificence.

Fire and Ice – Tapestry

That brings us to the northern end of the price/flavor scale. Indian Accent just celebrated its first birthday as one of New Delhi’s finest exports into Manhattan’s midtown maze. The dark, sleek and sexy interiors look, smell and feel nothing like your typical Indian restaurant. Almost formal – if you’re judging by the prix fixe options of 3 or 4-course menus, but casual enough to do without the tablecloths.

Indian Accent

Despite the litany of translations and explanations the poor wait staff have to decode – thanks to the lexicon of unrecognizable and unpronounceable items, there’s no collective sighing or rolling of eyes – yet. The plating is gorgeous. The flavors are remarkable. The cocktails are imaginative. The service is excellent. The prices are high.

Crab Claws – Indian Accent

Standouts (and judging by our neighbors on both sides who imitated us plate-for-plate) are the Potato Sphere chaat, which is a charming miniature birds nest of crispy potato shoelaces spun into a ball over a white pea mash, the utterly finger-lickingly delectable, butter-pepper-garlic baptized Crab Claws, the unsharably wonderful sweet and sour, fall-off-the-bone Pickled Ribs, the scrumptious Chicken Kofta (meatballs), and the magnificently tender Braised lamb with prune korma.

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Pickled Ribs – Indian Accent

Each main is accompanied by a choice of Kulcha (if an enchilada and a calzone had an Indian baby) stuffed with any number of interesting ingredients like hoisin duck or pastrami mustard. Yes folks, we’re a long way from curry in a hurry!

Potato Sphere – Indian Accent

https://www.indikitchtogo.com/store25/restaurant.php

http://www.dhabanyc.com/

http://www.pondichericafe.com/new-york

http://www.indianaccent.com/index.html

Pippali review

Pippali - There are two things I have to warn you about before you step foot into Peter Beck’s relatively new Indian bistro Pippali in Curry Hill: the one is the noise, and the other is the food! Chances are, you probably prefer the one over the other, but you will undoubtedly have to concern yourself with both. The combination of the understandable (yet unpredicted) popularity of this semi-subterranean dining room with woefully inadequate sound-absorption materials seems to recreate the chaos of the Bangalore railway station at rush hour.  But be that as it may, if your waiter can manage to hear your order above the infernal roar, then you are in for one of the most exotic Indian treats this side of London.

Beck has successfully impressed New Yorkers with his inventive elevation of Indian classics into ultra modern culinary delicacies since he opened the Michelin star winning Tamarind in 2002. This new venue further permits him to take bold risks and blend western ingredients with Indian spices. While you might recognize some of the dishes by name on the vegevore/carnivore menu, the resulting flavors will most definitely surprise you.

Pippali - Jaipuri Kofta

Jaipuri Kofta

The spinach Samosas are bursting with lentils and humming with heat – which is broadened and softened by the orange chutney. There’s hardly any need to wonder why the Jaipuri Kofta is one of the most frequently ordered dishes. These too-good-to-be-true green pumpkin and chickpea meatless meatballs are steeped in garam masala with ginger and spinach, and arrive submerged in a sauce made from precisely the same ingredients! The incredibly plump and flavorful Chorchori Chingri (marinated shrimp) are sautéed in mustard seeds and a thick coconut cream. I was tempted to try the Batak Uttapam (black pepper hand rubbed duck breast with portabella mushrooms) but ultimately chose the incomparable Tabak Maz (grilled rack of lamb).

Pippali - Grilled Rack of Lamb

Grilled Rack of Lamb

Three succulent chops grilled to perfection with roasted aromatics that create an immaculate balance between taste, tang and tart – finished in a creamy saffron and fennel sauce, (the kind that if no-one was looking, you would bury your head deep into the plate and lick up every last drop!)

So don’t let the noise deter you. Just light some candles, put on some cool jazz, call Pippali and order in!

http://www.pippalinyc.com/