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Pondicheri Serves Up First-Rate Indian Morning, Noon, and Night

During the Eighties and Nineties, Anita Jaisinghani moved from India to Canada to Texas as a trained microbiologist and eventually a mother of two. In 2001, after a labs-to-loaves transitional stint as a pastry chef at Café Annie in Houston, she opened Indika, the more upscale of her two revered tandoori-Texan restaurants. The other, Pondicheri, opened in 2011, shifting the cuisine’s register to street-level. Those two restaurants earned her two James Beard nominations, and with the debut of her first New York outpost this August — also called Pondicheri — she’s set the blueprint for an empire.

Jaisinghani’s Manhattan location, managed by her daughter, Ajna Jai, is a gaping industrial warehouse of a restaurant. At five thousand square feet, it feels like one of the only interiors in the city that isn’t fundamentally cramped. The decorating team has attempted to soften the size with detail: delicately tiled floors, deep ocean-hued walls, rustic stools, and bright individual bulbs. None of this ultimately recasts its essential cafeteria vibe. But this cafeteria is open from seven in the morning to ten at night, and it’s the fabulous cooking that will beckon you inside, not the architectural charm (or lack thereof).

At breakfast, the runaway favorite is the masala eggs: a three-egg scramble, heavily spiced, lightened with celery and red pepper, and served with a carrot paratha ($9). The Pondicheri take on a pancake breakfast is a fragrant, cardamom-laced rice-and-almond patty topped with berries and bananas and jaggery syrup (an unrefined cane sugar popular in South Asia). A flexible and various menu of cage-free farm egg dishes is cheap and can be topped with simple avocado or rich lamb.

When the breakfast menu flips to lunch, at eleven, perhaps the most glittering addition is the “Frankies” section, where egg-washed rotis hold either mushrooms ($8) or chicken ($10), both extravagantly seasoned. If this feels too heavy (the Frankies — a/k/a “Mumbai burritos” — are indeed greasy, but intelligently so: zesty and thick and designed to satisfy a big midday appetite), turn to the extensive salad menu, full of berries and grains and colorful dressings. If it doesn’t feel heavy enough, add Desi fries: wonderful curly fries coated in crispy flaky chickpea flour and a chaat masala spice mix.

While the counter handles most of the daytime orders, dinner service is table-oriented and more formal. The menu undergoes its second daily transformation and expands to include completely unpredictable starters (chickpea pinwheels stuffed with coconut and cashews and more), generous sharing plates (“Chicken 25,” cooked in that many spices), Jaisinghani’s renowned “thalis,” or sampling platters ($18-$30), and cast-iron skillets full of chutneys and stews. On the restaurant’s environment-conscious “Meatless Mondays,” a vegetarian dinner menu features thick, slurpable peanut noodles and a gorgeous white poppy seed biryani. Meanwhile, a wide range of sweets (try the Texan Mesquite Pecan Cookie), sides (try the pistachio-apricot naan), and drinks (from turmeric tea to twelve-year-old scotch) will fill up any room you have left on the table.

Because it’s so large and lit up, Pondicheri is not really your typical “date spot,” strictly speaking, unless you and your date want to wrap curly fries around each other’s fingers and smear each other with ghee, in which case you’ll find this place invigorating and really tasty too. In the meantime, anyone else, wandering around the Flatiron district at any time of day, will find something to savor here. Pondicheri argues that each meal can be approached with care and invention, and that no snack, however small, need be bland. This is food that has a kind of rambunctiousness to it: It’s made with fresh, quality ingredients, but it’s not droopy-healthy; it champions flavor over fuss, joy and color over polish and restraint; it’s oily when it needs to be, and the oils are nutty and fine; and most of all it’s fluent within its own vocabulary of spices, a language you’ll love learning.

Pondicheri
15 West 27th Street
646-878-4375, pondicheri.com

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Tapestry Is Intricately Stitched Together From Fresh Produce and Indian Spices

At Tapestry, which opened along Greenwich Avenue in May, Suvir Saran offers goose, duck, and chicken eggs from his farm in Hebron, New York, near the New Hampshire border. Boasting intensely lush yolks, they shine in a rotating lineup of specials: fried and laid over white and green asparagus; perched atop fiddlehead ferns and bacon, which the chef also cures; as part of a salad next to seared foie gras; and deviled with coriander-rich sambar powder. Each is a delicious rebuttal to “farm to table” naysayers, and their provenance is a reminder that although the New Delhi–born chef and cookbook author helped to popularize the upscaling of Indian home cooking, his latest project is something else entirely.

From this deep-set, multitiered West Village dining room, Saran marries global flavors and virtuous sourcing, occasionally relegating Indian spices to a background role. It’s an approach he’s explored in his last two cookbooks, and at Tapestry, collaborating with chefs de cuisine Joel Corona and Aarti Mehta, he builds on that foundation. If it’s fusion, it feels organic: a genuine representation of Saran’s trajectory after leaving New York City in 2012. Here, he channels his experiences embracing an agricultural life from the perspective of a chef. In tribute to the rabbits raised by a neighboring farm, he turns out a superlative, bacon-wrapped terrine (two generous slabs fetching $22). Studded with pistachios and flavored with Pernod anise liqueur, the charcuterie comes with stacked brioche toast points and what the menu lists as “rabbit grazings,” which might include carrots, frisée, or edible flowers.

Some dishes on the wide-ranging menu — divided into sections for vegetables, meats, and “noshing” — lean more toward New American greenmarket cooking (the eggs). Others, like lentil and rice porridge with zippy mint-lime gremolata, have clearly defined Indian DNA. Saran cleverly gives brussels sprouts the chaat treatment, charring and substituting them for the fried dough this desi street snack usually comprises. It’s served up with a lively mix of yogurt, mint, cilantro, and tamarind. Multicolored cauliflower, meanwhile, is seasoned in Indo-Chinese Hakka fashion but ultimately overwhelmed by sweet and sticky tomato jam.

Overwhelmingly, though, it’s the kitchen’s most culturally interwoven recipes that yield the greatest successes. I’d order the fritto misto again in a heartbeat. The battered and browned calamari, shrimp, and lemon slices are coated in rice flour and cornmeal and trimmed with earthy aromatics like flash-fried curry leaves and roasted black garlic. Mint and pickled onions punch up an artistic sea bass ceviche (layered inside a ring of cucumber); the cilantro- and lime-juice-cured seafood contrasts nicely with creamy avocado. And tender duck confit served on a cornmeal sope is a rich foil for yogurt crema and a fresh chopped salad.

Poultry stars in two entrées, both worthwhile. Fried chicken, one of Saran’s early forays into this cooking style, is still delightful with crunchy breading. Laying it over lemony mashed potatoes, he reinforces his Silk Road picnic theme with a vibrant, peanut-studded slaw. “Harira posole,” a chicken, chickpea, and hominy concoction, is a mash-up of North African and Mexican stews. It gets some raucous help from cumin and chiles accented with cilantro, onions, and radishes. Both of them best the restaurant’s seafood and red-meat main courses (though a special of sweetly glazed pork ribs with greens and pickled melon will sate more carnivorous diners).

Cocktails from beverage manager Jessy Peters play with salt, spice, and fresh produce to vivid effect; snap peas and basil, for instance, flavor a gin-based drink appropriately dubbed the Green Snapper. Her wine selections are split among new- and old-world vineyards and are, for the neighborhood, budget-friendly. Pastry chef Crystal Hanks’s handiwork, meanwhile, will suit a sweet tooth, although her puddings (banana, sticky toffee) verge on cloying. Better to try the passionfruit pavlova, its tart curd filling meringue and presented alongside macerated strawberries, whipped cream, and molecular passionfruit caviar.

For his reentry into NYC’s dining orbit, Saran partnered with restaurateur Roni Mazumdar, a co-owner of casual modern Indian restaurant the Masalawala on the Lower East Side. Tapestry, while largely informal, aims a bit higher. At meal’s end, servers place ceramic vessels filled with mignardises — chocolate truffles, candied orange peel, peppery marshmallows — on the table. The parting gift feels like a sly wink from the agrarian chef, an acknowledgment that he still knows how to cater to cosmopolitan crowds.

Tapestry
60 Greenwich Avenue, 212-373-8900
tapestryrestaurant.com

 

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At the Chinese Club, Salil Mehta Serves Up a Whole New World of Indian-Chinese Cuisine

“We want to promote different Chinese cuisine, one that’s being lost here and in India,” chef Salil Mehta says of his Hakka-Chinese and Indian-Chinese menu at the Chinese Club (208 Grand Street, Brooklyn; 718-487-4576) in Williamsburg. “We have a beer-battered General Tso’s and Taiwanese noodles printed on our menu to get people through the door. But once they’re in, they see Ganesh in the window, there’s Bollywood music playing, our waiters are in Indian dress, and they get a bit confused.” Which is exactly what Mehta wants to happen.

Mehta, who also owns the Union Square Malaysian restaurant, Laut, with his wife and business partner, Stacey Lo, is from Delhi. Lo was born in India but her family is Hakka Chinese from the southern coastal Guangdong province, which plays home to the largest native Hakka Chinese population and from which the majority of expats hail. In India, most Chinese are Hakka, too.

“The only Chinatown in Kolkata was in Tangra,” Mehta explains. “There, the Chinese were discriminated against.” To give his fellow Hakka somewhere to discuss politics and social issues, Lo’s great-grandfather, Foo Fung Lo, established the Darjeeling Chinese Club in 1914 as a safe space where they could continue the traditions that would then follow their immigration around the world. They also combined their native cuisine with the Indian dishes around them, forming a unique hybrid that most New Yorkers have never experienced.

In Williamsburg, Mehta and Lo look to change that, re-creating the flavors that speak to both of their childhoods and those often found in Indian-Chinese dishes.

“Indian Sichuan chutney is very different than Chinese Sichuan,” Mehta begins as an example. “Indians don’t like mouth-numbing heat like the Chinese, and we want fresher flavors in our food.” So his chutney is made with fresh chilies and spices. The marinade for his Tandoori Kung Bao Chicken is a creamless variation, where tomato (specifically Heinz ketchup, which he insists is in 90 percent of Indian-Chinese food) takes center stage. The Manchurian Veg is like a “Chinese falafel,” with the fritters floating in a sauce of fresh chilies and onion, and can otherwise “only be found in India.”

Beef shank braised in soy
Beef shank braised in soy

Then there are his more adventurous plays on tradition.

In Mumbai,  bhel is a traditional street snack made with puffed rice, red onion, tamarind chutney, and chaat masala; Mehta’s is a crispy rice-noodle salad served on a bed of avocado with the Sichuan chutney. To attract Indian vegetarians, his Organic Butter Salt & Pepper Mushrooms are tempura-fried to the texture of calamari and finished with scallions. Bored with mango lassis, he created one that incorporates turmeric — “it has so many health benefits, so we wanted to incorporate that” — and a Chinese element of goji berries on top.

They all get touched with Mehta’s high-end ingredients and the refined technique that earned Laut its Michelin star.

“There’s a popular dessert dish at home where they give you a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, and then on the side, serve fried wonton skins with honey and sesame seeds sprinkled on them,” he recalls. “For our twists and turns on that dish, we tempura batter our ice cream and wrap it with pan-fried noodles to make it look like a sphere, and then top it with candied fennel, like sprinkles, which is a great digestif. It adds texture and color, and the dish looks beautiful.”

The duo approached every dish and design element at the Chinese Club with a sense of adventure, taking twists and turns with traditions and hoping the idea would catch on with diners. Right now, it’s still a work in progress.

Of the few Indian-Chinese restaurants in the area, Mehta points out that most are in corners of New Jersey where ex-pat populations are concentrated. He also understands that the absence of basic knowledge of Indian-Chinese cuisine might throw patrons off a little, rather than lure them in. And as he’s currently doing only about forty dinner covers a night, he doesn’t yet have enough volume to see exactly what’s taking off and what’s not hitting right.

So far, he’s enthused. “I wasn’t sure how well Indian-Chinese food would be received in Brooklyn, or in New York in general. But I’m not seeing much hesitation when people open the menu. And I’m surprised and impressed at the level of heat customers can take here. We’re not shying away from flavors and we pack some dishes with chilies, but people are wiping their plates clean. I have so much respect for my clients.”

To introduce them comfortably, he makes sure his staff knows how to explain dishes, and that they don’t push certain dishes or pressure patrons to order more than they want to. Only if people ask for suggestions do they guide diners towards the more Indian-Chinese dishes, explaining what Hakka Chili Chicken or Manchurian Vegetables are. General Tso’s is always there for them, but he’s pleased most reach toward the Indian-Chinese dishes.

“There’s a certain history, a certain heritage, that’s getting lost,” he explains of the dwindling Hakka-Chinese and Indian-Chinese cuisines. “I feel a bit of responsibility to have people come and try this food once, and then judge. I want people to come here in flip-flops, like the casual vibe, eat, have a good time, and keep coming back. Or don’t leave!”

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Farm to Tibet: A Tale of Two Menus at Dawa’s in Woodside

At first glance, the New American brunch menu at Dawa’s in Woodside looks all too familiar. There are sturdy avocado toasts sprinkled with sunflower seeds, pancakes drizzled with organic maple syrup, and yogurt parfait crowned with house-made granola. Two messages punctuate the bottom of the page: one announcing the free-range eggs chef Dawa Bhuti bakes in cast iron and tucks into her affordable breakfast sandwiches; the other broadcasting the restaurant’s vegan offerings, including a lentil soup suffused with herb tea. But just below those socially conscious footnotes is an all-caps directive urging diners to “CHECK ETHNIC PLATES AT BACK.”

“I am not much of a fan of fusion,” Bhuti tells the Voice. The 33-year-old chef, born in Nepal and raised in India, has remained adamant about this bifurcated approach since she opened her namesake restaurant in April with her father, who is responsible for the “ethnic” dishes. Her uncle is also an owner. Customers can cobble together a meal by ordering from either menu. “I don’t want to categorize or generalize our place,” Bhuti continues, adding, “The food that I prepare is based on my experiences [cooking in both fine-dining and home kitchens around the world], and we keep my dad’s Tibetan food as authentic as it can be.”

Authentic in conception and execution, maybe, but you’ve likely never seen gyuma — a hearty Himalayan blood sausage — plated with such style. Cut into generous thirds and served up with fiery sepen hot sauce and sprigs of cilantro, the links look practically dainty. Still, the dish packs a hefty punch: The filling includes nutty bulgur wheat and Sichuan peppercorns, the latter an addition favored in Nepalese kitchens.

The elder Bhuti’s shabaley, or deep-fried beef pastries, are similarly festooned with plenty of pink pickled onions. He also makes three kinds of steamed momo (Tibetan dumpling) from scratch, crimping them into crescents and arranging them into a chic pinwheel formation over a fenugreek-heavy tomato sauce. Before becoming a restaurateur, he supplied homemade lunch boxes to markets and street vendors throughout the city, hauling nearly sixty pounds of food around on public transportation. Now, in their semi-open kitchen, father and daughter complement each other, and it shows. “He is teaching me how to cook the traditional dishes,” Bhuti confides. Recently they added a plate of Bhutanese pork belly slow-cooked with chiles to their Himalayan lineup.

Dawa’s seasonal menu changes often: In contrast to the straightforwardness of her father’s recipes, Bhuti’s dishes show that she is keen to experiment. She credits time spent in Paris for sparking her attraction to market cooking, and she tries to use as many local sources as possible. She gets her produce from farms in the Catskills, the Finger Lakes, and Connecticut. One week, she roasted beets and puréed them for fresh pasta dough, then tossed the wide, bright magenta noodles with shiitake mushrooms and kale-pistachio pesto. Hiding in the $12 dish were some of the most tender fiddlehead ferns I’ve tasted in many springs, their grassy flavor boosted by a quick sauté in garlic.

Bhuti’s other dishes are equally impressive. For $11, she cooks a mean double-stacked fried-chicken sandwich that boasts a crisp crust layered with lettuce, tomato, jalapeño aioli, and pickled onions. (It comes with flawless potato chips piled high in a terra-cotta pot.) Then there are the $10 seared wild cod tacos, which forgo Baja-style batter and rely on red cabbage slaw and, surprisingly, asparagus for crunch. The fish is flaky and sweet and airily topped with a showering of salty queso fresco.

Despite the two separate menus, Bhuti serves all her food on gorgeous dinnerware from cult potter Jordan Colón, who also supplies culinary hotspots like Gabriel Kreuther and Okonomi with dramatic ceramics. The upscale touch, paired with copper-plated cutlery, adds a subtle elegance to the understated dining room’s homespun design, which includes broad front windows and charmingly mismatched wooden furniture. Service is just as comfortably accommodating. One customer, informed that the lentil soup was unavailable one weekday afternoon, went in frantic search of an alternative. “Do you need something that’s vegan?” asked the lone waitress. “The chef can make something up for you on the spot. It’s cool. She loves it.”


Dawa’s
51-18 Skillman Avenue Queens; 718-899-8629
dawasnyc.com

 

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Tikka Masala Poutine Is the Culinary Mash-Up You Didn’t Know You Needed

The first thing that strikes you is the scent: spices, earthy cumin, sweet onions…like a deep, tomato-y steam facial, soaking into a mound of shimmering, salty fries.

This is Poutine, Desi Galli (101 Lexington Avenue; 212-683-2292) style.

“I’m Indian by background, but I was born and raised in Montreal, and I grew up eating a lot of poutine. It’s such an integral part of the food culture there,” says PriaVanda Chouhan, owner of Curry Hill favorite Desi Galli, which opened an East Village outpost (172 Avenue B; 212-475-3374) just over a month ago.

“The great thing about the East Village is how open people are to new ideas. Fusion is one of those controversial food trends, but it can really bring traditional dishes to life, especially when you’re saying something about your own history and culture,” Chouhan explains to the Voice.” That’s what we hoped to do with the Tikka Masala Poutine. I guess you could say it was a recipe looking for the right home.”

Chouhan’s take on the classic French-Canadian dish brings a hefty dose of spice to the party. “I wanted it to be like chicken tikka masala — but vegetarian,” she says. “I went back and forth with the recipe a lot, trying to get the same depth of flavor that you get with meat, and the same thick, creamy texture with the sauce.”

So let’s talk about that sauce: an admittedly unglamorous red-brown gravy, with a velvety texture, and just enough heat to keep things interesting.

“The dish starts with onions and spices,” says Chouhan. “Chili, cumin, of course, salt and pepper, turmeric…I love cooking with turmeric for the color and the flavor, and also because its anti-inflammatory. I like to sneak it in wherever I can. The base is cooked down with tomato paste, then we add cream, and crumble in paneer — which thickens the sauce and makes it really rich and delicious.”

This gleaming gravy is poured over freshly made french fries, “hand cut,” Chouhan notes, a simple, salty foundation for this steaming sauce. Instead of the more traditional cheese topping, a sprinkling of sev — small fragments of noodle made from chickpea flour — adds crunch and texture.

“So far, people seem to be enjoying it,” says Chouhan. “We’ve had fellow Montreal-ers who live in the neighborhood come back for seconds, so that’s a real badge of honor.”

For all your post-beer poutine needs, Desi Galli is open late (until 3 a.m.) on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

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O.M.Ghee: Delhi Import Indian Accent Speaks Its Truth Boldly and Clearly

Behind an L-shaped slab of Calacatta marble, the bartender winks before setting scotch on fire for a blue blazer cocktail, adroitly pouring the burning liquor between two metal mugs. It’s midnight at Indian Accent, Rohit Khattar and chef Manish Mehrotra’s ambitious midtown hotel restaurant with Delhi roots, and when the hot toddies arrive, I’m discussing the intricacies of Indian marriage with a betrothed thirtysomething doctor. “It’s going to cost my parents close to $100,000 and I’ll be celebrating with hundreds of people I’ll probably never see again,” she says, laughing, before downing the incendiary half-pour in one gulp.

A glance at the dining room reveals a similarly jovial scene. New Yorkers are no strangers to high-end Desi dining (the easiest parallel would be Vikas Khanna’s Michelin-starred Junoon), but this place has justifiably struck a chord. Indian Accent opened at the end of February in a deep-set, sophisticated space adjacent to the Parker Meridien hotel. It’s the first stateside venture for the 42-year-old Mehrotra, who grew up in the city of Patna and gravitated toward East and Southeast Asian cooking early in his career before exploring the regional cuisines of his birthplace. As at the New Delhi original, which gained international acclaim after opening in 2009, the New York outpost employs a modernist, pan-Indian menu shaped by those nouveau buzzwords: locality and seasonality.

That translates to plates of sautéed ramps covering soft, fresh paneer cheese, which takes the kitchen two days to produce and is paired with crisp, puffed quinoa. Massive morel mushrooms, which grow wild in Kashmir, are fried until the result achieves a brittle golden-brown shell. And in a serendipitous nod to their new surroundings, Mehrotra and executive chef Vivek Rana fill buttery naan with chopped pastrami coated in spicy mustard butter for their take on kulcha bread: It’s a tasty innovation on an East Coast classic that belongs among the ranks of our finest smoked-meat dishes.

Other kulchas, filled with bacon, or rich stews like saag paneer and butter chicken, are also worth exploring; order them à la carte at the bar or outside on the newly opened front patio. In the main room, you’re restricted to $75 three-course and $90 four-course prix-fixe options, as well as a tailorable seven-course tasting for $110.

Meals kick off with an amuse-bouche duo, like shots of shorba (coconut, on our visits) and mini kulchas stuffed with blue cheese — a heady mix of creamy and sharp flavors. The first two sections comprise appetizers served cold or hot, many of them smart riffs on street food. Discs of raw kohlrabi lighten a pyramid of diced sweet potato and crispy okra, while fried pakora fritters made of shiso leaves are accompanied by yogurt, tamarind, and mint sauces.

The translations rarely feel forced. Nihari, a bone marrow stew, is turned into a fiery sauce for beef kebabs. Shredded Chettinad-style duck is layered between idli, semolina cakes commonly found at breakfast. A pat of seared foie gras tops the birdwich, its richness cut with sweet onion chutney. Mehrotra pan-sears flaky sea bass in tart tamarind sauce and serves it in a Kerala-inspired moilee curry; salmon roe adds a briny kick. The kitchen also knows its way around lamb: A crisp pile of it floats in a five-lentil dal stew, and a shareable, gingery roasted shank is paired with roti pancakes. The latter is “inspired by the classic kathi kebab rolls,” Mehrotra relays to the Voice, though its grand presentation, featuring an array of chutneys and vegetable salads, evokes Peking duck. Desserts, meanwhile, experiment with textures, with saffron-inflected makhan malai, an airy milk foam, getting welcome crunch from jaggery brittle.

Service has the polished sheen of the Eleven Madison Park vet in charge, and although the kitchen closes at 10:30 p.m., the bar often stays open past midnight — fortunate, given that beverage director Daniel Beedle works infusion magic, imbuing tequila with finger chiles to mix with green Chartreuse, and pisco with cardamom for a chamomile-yogurt-frothed sour. That palpable zeal for blending spices and style, coupled with the kitchen’s estimable prowess, has Indian Accent firing on all cylinders.

Indian Accent
123 West 56th Street
212-842-8070
indianaccent.com

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Wylie Dufresne Lends His Expertise to Soho Tiffin Junction

For the past two years Soho Tiffin Junction has served only lunch, which has proved popular with NYU students and, according to social media, actress Phylicia Rashad. Dinner launched in early March; Jawahar Chirimar, Wylie Dufresne, and head chef Ramkumar Ramakrishnan’s menu of nine “Indian small plates” was whittled down from more than forty test recipes. Dufresne is one of several fine-dining chefs dipping a toe into the convenience market, though Soho Tiffin Junction aims a bit higher than most counter service spots. “It’s been exciting to see how we can take the fine-dining approach, streamline it, and imagine it being made on a larger scale,” Dufresne tells the Voice.

Dufresne, one of the culinary world’s most inspired tinkerers, was tasked with tweaking regional Indian recipes to appeal to a broader range of palates… Over the past decade as a chef, Dufresne has struggled to appeal to a mass audience. At a fast-casual restaurant near Washington Square Park, he may finally do just that. — Zachary Feldman

Read more: Soho Tiffin Junction Makes the Most of Its Celebrity Chef-Consultant, Wylie Dufresne

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Soho Tiffin Junction Makes the Most of Its Celebrity Chef-Consultant, Wylie Dufresne

Soho Tiffin Junction’s chicken tenders are outstanding, the bird marinated in curry and fried to a brown crisp. They arrive as a bulky trio, coated in a masala chickpea flour that makes them taste like a cross between boneless wings and ayam goreng, the turmeric-tinged fried chicken popular throughout Indonesia and Malaysia. Dip them in spicy ketchup or a puréed chutney made of mango, mustard seed, and curry leaf.

They’re the work of Wylie Dufresne, the celebrity chef and erstwhile molecular gastronomist who closed his pioneering restaurant wd~50 in 2014 and its sibling, Alder, in 2015. Last fall, Dufresne, who will soon open a restaurant in the financial district’s AKA Wall Street hotel, took a consulting job to overhaul this fast-casual canteen and gin up a new dinner menu, which is where you’ll find those $8 tenders. You can thank Dufresne for nailing the garbanzo flour crust. “Wylie helped us place our cuisine in a local context,” founding partner and former Lehman Brothers and Citibank exec Jawahar Chirimar tells the Voice.

By day, the quick-service Indian restaurant peddles tiffin bowls (tiffin in this instance meaning a light meal comprising several elements) assembly-line-style. Dufresne added a corn-studded, curried avocado mash, a catchy contribution that might entice the “guac is extra” crowd and pairs well with shredded tamarind-braised beef, a lunch mainstay. Soho Tiffin Junction isn’t shy about who it’s trying to emulate, peppering Instagram with the hashtag #IndianChipotle.

For the past two years it’s served only lunch, which has proved popular with NYU students and, according to social media, actress Phylicia Rashad. Dinner launched in early March; Chirimar, Dufresne, and head chef Ramkumar Ramakrishnan’s menu of nine “Indian small plates” was whittled down from more than forty test recipes. Dufresne is one of several fine-dining chefs dipping a toe into the convenience market, though Soho Tiffin Junction aims a bit higher than most counter service spots. “It’s been exciting to see how we can take the fine-dining approach, streamline it, and imagine it being made on a larger scale,” Dufresne tells the Voice.

At night, for instance, the kitchen swaps out takeout containers for white ceramic, table service, and complimentary naan. Dishes top out at $12, which makes sense: Despite candlelit tables and shades pulled down to cover the overhead lunch menu, it still feels like a quick-service restaurant. That’s not a bad thing. While my first visit was dull simply because I was the only diner for the entirety of my meal — on a subsequent trip, the surroundings felt almost kitschy once the room was half-filled.

Dufresne, one of the culinary world’s most inspired tinkerers, was tasked with tweaking regional Indian recipes to appeal to a broader range of palates. That seems to translate to: more cheese. So dosa, sourdough crêpes made from lentils and rice, ooze with melted gruyère. They’re not dramatically huge the way the best versions of this South Indian specialty are, but they’re tasty dunked into split-pea and chayote chutneys. Gruyère also adds extra creaminess to chicken tikka masala, which comes topped with shaved brussels sprouts and pickled onions. “I love that they use thigh meat,” offers Dufresne.

Spicy tomato curry from South India’s Chettinad region pop up in both a cheesy dip and a shrimp entrée. The latter is served with star anise quinoa and a complex gravy inflected with cilantro and preserved lemon. “JC [Chirimar] was bringing in recipes and flavors from his childhood and putting them on the menu,” Dufresne says, adding, “the shrimp Chettinad has a spice mix that’s directly out of his experience, and I was able to provide guidance on the art of cooking seafood.” Dufresne’s plating adds a fresh garnish: shredded snow peas.

Malai kofta, North Indian cheese-and-vegetable dumplings, are here rendered decidedly meaty, a mix of pork and beef simmered in mushroom gravy that incorporates bone broth, tamarind, and smoked chiles. Vegetarians can console themselves with an excellent meatless burger served with kale chips. (Dufresne notoriously loves processed American cheese, but I’m glad he chose sharp cheddar here, to layer with tikka sauce and Rajasthani pickles.) Another vegetarian dish resembles saag paneer, with cubes of fresh cheese and spinach, but its buttermilk and coconut flavors pay homage to a Tamil dish called mor kuzhambu.

Wines are of the table variety, mostly under $48, and canned craft beers are $4 a pop. Dessert is soft-serve kulfi from former wd~50 pastry chef Sam Mason. The first machine Chirimar purchased is out of commission, but once a new one is installed later this month, you’ll be able to eat saffron and cardamom ice creams with almond brittle made of jaggrey, a molasses-colored unrefined sugar.

For diners who remember the days when Dufresne and Mason shared a kitchen, their paired stage at Soho Tiffin Junction feels like a bittersweet not-quite-reunion. Over the past decade as a chef, Dufresne has struggled to appeal to a mass audience. At a fast-casual restaurant near Washington Square Park, he may finally do just that.

Soho Tiffin Junction
42 East 8th Street
917-514-8409

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Brooklyn Delhi Brings Award-Winning Indian Achaar to New York

Brooklyn Delhi’s Chitra Agrawal grew up eating tons of achaar — intensely flavored Indian pickles. Years later, as an adult, Agrawal brought jars of homemade achaar made by her aunts and grandmothers from India to New York.  She and then-boyfriend Ben Garthus would devour the jars, and when they ran out, the couple realized that the achaar in Brooklyn was subpar. New York’s achaar contained excessive amounts of salt, preservatives, and “really bad oils.” So Agrawal started making her own.

Agrawal used produce from her weekly CSA share in her family’s recipes, which cover a breadth of Indian cuisine. Her mother is from Bangalore, in the south; her father from Delhi, in the north. “Achaar is made all over India, but the types of fruits, vegetables, and oils they use vary by location,” she explains. “In the south, they often use sesame oil and spices like fenugreek. In the north, they might make it from carrot or cauliflower, in a base of mustard oil with nigella seeds.”

When making her own achaar, Agrawal only used a little salt and oil to let the freshness of her local ingredients shine. She served her first few batches — made with nontraditional ingredients like gooseberries and heirloom tomatoes — at pop-up dinners and cooking classes she was already running.

“People responded because they’re really different in flavor and more intense than something like a chutney, which you make and eat when it’s fresh,” she says. “With achaar, the flavor gets better over time.”

With the positive reinforcement behind her, Brooklyn Delhi was formed.

Adding salt to tomato achaar
Adding salt to tomato achaar

At St. John’s Bread and Life soup kitchen, where Brooklyn Dehli is based, Agrawal produces four kinds of achaar: nontraditional gooseberry and rhubarb-ginger as well as the more conventional roasted garlic and tomato.

In Brooklyn Delhi’s early days, the foodie community helped Agrawal surmount unexpected hurdles. Other artisan food producers like Kareem O from Mama O’s Kimchi, Alex Boyd from Cocktail Crate, and Anita Shepherd from Anita’s Coconut Yogurt gave Agrawal a hand when she was getting started. Friendships forged at markets led to help with everything from simple stuff like finding bottles and lids to navigating New York City’s complicated mess of regulations and permits. “We went to market within months, which wouldn’t have been possible otherwise,” she says.

“We teach each other,” Agrawal says of her employees at St. John’s. “They’ve learned how to make these Indian pickle recipes, and they’ve taught me how to work efficiently in a commercial kitchen, which is great.” She has also used some of St. John’s suppliers — like the local upstate farms that provide her with thousands of tomatoes. All those tomatoes go into her tomato achaar — 300 pounds of them at a time.

Each batch of tomato achaar contains 300 pounds of tomatoes
Each batch of tomato achaar contains 300 pounds of tomatoes

Making huge batches of achaar in an industrial kitchen wasn’t without its challenges. “The first time we did it, I was like, ‘Oh my god! It’s a vat of hot lava! It spits fire!’ ” she exclaims. “Just working with the sheer volume versus the smaller amount I’d done before was a challenge. But over time, you understand different ways of protecting yourself from the lava.”

To make the tomato achaar, she infuses black mustard seeds and asafetida in oil then adds turmeric and garlic over heat. Tomatoes, salt, ground chili, and tamarind (which elevates the tanginess) go in next, and the lot is brought up to about 190 degrees and left to reduce for five hours. The team of three — Agrawal with her crew of Kathy and Mable — starts making batches around 2 p.m., yielding 300 jars of achaar by that evening. Each jar contains about a pound of reduced tomatoes.

Brooklyn Delhi’s production varies — but in a busy summer month, they’ll spend three or four intense sessions making a total of 12,000 jars (with gooseberry as the most limited of the flavors).

“The sheer volume of filling and capping is the most challenging part of production,” Agrawal says. “But it’s almost meditative, too. The time goes by because it’s so repetitive. It’s just one piece of the pie, but it takes a couple of hours to do.”

The jars are designed by Ben Garthus.
The jars are designed by Ben Garthus.

Countless jars after the couple’s first foray into achaar, Garthus, now Agrawal’s husband, took care of Brooklyn Dehli’s design elements. Garthus has been designing food packaging for over fifteen years and used his expertise to customize the company’s font and design after studying colorful Indian truck art, street art, and local Brooklyn deli awnings.

Agrawal’s father also translated the flavor names into Hindi, which is emblazoned on the label as well. “It was really fun working together on this with my dad, and Ben is such a whiz at all of this; I really lucked out,” says Agrawal.

Transforming personal relationships into professional ones has served Agrawal well. Brooklyn Delhi’s first retail outlet was Greene Grape Provisions in Fort Greene, where Agrawal used to live. Greene Grape started putting her achaars onto their sandwiches, “which helped people create a connection as to how you can use the products,” she says. The Brooklyn Kitchen was another major supporter in Brooklyn Delhi’s first days.

“The more people taste it, the better it’s been for us,” says Agrawal. “That’s been a huge help.”

Agrawal and the Brooklyn Delhi team
Agrawal and the Brooklyn Delhi team

This year, Brooklyn Delhi won a 2016 Good Food Award, which has helped her get the attention of new buyers. The win also helped with one of the company’s biggest challenges: distribution.

“Right now we’re self-distributing,” she explains. “But our roster is growing, so soon we’re going to be working with distributors — we just signed with one in the Northwest. Since deliveries take the longest time, that will help our workload.”

While all that develops, Agrawal still teaches classes about vegetarian home cooking from India. Soon, her expertise will open to an even bigger market when Ten Speed Press publishes her first cookbook in March of 2017.

“It’s based on the South Indian cooking from Bangalore,” Agrawal says of her cookbook. “There’s a lot of neat things in there, all vegetarian. And, of course, my grandma’s lemon pickle!”

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Best Weekend Food Events: Crawfish, Wine, and Guac Burger Dumplings

by CHLOE and Mimi Cheng’s Guac Burger Dumpling, Mimi Cheng’s, 179 2nd Avenue, Friday through March 31

Veggie burger joint by CHLOE has teamed up with Mimi Cheng’s for one month of guac burger dumplings. Throughout the month of March only, guests can enjoy by Chloe’s burger in dumpling form, which features black beans, quinoa, sweet potato, and corn salsa stuffed inside. The dumpling is topped off with guacamole and tortilla chips, alongside some beet ketchup dipping sauce.

Wylie Dufresne and Sam Mason Dinner Menu Debuts, Soho Tiffin Junction, 42 East 8th Street, Friday, 6 p.m.

Chefs Wylie Dufresne and Sam Mason lent their talents to create Soho Tiffin Junction’s new dinner menu, which debuts this Friday and will be available all year long. Dufresne advised on the menu and collaborated with the restaurant to create dishes like masala meatballs and fried chicken tenders marinated in curry. For dessert, Sam Mason of OddFellows Ice Cream Co. created a soft-serve version of the traditional kulfi (saffron, cardamon, caramelized milk) with toppings including chocolate sauce and rose syrup. The menu will be available every day of the week, from 6 p.m. until closing.

Wine Riot, 69th Regiment Armory, 68 Lexington Avenue, Friday through Sunday, 7 p.m.

Sip on 250 wines from across the globe, poured by experts, at this interactive tasting experience. There will be plenty of booths for guests to stop by to get an unpretentious, wine-filled cram session and learn about these worldly vinos. Check out other activities throughout the armory, including a DJ and a photo booth. Finally, don’t forget to download an app that reveals where to buy the wines you’ve sampled at the riot. Tickets are $65.

Kids Food Festival, Celsius Restaurant at Bryant Park, 41 West 40th Street, Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Crawfish season is here!
Crawfish season is here!

Join The Meatball Shop’s Daniel Holzman, and Seamus Mullen of Tertulia, as they demonstrate fun family recipes geared to get kids cooking in the kitchen. Additional family-focused activities include a balanced plate scavenger hunt, goody bag prizes, and a special appearance by Snoopy. Guests with kids who want to participate in hands-on cooking demos can get $25 tickets here.

Weekend Crawfish Boils, Double Wide Bar & Southern Kitchen, 505 E. 12th Street, Saturday and Sunday, 3 p.m.

Fresh Louisiana crawfish season is in full force at Double Wide, where chefs prepare a traditional homemade crawfish boil each week. For $30, guests get a bucket filled with three pounds of crawfish, sausage, corn, and potatoes. The bar is also offering $5 Abita beers and rum cocktails. Can’t make it this weekend? Don’t worry, Double Wide will host these every weekend until the end of summer.