Saar, which translates to “the essence of something, ” has a double meaning for Pastry Chef Surbhi Sahni. It represents the essence of Indian food, as well as the essence of her relationship with her husband, Chef Hemant Mathur. Although Surbhi has been in the industry with Hemant for years, the two have not worked together on a daily basis since their days at their Michelin-starred restaurants, Devi and Tulsi, both of which are now closed. Saar represents their fresh start while also staying true to their culture and roots. When Surbhi and Hemant met in 2000, Hemant was teaching Indian cooking classes at New York University as he was getting ready to open Tamarind on Park Avenue. Surbhi joined the opening team at Tamarind, designing the tearoom and promoting quick lunches. He went on to operate five different spaces, including Sahib, Haldi, Chote Nawab, Malai Marke, and Chola, while Surbhi helped manage events. During that time, she also launched Bittersweet NYC, a pastry business focusing on wedding cakes and Indian style desserts for larger corporate events. Surbhi’s relationship with cooking is unlike the typical love story of most chefs. Her experience in the kitchen started at the age of ten in New Delhi as more of a responsibility and chore when her mother’s health declined. She explained to members of the Manhattan Sideways team, “It was not something I could ever imagine myself doing for the rest of my life. I wanted to do art and write and paint or sing and dance - every other activity in the world but cook. ” Notwithstanding these sentiments, Surbhi was encouraged by her father to take a job in hotel management in New Delhi. She was part of the Sheraton Group’s revolutionary all-female kitchen and restaurant at a time when there were only approximately twenty female chefs in all of New Delhi. At age twenty-five, however, Surbhi chose to move to the United States to pursue her Masters in Anthropology and Food at New York University. Despite never getting to study writing and painting at university, these endeavors have always been an integral part of Surbhi’s life. Her father is an accomplished artist exhibiting in both India and the US. Today, she is proud of her own teenage daughter, Soumyaa. "She is the true artist of the family. " When entering the dining room on 51st Street, Surbhi’s artistic aptitude is obvious. The modern space is both clean and dramatic, with natural light and bright pops of color. Saar was a particularly exciting project for her, as she was given free rein in its design. In a mere five months, she turned what she described as a dingy, confused room into an open, tasteful dining space. Saar has also allowed Surbhi and Hemant to completely reinvent their menu. They focus on regional food, staying authentic to the specific flavors of each area. For example, Surbhi told us that the Turbuj Pachadi - a tomato and watermelon salad with a fennel and ginger dressing - is a Rajasthani staple, as watermelon is a fruit that is readily available there, and is usually consumed with freshly baked bread. She has also made an effort to challenge conventional conceptions of Indian cuisine. The Mango Coconut Soup is a light and sweet palate opener, proving that Indian food is not always too spicy or a combination of too many flavors. She believes that Indian food is actually very demarcated in the way flavors are put together. “Just how in Japanese food they have many different layers of flavors they add as they’re cooking, we do the same with Indian food. ” While cooking can serve as a creative outlet, Surbhi still tries to write and paint whenever she can. In ending our conversation, Surbhi emphasized the importance of food’s role in building a community - something she looks forward to creating on West 51st Street.
Named after nonviolence, Ahimsa is kosher, vegan, and gluten free. The restaurant, whose first location opened in 2016, fulfils a teenage dream of Frank Shah, who owns Ahimsa along with his wife Maya. Growing up poor in Mumbai, Shah’s family could not even afford a biryani. Now, he serves biryani and more authentic North and South Indian dishes made fresh every day. Delicious Indian street-side dishes from Shah’s childhood like vada pav and bhel puri make Ahimsa unique among other Indian restaurants in the city. Being in New York is an important part of Ahimsa’s mission. Shah hopes to use the restaurant to expand non-Indian New Yorkers’ ideas about what Indian food is and to show non-vegan New Yorkers how many delicious meals can be made without meat or dairy.
Beneath a corrugated tin ceiling, and Bollywood posters advertising sex and adventure, sitar music mingles with spicy aromas. The combination ensures that partaking in this eatery is quite the pleasant experience. We stopped by one afternoon to try the Kati rolls, Indian flatbread wraps with fixins inside. While one of us sunk our teeth into the popular tikka wrap, I happily indulged in the Chana Masala Roll filled with chick peas, tomatoes, red onion and blackening spices on their classic Paratha. The place was packed with young professionals taking out and dining in. The enthusiastic manager was proud to tell us that people line up down the street at all hours. We could certainly understand why. The line moves quickly, the food is excellent and it is all managed with pleasant smiles.
At lunch hour during the work week as well as weekend afternoons, there is a constant line out the door as people wait to order a Kati roll. A customary street food of Kolkata, India, these are the namesake and main draw of this restaurant. The rolls consist of Indian favorites, like Chicken Tikka or Aloo Masala, wrapped up in traditional Bengali roti bread. Decorated with a tin roof, and tattered posters from Bengali and Hindi feature films, the Kati Roll Company offers up fresh, tasty Indian food that is less formal than a typical Indian restaurant.
“I want to make Indian food accessible to New Yorkers, ” Basu Ratnam announced to the Manhattan Sideways team as we were savoring a meal with him at his trendy, fast-casual restaurant. Inday's name derives from his goal: to make “India everyday. ” Basu is one of the increasing number of people that our team has encountered on the side streets who have given up lucrative, fast-paced careers in finance to start small businesses close to their hearts. For Basu, it began in 2013, when he was seated next to Phil Suarez, a restaurateur and partner of celeb chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Impressed by Basu’s pitch, Suarez signed on as an investor for Basu's new venture, allowing him to open Inday in 2015, which he eloquently stated, “was a way of reconnecting with my past and understanding my culture through food. "The cuisine at Inday reflects Basu’s own hybrid childhood. While he was growing up, his mother - who started living in the States after traveling here for grad school from the East Indian city of Calcutta - longed for authentic home food. Given that thirty years ago, in the 1980s, it was difficult to find exotic ingredients in supermarkets, his mother adapted to her environs, blending Indian recipes with the Californian emphasis on organic, local ingredients and cosmopolitan flavors. The result is not “authentic Indian, ” but it stays true to the fundamental spirit of Indian food: healthy and nourishing, yet packed with flavor. It is a great alternative to today’s health food, which tends to be “about what’s not in your food, ” according to Basu. This East-West fusion and emphasis on healthy food is readily apparent in Inday’s seasonal menu. It offers colorful make-your-own bowls that combine a variety of meats and proteins with vegetables including cabbage, roasted corn and shaved broccoli, as well as traditional Indian items like mint and coconut chutneys, banana chips, and dal (lentils). Some of the more innovative menu options include a gluten free “dosa waffle” - a South Indian crepe - and the amazing “shredded cauliflower rice, ” which is cheekily referred to as “Not Rice” on the menu. Basu told me the wonderful story behind the latter item, which is truly emblematic of the restaurant’s spirit: When his sister became "carb-conscious" as a young adult, his mother came up with “cauliflower biryani, ” which substituted shredded cauliflower for rice. Basu says that they included it on the menu initially as a joke, but was pleasantly surprised to see it become their most popular item. Also worth noting is the “cardamom yoghurt” with berry compote, a heavenly amalgam of the Indian dessert “shrikhand” and fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt. When asked if he was planning on expanding his business, perhaps developing a chain of restaurants, Basu responded - to my pleasant surprise - with a firm no. He is interested, instead, in engaging deeply with a particular kind of audience and forming a community around food. The Silicon Alley demographic that his NoMad location attracts is exactly the audience he wants: “culturally curious young people who are changing the world and are interested in the story behind their food. ”While we were speaking, I noticed stacks of old, dog-eared National Geographic magazines on a wooden shelf nearby; Basu pointed out that even the store’s signage is made out of pages of the magazine that he grew up reading. “I like to have it here as a reminder that there is life outside these concrete walls, and we should be sensitive to that. ”When I asked Basu if his mother is involved in the restaurant in any way, he told me that she occasionally stops by, tries everything, and gives the chefs valuable feedback. He then laughed as he remembered something Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten said about Basu’s mother: “She will forget more about Indian food than most people even know. ” With Inday, Basu is trying to remember as much as he can, in his own, New-Yorker way.
I had been nibbling my way across Curry Row on East 6th Street, trying out each of the restaurants with my husband - a huge fan of Indian food, when we learned that a new place would be coming shortly. Having dined in Shiva Natarajan's other restaurants further uptown, we looked forward to trying Malai Marke. Because we eat Indian food quite often, we are always looking for a restaurant that offers a few out of the ordinary Indian choices. We certainly found several new palate pleasers here: Kurkuri Bindi (okra tossed with onions, lime, and chaat), Imli Baigan (eggplant layered with tamarind chutney), and Madurai Melagu Curry (available with vegetable, chicken, lamb, or shrimp). This last one raised the bar on spicy for my husband who, until this point, had thought the Phall at Brick Lane Curry House represented the ultimate challenge. This curry, however, proved to be an equally worthy and tasty adversary. When chatting with the manager we learned that this is their own creation - "we experimented and wanted to come up with something that went beyond Phall. " Not only was the food outstanding at Malai Marke, but so was the entire experience. From the moment we arrived, we knew that we were in a special place. The contemporary decor is a welcome change from other Indian restaurants, the people who served us were helpful in explaining the menu and cheered my husband on as he finished off his intensely hot meal. As we were leaving, we stopped to gaze through the glass at the open kitchen and were invited to meet the chef who had been given a Michelin star at another favorite restaurant of ours, Junoon.
"Monkeys are whimsical and playful and that fits with our theme, " Arun relayed to me on the evening that we sat down in his Indian restaurant and cocktail bar. Arun grew up "all over. " His dad was a diplomat who moved the family every few years from India to Washington to London. "I was constantly having new friends, a new home, a new school - a new life. " But, in hindsight, Arun said that it was an amazing way to be raised, and he appreciates what his parents did for him. "Hey, I have a friend and a couch in every city that I need to crash now. "Arun spent time working in other restaurants and bars over the years, but it was always his dream to have his own place. He just needed to figure out exactly what his concept would be. Initially, he thought he would open a cocktail bar, as there were none in the surrounding area at the time. "I recognized the density in population, and the variety of restaurants, but there was nowhere for people to go to have a nice drink and relax in this neighborhood, " he said. After admiring the bistro format derived from his uncle's successful restaurant, Bateau Ivre, which opened in 1995, Arun sat down with the man that he had always admired to discuss some of his ideas for starting a business. Enthusiastic about Arun's concept, his uncle took Arun to India where the two solidified their partnership. Now, periodically, they will travel back to their native country as well as to England to refresh their palate and come back to Manhattan with new recipes to try. There is a limited menu - not one's typical Indian choices - highlighting a little bit of everything from India’s North to its South, as well as the classic street food found in India. They are continuously revamping the menu and trading dishes with their fairly new downtown location, Royal Munkey. Many of the recipes that Executive Chef Derik Alfro uses are from Arun's mom, grandmother, and other members of the family. "This is home style cooking, " Arun told me as he placed a plate of white bread in front of me, cut into triangles with a mild cheddar cheese shredded over it and a bit of red onion, cilantro and green chili mixed in. "This is the kind of food we would eat at home, and at Drunken Munkey, we are trying to serve it in a similar style and setting. "While Arun tasted the chicken alongside the rest of us from Manhattan Sideways, he pointed to the accompanying sauce and told us that it was his grandmother's recipe - a play on the traditional tamarind made with apple butter, a blend of ground spices, and lemon that steeps for a few days before it is ready to be served. A number of other dishes were brought out, including a bowl of crispy fried okra and Paani Pori - tiny appetizers that we popped into our mouths and let explode with beautifully spiced liquid. Next, the team devoured a plate of perfectly cooked baby lamb chops while I tasted the cubes of cheese in the classic, but marvelous tomato-spiced sauce. Arun then commented on the mango dessert that Royal Munkey serves, explaining that it is inspired by Arun's memories of his mom serving his dad a fresh cut mango every evening on top of a bowl of vanilla ice cream - "simple, refreshing and delicious. "There are two photos that are especially sweet hanging on the wall - one of Arun's parents' wedding and the other of his grandparents. Arun's mom continues to come by at least once a week to sample the food and to give "valid pointers. " It is a combination of every one's skills that makes the menu a perfect blend of dishes. Even Arun's ninety-four year old grandmother comes by to check on things. Arun refers to her as the "entrepreneurial brain" in the family. Arun continued to discuss the interesting menu, describing it as "Anglo Indian. " He proceeded to give us a quick history lesson about the British and Indian relationship to food. As a child, Arun loved hearing the tale of how the Brits and the Indians melded their lives and their food. Vinegar was a common ingredient used in both countries, but the similarities stopped there. Everyone had a different take on which spices to grind and include in their dishes. As Arun tells it, the English did not use spice, and therefore their food was bland, but the Indians introduced them to an entirely new way to appreciate whatever they were preparing - even Shepherd's Pie. The name of the Royal Munkey's menu, "Mess Hall, " harkens to a time when the best fare could often be found in officers clubs and railways cars and Indian street food. Arun, however, thinks of the bar as the center piece to the restaurant and that the food is meant to complement the beautifully crafted cocktails. His cocktails are based on old British drinks and tied into India - little stories are mentioned throughout the drink menu in addition to historic references. "People who come in who are from India immediately appreciate the history that surrounds them and can relate to it, " Arun told me. It is not only the food, however, that draw them in: it is also the ambience. Although there are Bollywood flicks playing on the wall next to the bar and toy trains hanging in a different area, the wooden panels alongside the mirrored glass wall could easily translate into a French bistro, a look that appeals to Arun's uncle. Because there is a limited amount of seating, Arun decided that he would like to support another business a few doors down, while ensuring that he would not lose his own potential customers. Therefore, if people come by without a reservation and cannot be seated for a little while, the Royal Munkey will give them a voucher and send them to Reif's Tavern for a drink. "It works out well for everyone this way, " Arun revealed. "People questioned my choosing to be on 92nd Street but it is proving to be just fine. " The restaurant stays open until three or four in the morning - something unique to this part of town - and the kitchen remains open alongside the bar. Arun ended our conversation by mentioning that he really wanted to be on a side street: "Besides the reduction in rent, there is a charm in being tucked away. "
While gazing at the menu, one of the members of the Sideways team giddily pronounced, "This is totally hippy food. " It immediately took her back to her time spent in Oregon and she was thrilled. The tiny sandwich shop owned by chef Nisha Patel, is vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free, serving incredible bowls, wraps, salads and smoothies of healthy, delicious food. With their success in Brooklyn at the now well known and loved Smorgasburg, Shiv Puri and Shikha Jain decided to open their own brick and mortar in the fall of 2013. The only issue that anyone could have with this tiny gem is deciding what to order, as everything is excellent.
My husband and I discovered a market called Kalustyan's when we first lived in the city, over thirty years ago, however, they have been a staple on Lexington Avenue since 1944. It is a terrific place to find all kinds of interesting Middle Eastern and Indian ingredients at very low prices, but it was not until recently that I learned that they are also the owners of Curry In a Hurry, just around the corner. Since the 1970s, the restaurant has been a lunchtime staple in Curry Hill, as this neighborhood is known. With a large buffet, complimentary unlimited salad bar, outdoor tables and chairs and upstairs seating that overlooks the street, local residents and workers have more than enough reason to return on a regular basis.
Chola takes its name from the powerful South Indian dynasty that ruled for over 1, 500 years — an appropriate title given that its founder, Indian entrepreneur Shiva Natarajan, built a culinary empire of his own. In addition to Chola, Shiva established twenty-three restaurants in New York, all inspired by his abiding passion for his home country’s cuisine. With such a vast domain, it is little wonder that he sought a partner to keep his businesses running. Fortunately, Min Bhujel, who left Nepal in 2006 to find new opportunities in the States, proved the ideal companion to ensure Chola’s success and serve as general manager for ten of Shiva’s establishments. Though Min, his wife, and their son, Nischul Bhujel, now run Chola as a family business, Shiva’s contribution remains essential. “Mr. Shiva guides us through all the spices and reminds us that the focus must always be on the food, ” said Nischul. Shiva traveled throughout India to educate himself on the authentic preparation methods and ingredients used in different regions. He then funneled his extensive knowledge and recipes directly into Chola. Specializing in cuisine from both northern and southern India, Chola places a strong emphasis on its seafood-rich coastal dishes, with various delectable fish fries, curries, and roasts. Equally as important, the restaurant is recognized for its hospitality. “We take care of this place like it’s our home and treat our guests like dear friends. "
Having had an excellent dining experience at Pippali on 27th Street, we were eager to eat at Pradeep Shinde's well known Chennai. We stopped by for the economical lunch ($8. 95) one day where we found all of the dishes on the buffet to be vegetarian. We returned to the line up of chafing dishes several times, sampling the medu vada (lentil donuts), the Manchurian cauliflower, which had a strong Chinese influence, the dal palak (spinach and lentil stew) and the matar paneer (green peas and homemade cheese). Although only a few options existed for the main course, there was a smorgasbord of dipping sauces to enhance the dishes. We sat for less than an hour and were amazed at the constant flow of people coming and going. The place was packed - as soon as a table emptied out, it was refilled by newcomers. The name, Tiffin Wallah, comes from a term for metal boxes used by Indians in the last century to carry their food to work, and certainly belies the workaday approach in Manhattan.
Utsav, an Indian restaurant constructed in the overhang connecting two buildings between 46th and 47th, has taken an unexpected path to arrive in New York. Opening in 2000, Utsav came to Midtown by way of Japan, as the American expansion of a chain of nineteen Tokyo restaurants run by Emiko Kothari. Emiko and her husband, Shivji Kothari, opened their first Indian restaurants in Calcutta in the 1960s. After a short time, the two decided to make the move back to Japan, and begin again in Emiko's native country. They were eager to introduce Bengali cuisine to a new audience in Tokyo. While she has grown up working in the family business of restaurants, Nandita Khanna, the granddaughter of Emiko, is running Utsav on her own. She wanted to try to expand the family's restaurants to the United States, and to "attempt to enter the more competitive restaurant scene in Manhattan. " In chatting with Nandita, we learned that the name choice Utsav means 'festival' in Sanskrit, and it was her desire to try to create an environment that reflected the vibrant festivals from her homeland. There is multi-level seating in the expansive space of Utsav with a lunch buffet available upstairs alongside the regular menu. While Utsav serves food from all over India and offers many regional specialties, Nandita finds that their most requested dishes are tandoori lambchops and bhuna mutton. In the bar area downstairs, Nandita recommends several innovative Indian twists on standard drinks: the Utsapolitan (a mango and vodka mix) and the pani puri margarita (vodka, tequila, and tamarind water). The bar also serves variations on Indian street food, with bhel puri and an array of chaats. As we were exiting Ustav, we took note of the well-situated tables just outside of the restaurant, where there was a volume of bankers from a few blocks east, and theater crew from a few blocks west, savoring their Indian meal. This amalgamation perfectly captures the area.