"We put a lot of thought and love into our cocktails," Ajna Jai, the daughter of the owner, Anita Jaisinghani, proudly shared with me when we sat down for our conversation. And what better way to begin a meal than with a Madras (chili-infused tequila, rum, lime, vanilla, mango and mace), a Maid's Mantra (gin, lime, cucumber, sugar, cilantro and chili), or an E 100 Sour (sherry, lemon, ginger syrup, turmeric and egg white).
Having dined here previously, I knew that not only are the drinks amazing, but so too are their unique Indian dishes. I would have dinner at Pondicheri every week, if given the opportunity. With an emphasis on healthy eating and just the right amount of unique spices, the team behind the open kitchen are continuously experimenting with new ideas, as well as utilizing the recipes from Chef Anita's award-winning restaurant in Houston.
I was stunned to find out from Ajna that Pondicheri was the first tenant in the building in over thirty years. "I picked it and I am very proud of my decision," Ajna revealed to me. Ajna went on to tell me that her mother was contemplating opening a new restaurant in another city, but Ajna was already living in Manhattan, so she was able to convince her mom to let her scout out the perfect location. As an abandoned building, the space needed a lot of work; however, Ajna's vision was to keep it as natural as possible - "to allow the skeleton to be as close to home as I could." Ajna said that they worked to clean up the original tile floors, to design the restaurant around the large, striking columns, and to allow the brick walls to be exposed.
When I asked Ajna how she came to run Pondicheri, she responded matter-of-factly, "It fell into my lap, quite honestly." Ajna had grown up in the business. She was born in Canada, but when the family moved to Texas, her mom - who is originally from India - decided to open the high end restaurant, Indika, and shortly after, a more accessible dining spot, Pondicheri. "In Manhattan, we have created a mix of the two," Ajna said.
Ajna moved to New York in 2010 to pursue a career in acting. When her mom was looking to hire a manager for the new restaurant in 2016, it made perfect sense for Ajna to be this person. The agreement, however, is that if she has an audition or a shoot, then someone else will cover for her, allowing her to pursue her other passion. Despite having chosen to work in two of the most challenging professions in the city, there is no doubt in my mind that this young, beautiful woman will be successful in both careers.
I live close by, and so I constantly walked past the building that I knew would soon house Pondicheri. With eager anticipation, during the summer of 2016, I would knock on the door only to learn it would be a few more days. Initially, the beautiful, vast space offered breakfast and lunch served from the counter placed up front. Enticing eggs, pancakes, home-baked muffins and a variety of specialties were on the Indian-focused menu. It was only a short time later that the team added a full service dinner menu with seating throughout their stunning space.
I have now tried the appetizer, Khandvi, several times - it might be my favorite dish. With its pinwheel shape made with chickpeas and interior made from coconut, cashew, sesame and spices, it has been a real crowd pleaser, not only for me, but, according to Ajna, for many others, too. The roasted beet soup, sporting a creamy texture, was splendid. But it was the two round, lightly fried paneer balls that sat on the side of the bowl that were the show stoppers for me. As I watched the kitchen staff tenderly preparing them, I did not realize that they would accompany the soup. The server suggested that I crush the balls into the bowl so as to give it a bit of texture. It was a great concept, however, I simply wanted to savor each little nugget on its own.
The Thalis platters are not only presented beautifully, but they allow diners to have a few nibbles of a variety of different dishes from the kitchen. This can include the beet soup, crispy okra (always at the top of my list), sweet potato peanut samosa and a variety of other intriguing meat and seafood choices. In addition, there are large plates offered that invite people to share either a vegetable platter or one filled with lamb or seafood.
My strong suggestion is to leave room for dessert. There are a number of scrumptious choices, including a rotating Mithai Tasting of Indian sweets, and my dessert of choice, the spiced chocolate meringue with cinnamon, creme anglaise and a Valrhona chocolate sauce on top.
Ajna was eager to convey to me that at Pondicheri, you can eat Indian food on a regular basis. "It does not have to be a destination." She hopes that people will stop by and splurge on their baked goods, and even an Indian version of fries. "If you are going to eat a cookie, eat it from Pondicheri, it is the best quality," she proclaimed.
At Paris Baguette, the Manhattan Sideways team grabbed a tray and a set of tongs and indulged. We found each baked bread to be more desirable than the next, from the simple white loaf to the peanut crumb to the chocolate cream bread. The cakes are magnificent pieces of art. We were particularly drawn to the strawberry and fresh cream, and the chocolate and banana. A chain that originated in Korea, Paris Baguette now provides baked goods to almost three thousand stores. Although not everything is prepared in-house, the aroma alone makes it worth a visit, as does the show of people who come through Paris Baguette each day.
A young, hip crowd filled the house on a Wednesday at 4pm, and not just for the incredible baked goods. There are numerous bakeries sprinkled throughout Korea Town, but I, like many others, was particularly drawn to Tous Les Jours for its vast seating area and the music videos playing on a huge screen.
“By accident, ” answered Olga Blanco when I asked her how she got her start in the printing business. Her husband started Nobel Printing in 1979, and Olga took over a short while later when he became ill. “I learned and I kept going, ” she smiled, remembering a time when the business was new to her. She, in turn, has taught her son, who works for a printing company in Florida. Olga shared with me that when her son's business decided to use the traditional printing press in an effort to distinguish themselves from others, his knowledge of the machine lead to a promotion. “No one else knows how to use these, ” she gushed, “so they increased his pay. ”Originally from Columbia, Olga journeyed to the States in 1969 at the age of seventeen. Since living here, she has seen a lot of changes, many of which have had an negative impact on her custom printing company. “Everything is digital these days, ” she rationalized, "And everyone thinks they are a designer. ” With so many people in possession of a computer and the means to make their own digital copies, her fears are not unwarranted. Topped off with rising rents, Olga is not sure her business will operate for longer than a few more years. Indeed, she has seen many others pushed out of the neighborhood for similar reasons. “The real estate business is hungry for money, ” she said, shaking her head. Despite the obstacles, Olga remains quite confident in the product, itself. She happily deals solely in custom printing, taking on any job no matter the size and “creating something beautiful. ” When I visited in the summer of 2016, Olga was working on a wedding order of 2000 invites and could not conceal her passion for the project. She showed me her early drafts, pulling out the quality card stock and brushing her fingertips over a soft design that depicted a tree just in bloom. There is no replacement for “that human touch. ”
Co-founded in 1994 by former number one middleweight boxer, Michael Olajide, and Leila Fazel, a former ballerina, Aerospace claims to offer “a revolutionary new fitness that engages body, mind, and spirit. ” Leila explained that the Aerospace workout is “revolutionary” in two ways: first, it does not involve any machines, and second, it has its foundation in athlete-level boxing to engage cardio, muscle endurance, and core strength. The company has its own boxing ring and jump rope line. We had the pleasure of seeing Michael, who lost vision in one of his eyes in the early 1990s, guide a student through some boxing combinations as part of the Aerospace workout. Although Michael and Leila intend to maintain the “authenticity of boxing” in their program, Aerospace is open to everyone, with or without boxing experience. While some learn to hit bags on the second floor, others in a more advanced program spar in the boxing ring on the first floor. Leila also runs a workout that combines shadow boxing with ballet.
Jon Eisen is not only one of the partners of Between the Bread and its director of strategic growth, but he is also heir to one of the pioneers of the venture, which has delivered sandwiches to office workers since 1979. Ricky Eisen, Jon’s mother and the company’s president - who was born on the outskirts of Tel Aviv - decided to use large-scale catering to bring healthy meals to her clients in a more efficient way. Jon claims that the result was the first catering company in New York City. Ricky’s idea to use only healthy and local ingredients proved to be a pivotal moment in the way catering to corporate clients is done today. In 2013, Ricky put her son in charge of the retail and café side of the business, which up until that point had been secondary to catering. Recognizing the recent popular trend of eating healthy and local, Jon quickly began streamlining the production process, including installing digital cash registers to track customer orders. This lead to a doubling of revenue. His success prompted Ricky to name him partner in 2015. Despite these changes, the core of the business is still the same: using organic, fresh, and seasonal to serve “high quality meals. ” And to hear it from Jon and the head of brand strategy, Victoria Rolandelli, this core seems to resonate well with customers. Between the Bread opened two more locations in October 2015 and has plans to have a total of twelve locations throughout the city. Located in the Chelsea Terminal Warehouse, the 27th Street Between the Bread is in a massive space that was previously an unloading station for trains. In the not-too-distant future, once Hudson Yards is complete, it is Jon's hope that they will become the "new Chelsea Market. "
Originally constructed in 1905, this building became the home of the beloved Gershwin Hotel in 1992. In 2014, Triumph Hotels took over the space and invested a good deal in renovations, renaming it The Evelyn. As an homage to building’s artful and musical past, the guest rooms feature music note-tiled bathrooms, trombone-shaped chandeliers, and decorations inspired by the Art Nouveau style of the 1900s.
“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.
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 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 Smorgsburg, brother and sister 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.
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.
Prior to opening his restaurants, Pradeep Shinde worked for Leona Helmsley in the Waldorf Astoria. His initial venture into the restaurant business, Madras Mahal, opened in 1987 and was the “first vegetarian/kosher restaurant on the block, ” according to Pradeep. Soon after came Chennai Garden and then Tiffin Wallah, which were eventually combined into Chennai Garden by Tiffin Wallah on 28th Street. All of these places have served well-reviewed and distinct cuisines from many regions of India. My husband and I had the serendipitous pleasure of stopping by Pippali, Pradeep’s most recent endeavor as of 2013, one Saturday evening towards the end of September, only to find a “friends and family” opening event. Pradeep kindly invited us inside where we were warmly greeted by everyone and offered a seat at the bar. For the next hour, we sampled outstanding Indian food as hors d’oeuvres were passed around. When I commented to Pradeep on how amazing two of the vegetarian creations were - and how they were reminiscent of the spectacular food we had eaten at Tamarind, which had been on 22nd, and at Junoon on 24th - he told me that his chef had worked in both of these restaurants. I cannot say enough good things about all that we tasted. After the puffed poories stuffed with potatoes and topped with yogurt and chutney, grilled chicken marinated in green chili spices, lamb patties, onion pakora, and my absolute favorite, pieces of cauliflower lightly fried with a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce, we walked away satiated and thrilled.
Tourists from India and native New Yorkers, alike, are excited to meet executive chef, Vikas Khanna. He is well regarded in both places for his cookbooks and television appearances. Junoon is an upscale and elegant restaurant. Entering through a grand, statue-filled lobby and reflecting pool, the large main dining area feels almost regal. This makes sense, as the lounge connected to the restaurant is called Patiala — named for an Indian prince famous for his extravagant parties…and it is just as classy as the restaurant, with couch-like swings and a beautiful bar serving fiery cocktails made with spices from Junoon’s very own underground Spice Room. The open kitchen allows visitors to be closer to the chefs, and to whiff the exotic, impeccable dishes they put together. In the short amount of time that we spent at Junoon, we enjoyed piri-piri shrimp served over citrus salad with avocado foam, and paneer gnudi served with sauteed spinach. Both dishes were artfully presented, and were heaven to taste. Inside the kitchen, we observed the chef hand-flatten a roll of naan dough and press it to the inside of one of Junoon’s clay-pot tandoor — watching the dough rise and crisp up in just over a minute’s time was fascinating, almost as good as eating the fresh naan with a drizzle of oil and a dash of salt. The restaurant and bar at Junoon were conceived by restaurateur Rajesh Bhardwaj as a modern take on authentic Indian food from all over his country, and the outcome is certainly impressive.