Sati and Ajit, Brick Lane's owners, were hoping to create a traditional London curry house when they opened their doors in 2002 further downtown. "We are a real curry house," the manager, Mangesh, proudly told me. And I can attest to the fact that they take their level of spiced curry very seriously, as I happen to have a husband who adores Indian food and the hotter the better. Awhile back, when he learned that Brick Lane Curry offered dishes with Phall (very hot curry), my husband was eager to go and meet their challenge. If you can finish your entire entree made with Phall, then you are given a free beer and an option of having your photo taken to be put on Brick Lane's "Phall of Fame" website. Of course he ate it all and was eager for his beer, but opted out of the photo. Quite an entertaining meal for those of us gathered around the table. He had a captivated audience as we gazed at him in utter amazement.
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.
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."
The delectable assortment of French pastries was only the beginning of the excitement for me when I first visited Eclair Bakery. Getting to observe and speak with owner Stephane Pourrez, as he was preparing pastries, macarons, croissants and, of course, a variety of eclairs made the experience very special. An alumnus of Ferrandi, the French School of Culinary Arts in Paris, Pourrez worked in New York for a year as a pastry chef before he fulfilled his "childhood dream" of opening his own bakery. No matter what time I chose to pop in, I always found others sipping on their cafe au lait, and mingling with fellow French natives.
Lyn Trotman describes Quest as “a peaceful sanctuary in the heart of midtown.” President of the New York Theosophical Society, which studies the wisdom behind various world religions, Lyn also operates the Society’s book shop, Quest. The store is a pleasantly-scented oasis, with a section devoted to incense, candles, and gemstones. People interested in esoteric studies and rituals can browse through books on every conceivable spiritual tradition, from Kabbalah, to Sufism, to Buddhism, and all things in between. “A lot of other metaphysical bookstores are gone. We are the oldest one left.”