Tuesday, January 13, 2009
DHABA: MODERN INDIAN CUISINE HITS MANHATTAN
CONTEMPORARY SETTING FOR THE HIP AND THE HUNGRY
108 Lexington Avenue, NYC
Words, Judith Ecochard
Winter weather in NYC has us layering on the layers on the outside…and craving cuisine that will warm us up on the inside.
Dhaba, a three-month old restaurant in midtown Manhattan’s --- owned by the popular chef Shiva Natarajan (of the Eastside favs TADKA and CHOLA) is a standout in a Big Apple area dubbed Curry Hill.
And it certainly fulfilled our flavor needs and then some.
Because the differences that make DHABA a standout, destination eatery are two fold… the super fresh ingredients balanced with complex spices that compose the dishes are ‘typical’ of Punjabi food (as opposed to tastes of southern India-that’s more common in these parts)…and the décor- a chic sleek and comfy “in” room.
THE EATS: Dhaba literally means ‘truckstop’ and the extensive three page menu, marked with “Must Try” suggestions, point out the wonderfully exuberant eats characteristic of the authentic local fare typically found on the outskirts of North Indian cities.
The difficult decisions of the night began after our warm welcome---because we had a hard time deciding on starters. We were ably assisted by our well-spoken and professional waiter –who rightly steered us to order the delish KURKURI BHINDI, a savory blend of crunchy okra, red onions, lime and spicy chaat masala.
Every drop of the tangy sauce vanished, aided by a side of perfectly light and properly ‘Tandoor” textured Naan bread.
Plus we dabbed up every drop of the Chole Batura, a Punjabi street food of spicy curried chickpea masala, served with properly cooked batura bread.
However, the best appetizer--- that we could eat every night--- was the Purani Delhi Ki Papri Chaat – an amazing dish of small fried semolina nugget chips (not greasy), with fresh potato chunks glorified in a smooth yogurt based sauce with mint, cilantro, fresh, crunchy pomegranate seeds. Wow.
Entrees were as equally subtly seasoned and explosive--- with all beautifully served on gleaming white china.
We devoured the Shrimp Malaiwara…a wonderfully complex concoction chock full of succulent fish in a thick creamy tomato, yogurt, fennel and bay leaf inflected sauce. Kadai Shrimp, a lightly sautéed dish with fresh onions and bell peppers lending the proper crunch, was equally as tasty.
We were happily stuffed though we managed to sample a homemade vanilla ice cream dessert eased down with the ginger infused Indian Chai tea…that was not pre-sweetened. Thank-you.
The broad menu has extensive vegetarian offerings as well as chicken, lamb and goat based dishes, and a special “British Curry House” section.
Drink wise we were pleasantly surprised by our choice, the medium bodied “House” sauvignon Blanc, INDABA from South Africa. Suds fanatics will love that India’s Kingfisher Beer is ON TAP!!!!
Thida Thong Thai, a talented veteran on the restaurant/interior design scene-has outfitted this mid block space handsomely- with cool green walls punched up with earthy browns, magenta, orange and beige striped silks. Comfortable soft white leather banquettes align two walls with communal (but easily re-arranged) tables set up down the middle. Elegant white linens and modern tableware add to the sophisticated atmosphere while dangling tube bulbs that resemble typical Indian street lamps provide a warm glow.
There’s also oversized mod blowups of web images behind a back bar…and in combo with a late night menu and a soft playing hip soundtrack- make this a cocktail destination too.
So while in the know taxi drivers might come for the takeout…our fellow diners included a mix of well dressed diners who were 20-30 something locals and business types on an after work jaunt… and many, many native Indians.
Always a good sign.
Tel: 212 336 3567 & 212 679 1284