A pre fixe lunch and a modern take on classic Indian – Review of Junoon

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY

Junoon
27 W 24th Street
Flatiron
212.490.2100/junoonnyc.com

Michelin starred ‘modern’ Indian restaurant, Junoon best is known for their courteous service, grand appearance, and pricey-for-the-genre food.  Their 5 course pre fixe dinner will set you back $75, but little is known of their two lunch specials – a two course appetizer and entree selection from Junoon’s a la carte menu or a more traditional Indian tasting platter called Thali, both coming in at $19.95.

 

Thali Platter meat option @ Junoon

Thali Platter meat option @ Junoon


The 2 course pre fixe lunch special is a great way to sample some of what Junoon has to offer, but the Thali platter steals the show with its small tasting portions in katori (small bowls) which are served on a metal, semi-circular plate.

Lamb Kolhapuri @ Junoon

Lamb Kolhapuri @ Junoon

During my lunch at Junoon I started with the lahsooni gobi ($12), fried cauliflower in a sweet tomato sauce.  It was a flavorful way to wake up my palate and begin to acquaint myself with the Indian flavor palate, which at Junoon seems to have a more international appeal rather than strictly Indian.  For the main course I sampled the meat option of the Thali platter (a vegetarian option is also available).  Six small bowls greeted me, each with something different to offer and each with its own warm hue, a visually stimulating experience. The platter consisted of Chicken Lababdar, Lamb Kolhapuri, and Piri-Piri Shrimp while jasmine rice, yellow daal, and raita (a cooling yogurt cumin sauce) helped to round out the meal.  Stand out for me was the Chicken Lababdar, moist chicken pieces in a tomato and onion sauce which finished slightly sweet and smoky while the Lamb Kolhapuri had just the right amount of spice and gave off a more earthy flavor.

  

Chicken Lababdar @ Junoon

Chicken Lababdar @ Junoon Service, to be expected, was practically flawless – attentive and knowledgeable but not overwhelmingly so.

Though you probably won’t stumble in to Junoon for your midday lunch on a dollar slice kind of day, it would be a great place to take those clients you want to impress, or even that co worker you’ve been eyeing at the water cooler.

 

Junoon on Urbanspoon

Home of Manhattan’s Best Banh Mi Sandwich – Review of Sao Mai

BY ELENA MANCINI

203 First Ave.
East Village
(212) 358-8880 / Sao Mai 

East of the East Village bustle and trendiness, this family-run East Village Vietnamese restaurant serves traditional Vietnamese fare and the best Banh Mi Sandwiches on the Manhattan side of the East River.

Vegetarian Bahn Mi

Available in six varieties including pho, sliced pork, grilled chicken and vegetarian, these sandwiches make a quick, nutritious, flavor-packed meal that’s easy on the wallet (priced between $6-$7). The Bahn Mi are prepared on baguettes are consistently fresh and crusty with a soft and chewy middle. Independent of the filling you choose, the kitchen always strikes the right balance between bread and ingredients. Their vegetarian Bahn Mi is among my favorite comfort-food lunches. Prepared on two warm halves of choice baguette, they’re stuffed with toothsome strands of sauteed bok choy, straw mushrooms, seedless cucumbers, shredded carrot and abundant swaths of cilantro, the sandwiches and seasoned with lemongrass,  sriracha mayonnaise, that provides a subtle and reverberating pitch of complex heat. In sum, it’s a light, filling lunch that delivers high-flavor rewards.

Pho’ Sao Mai

Front: Summer Rolls; Far: Spring Rolls

Lest one think Sao Mi is just about Bahn Mi, flavor mavens and fans of traditional Vietnamese fare will find other  sections of its menu will prove well worth exploring. The Pho Sao Mai will not disappoint. A flavorful broth, rich in tender strips of brisket, sprouts, rice noodles and a medley of herbs will consistently hit the spot. Adding appeal to  Sao Mi’s attractions is its steal of a lunch menu, which includes the choice of an appetizer, entree and a soft drink, all for $10. Sweetening things further,  both the Bahn Mi and the Pho are included in this deal!

Ga Gary – Chicken Curry

With a wide variety of vegetarian options on its menu, Sao Mai is also a smart choice for a low-key dinner that guarantees value, quality and flavor. Pity that wait staff has not yet mastered the walk-in dinner crowd on weekends. During these times, the  friendly service  can turn into a source of frustration for those who do not suffer extended waits and uneven food delivery times lightly.

Sao Mai on Urbanspoon

A Flavor Journey Both Exciting and Refined – Review of Mint

BY ELENA MANCINI

Mint
150 E 50th St.

Midtown East
212-644-8888 / mintny.com

A mood-lit contemporary decor coupled with spearmint hued trim lighting conspire to create a soothing, romantic vibe. As gratifying as the ambiance at Mint may be, it is an inspired palette of  traditional regional Indian and Indo-Asian fusion dishes and an supremely flavorful signature mint sauce created by Executive Chef-restaurateur, Gary Sikka, that delivers a paean to the restaurant’s namesake herb and the cuisines of the Indian sub-continent.

Signature Mint and Tamarind Sauce Platter at Mint

Basket of Warm Naan Bread at Mint

Attentive servers welcome guests with complimentary dipping bowls of Sikka’s signature mint and tamarind sauces optimized for dipping. Both sauces pair wonderfully with a share-friendly basket of warm naan bread ($5), which can be ordered plain or herb-flavored. The rosemary naan is a personal favorite.

Chicken Seekh Kebab at Mint

Vegetable samosas and Aloo Tikki (spicy potato fenugreek cakes) are excellent vegetarian starter choices. The samosas were consistently crisp to perfection and had a tasty, paste-like vegetable filling. The Aloo Tikki consisted of spicy potato fenugreek cakes were hearty and had a lovely, mild fragrance to them.

For the carnivorously inclined, the Chicken Seekh Kebab and the  Jhinga Balchao are not to be missed. The Seekh Kebab consist of succulent, herb-seasoned ground chicken grilled to the point of glistening with moisture. The texture achieved delivers a sausage-like snap with every bite. The Jhinga Balchao is a dish composed of crispy shrimp coated in a spicy pickled vegetable sauce are enjoyably hot and complex in flavor, and perfect to spark an appetite.

Navratan Korma at Mint

Among the entrees, the chili fish packs a pleasurable knock-out punch. A delicate, moist white fish coated in a light crisp coat of batter is bathed in a tasty herb-infused chili sauce that delivers heat without the tongue-numbing fire that chili sauces can often deliver.  On the milder side without sacrificing flavor are the Navratan Korma and the Saag Paneer. The Navratan Korma is a lovely stew composed of nine vegetables in a cashew sauce. The herbal richness of coriander, ginger and turmeric in this dish played favorably against the creamy cashew sauce and the various consistencies provided by the assortment of green and root vegetables.  The Saag Paneer is a spinach based dish  thickened with Indian cottage cheese. Both dishes are best consumed with a platter of Mint’s fluffy fragrant Basmati rice. All dishes are generously portioned and readily lend themselves to a communal dining experience.

Gulab Jamun

To close, Chef Sikka recommended Gulab Jamun, a traditional dessert consisting of a golf-ball sized orb made of milk and warm cottage cheese, and thus light and spongy in texture, set in a bed of rosewater syrup and pistachio sprinkles.  The straightforward concoction offers sweet satisfaction evocative of homespun flavors.

Armed with a full, seated bar, a respectable wine list and reasonable prices (appetizers range between $7-$14; entrees are in the $14-$22), Mint is a surefire bet for a smart-casual, palate-pleasing, non-stuffy lunch or dinner experience in Midtown East.

Mint on Urbanspoon


Teasing Customers One Spice at a Time – Review of Spices and Tease

BY LISA M. NGUYEN

Spices And Tease
2580 Broadway (Between 97 & 98 Streets)
spicesandtease.com
/ 347-470-8327

Upper West Side

 This unique stand once started off selling at street fairs, being the odd one out with their robust aromas of different spices and teas, which included 30 varieties of homemade spice blends, over 70 original spices and 180 imported teas.  While walking around Madison Square Park’s food festival, other stands were cooking pizza, hot dogs, sandwiches, and then there was Spices and Tease.  

You’ll be able to find your classic tea’s, like Earl Grey and Chai, but you’ll also be able to try something out of the ordinary like their Dark Choco Orange Black Tea, made with orange bits, cocoa bits, cardamom, and pink pepper.  This mix creates a comfort with the taste buds and turning plain water into a work of art. You can also try one of their other tea’s like their Mango Pineapple Chili, which they like to call their “Pirate of the Caribbean” tea.  This mixture is made up with mango flakes, chili powder, and pineapple pieces.  A soothing and flavorful mix.

Going for $7 for a small tin and $10 for a large, these fancy tins keep the tea and spice’s fresh, and are made for the perfect gift for your family and friends.

Share/Save/BookmarkSubscribe

BYOB and a blanket: Review of Bhatti Indian Grill

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Bhatti Indian Grill
100 Lexington Ave. at 27th St.
Murray Hill
212-683-4228/bhattinyc.com

Image from bhattinyc.com

Image from bhattinyc.com

On a freezing Friday night, nothing seemed more tempting than a spicy dish of Indian delights.

Unfortunately, the food didn’t stay hot for long at Bhatti in Curry Hill. Maybe I should’ve stopped chattering as soon as the food arrived, because the food turned cold within just a couple minutes.

I arrived around 5 p.m. to an empty, but warm, restaurant. The hostess/server was on the phone when I walked in, and looked like I caught her in the middle of undressing. I told her not to worry about me since I was waiting for someone. Thus, I didn’t receive a menu or water until my friend arrived 20 minutes later. I also didn’t know up until that point that the restaurant is BYOB; I definitely could have run and picked up a bottle of wine in that time if the staff had come over to me in the beginning.

Also, the menu situation was awkward. My friend thought she was missing a page, so she asked for a new one. The waitress promptly brought her a new one, then brashly pointed out that the page was there all along. The customer is always right, and it was unnecessary to prove my friend wrong.

By the time we got into our first dish, a few other parties had been seated. The service remained uncoordinated; that same girl was our server, but someone else (I’m guessing a manager) came over periodically to check on us. I should’ve asked one of them to turn the heat back on.

Maybe I was just hungry, but the first thing on the menu was Tandoori Chaat, and it sounded amazing: grilled diced apple, pineapple, bell peppers and sweet potato tossed in balsamic vinegar and spices. It turned out as basically a plate of spiced apples, like a dryer version of the Stouffers apple side dish I loved as a kid. The dish not nearly as flavorful as the description depicted.

For my main course, I wanted to choose something I hadn’t had before. I went for the Bharwaan Bhindi, a stuffed okra dish. My friend went for the Paneer Tikka Masala. Again, both were too cold to really enjoy, but would have been awesome hot.

A strange service crew and cold food made for a less than ideal experience. I could see it being better if they took care of the heat situation, which is seriously important during these chilly winter nights.

Share/Save/BookmarkSubscribe

Bhatti Indian Grill on Urbanspoon


Ganesha welcomes you: Review of Ayurveda Cafe

BY CLAIRE McCURDY

706 Amsterdam Avenue
(between 94th St & 95th St)
Upper West Side
(212) 932-2400
AyurvedaCafeNYC.com

Interior of Ayurveda Cafe'

Interior of Ayurveda Cafe'

The vegetarian Ayurveda Restaurant and Cafe is justly called one of the hidden treasures of the Upper West Side. From the beginning the customer recognizes s/he is walking into a very different world.  The place is painted *orange* on the exterior– with happy although slightly dilapidated gilt decorations. And you must traverse a maze of little orange doors before you arrive at the center of the restaurant.  Inside, the great benign elephant headed god Ganesha greets you. [Read more...]