The Spice of American Life
Forget London! Cities across the US are finally getting serious about Indian food.
Stateside Indian eateries used to be dismal because America had no connection to India (unlike the United Kingdom, its longtime ruler), according to Rashmi Uday Singh, the Mumbai-based food writer, television host, and cookbook author. Along with Danny Meyer, Mimi Sheraton, and other bold-facers of the food world, Singh sat on a panel 15 years ago that focused on Indian restaurants globally. “I remember saying how restaurants in the United States were nothing worth talking about and boring,” she says.
Singh visited the United States this past summer and says the scenario has drastically improved. “Indian places are now serving cuisine that’s playful, modern, and seriously good,” she says. “The settings are trendy, and the wine and cocktail lists are impressive.” The new generation of Indian restaurants spans from the West to the East Coast with Nashville included in between. Below are seven names getting—and worthy of—the buzz.
Short ribs at Chaatable. Chaatable/Daniel C. Rivera
Female powerhouse chef Maneet Chauhan and husband Vivek Deora are the force behind Chaatable, a happening restaurant serving Indian street food that’s in the heart of the hip Sylvan Heights neighborhood. Similar to India, her eatery is a sensory overload of colors—brightly hued embroidered umbrellas hang from the ceiling, and one of the walls is lined with more than 40,000 bangles common in markets throughout the country. The food packs just as much boldness. Dishes are shareable and inspired by street food found in different parts of India, but they all have Chauhan’s inventive touch. The corn-ish, a combination of grilled corn, baby corn, and corn nuts seasoned with lime and a salty seasoning called chaat masala, is a can’t-miss, along with the beef short ribs with ginger and coriander, and either a half-roasted chicken or pork belly sorpotel curry with cinnamon and clove. On the drinks side, the beer program is strong and focused on artisanal ales like a saffron cardamom IPA, while the wine list veers away from the same old sweet varietals paired with Indian food. Look for dry whites and a robust list of reds including zinfandels and pinot noirs. chaatablenashville.com
Traditional meets modern at the sprawling Midtown Miami spot Maska Indian Kitchen + Bar, with airy ceilings, an open kitchen, and a large bar. Serious fans of Indian food will be thrilled to discover that Hemant Mathur is behind the cuisine. After all, he is the master behind top Indian restaurants in New York, including Tulsi and Devi, and was the first Michelin-starred Indian chef in the country. Mathur’s menu is full of familiar flavors and dishes, but with his signature twist on dishes like octopus masala with dill yogurt and kneaded lamb kebabs with saffron paratha and cilantro aioli. The tandoor dishes, such as the Maine lobster and the king oyster mushrooms, which pop with their soft, almost butter-like mouthfeel, are musts. Cocktails—a gin and tonic with mango foam—are inspired by India, and the wine list stands out for its extensive selection of rosés from around the world. They’re the perfect complement to both the spice and the Miami heat. maskamiami.com
August 1 Five Salmon
August 1 Five Mango Kulfi
In the heart of downtown San Francisco, hang next to city hall. August 1 Five, named after the date India won independence from the British, is a high-end boîte that’s a hot-ticket reservation. Owner Hetal Shah, a former digital advertising executive at Google, says she created the type of Indian restaurant that she missed having in the city—a chic place with inventive cuisine and a strong wine and spirits program. The airy dining room is inspired by the peacock, India’s national bird. Luscious blue and gold tones are everywhere, from the screens with peacock motifs to the velvet booths. Dishes hail from around India, but the menu, which changes seasonally, is nontraditional with elements of molecular gastronomy. The paneer kebab, for example, is accompanied by a dehydrated mustard oil powder while the spiced salmon has a lemongrass foam. The wine list is heavy on California producers and emphasizes lighter-bodied pinot noirs and chardonnays from Sonoma and Napa. Cocktails are also a hit and include the Holi Cow with turmeric gin, vermouth, chartreuse, black pepper, citrus, and ginger. august1five.com
Salmon at GupShup. GupShup/Katrine Moite
From the décor to the cuisine, GupShup isn’t your traditional Indian restaurant: Decked out with vintage Bollywood posters and gold antique mirrors and chandeliers, the bi-level eatery rings of 1970s Mumbai. The scene is high energy with a cool crowd clientele of downtown types, and creative dishes are a mainstay in the lineup. Think thinly sliced beef in a bao bun, Indian spiced fried chicken, soft shell crab with toasted coconut, and guacamole with crispy okra. Ordering a cocktail is practically a requirement here. The options are extensive and infused with plenty of Indian flavors: the Monsoon Season features rum, passion fruit, lime, saffron, and cardamom; and the Bombay Peacock Society has gin, honey, egg white, saffron, cardamom, and lemon. On the non-alcoholic side, there’s the shikanji, a drink so refreshing that you won’t miss the booze. gupshupnyc.com
One of the most buzzed-about and acclaimed Indian restaurants in the country, Adda Indian Canteen is an intimate 40-seat space with an upbeat ambience and boldly flavored homestyle food. Owner Roni Mazumdar says that unlike most new eateries, his is about looking back rather than trying to reinterpret the classics. The menu spans dishes that Mazumdar and Executive Chef Chintan Pandya grew up eating in India and celebrates their roots and heritage. Look for plates like a whole pompano with mustard and cilantro, spicy goat curry presented with meat on the bones, a tandoori young chicken with chili and black salt, and chickpea and kale fritters. While Adda doesn’t have a license to serve spirits, its beers come from small breweries in Brooklyn and Queens. addanyc.com
So what if Tamarind Tribeca has been around for almost two decades? The restaurant was the “it” spot the moment it opened and is the godfather of fine-dining Indian food in the country. Still today, it’s a place to see and be seen. Harrison Ford, Taylor Swift, and Richard Gere are regulars at the sleek, two-story space with a vibe that matches the trendiest eateries around town. Much of the cuisine is farm-to-table: the team of chefs shops at markets in the city and designs dishes accordingly. Vegetarian and meat staples include Brussels sprouts with curry leaves and coconut, baby goat in a cardamom sauce, and venison chops with roasted chickpea flour, but seafood, a recent focus, is the star. The halibut with mace, cardamom, coconut, and ginger sauce; seared scallops with poppy seeds; and Dover sole baked in a clay pot are among the many pescatarian knockouts. Oenophiles heads up: The list spans more than 200 varietals including show-off names like Petrus and Caymus. The spirits list also turns heads with picks like Macallan 25 and Clase Azul añejo tequila. tamarindtribeca.com
Goan pork at Bindaas. Bindaas/Greg Powers
Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj, the man behind D.C.’s legendary fine dining Indian restaurants Rasika and Bombay Club, has introduced casual but punchy fare with his latest concept, Bindaas. Both locations (in Cleveland Park and Foggy Bottom) are lively with groups of diners socializing over small plates and drinks, and both have open kitchens and old Bollywood movies playing on TV screens. The cuisine is centered on street food from all over India, and the dishes are meant to be shared. Bhel puri (puffed rice with mango, mint, and cilantro), for example, comes from Mumbai; kathi rolls filled with lamb, chicken, or eggplant are from Calcutta; and uttapam, a lentil rice pancake, is a nod to South India. Then there are eclectic picks like a bacon-cheese-chili naan and a list of curries served at food stalls off highways in India, such as a simple chicken with tomato, ginger, and garlic. While there’s a lengthy wine list, cocktails are the way to go and match well with the spices. The Instant Dharma with sparkling wine, tamarind, and tequila is a customer favorite. bindaasdc.com