These Restaurateurs Want Everyone in America Eating Indian Food

Ten years in the past, Roni Mazumdar cautiously added a Bengali dish from his childhood — a beet, carrot, potato and pea cutlet known as vegetable chop — to the menu of his restaurant, Masalawala, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

“No one would buy it,” Mr. Mazumdar mentioned. “I remember the batches that would go bad, and after two weeks, we were like, ‘Why are we wasting? We might as well do chicken tikka masala.’”

When he and the chef Chintan Pandya opened Rahi in Greenwich Village in 2017, Mr. Mazumdar thought they wanted to go up to date, serving truffle khichdi and smoked salmon chaat. The place was much less about showcasing Indian meals and extra about following culinary tendencies, Mr. Mazumdar mentioned.

But with the openings of Adda in Long Island City in 2018 and Dhamaka on the Lower East Side in February, the companions stopped making an attempt to stick to an current narrative, and began writing their very own. They put India’s daring, regional flavors entrance and middle, quite than hiding them behind truffles or tikka masala.

Dhamaka, which opened in February, exemplifies the loud, daring cooking that has earned Mr. Pandya acclaim. Credit…Emon Hassan for The New York Times

A lot of eating places, like Ghee Indian Kitchen in Miami and Besharam in San Francisco, have received followings for his or her give attention to regional Indian delicacies. But few have carried out so on the scale that Mr. Mazumdar and Mr. Pandya are aspiring towards.

From the fragrant Lucknow-style goat neck biryani at Adda, to the fiery, pork-and-herb-laden Meghalayan doh khleh at Dhamaka, the meals at these eating places converse in exclamation marks. Both locations earned glowing critiques from critics, and Mr. Pandya acquired a James Beard award nomination in 2020.

As the nation opens again up, Mr. Mazumdar, 38, and Mr. Pandya, 41, are planning an aggressive enlargement in New York this 12 months. It will embrace two fast-casual eating places in the East Village, Kebabwala and Rowdy Rooster; a brand new location and menu for Masalawala; and a reimagined Rahi, impressed by the incoming chef Vijay Kumar’s South Indian heritage. Adda will even transfer to a bigger location a couple of mile away, and plans to get its liquor license.

The companions’ final aim is to develop nicely past New York.

Vijay Kumar, most just lately of Rasa in Burlingame, Calif., will take over the kitchen at Rahi, getting ready regional South Indian dishes.Credit…Lanna Apisukh for The New York TimesLots of Mr. Kumar’s dishes are impressed by his childhood in Tamil Nadu, like this maan kari, made with venison.Credit…Lanna Apisukh for The New York Times

“Until we really reach the heart of the country,” Mr. Mazumdar mentioned, “I don’t think we can really move Indian cuisine forward.”

But opening an Indian restaurant is difficult. Americans count on to pay much less for tandoori paneer than they’d a burrata salad, and to dictate the extent of spiciness, mentioned Mr. Pandya.

“Have you gone to your home and asked your mother, ‘Can you make a chicken, on a scale of 1 to 10 spice level, a 5?’” he mentioned.

“We are stopping this idea of catering to every other person but the Indian palate,” added Mr. Mazumdar.

Mr. Pandya has lengthy wished to begin a fast-casual Indian restaurant with a nationwide attain, and is impressed by the favored New York taqueria, Los Tacos No. 1. (Curry Up Now is a profitable Indian avenue meals restaurant with areas throughout the nation.)

“It is a phenomenal product,” he mentioned of Los Tacos No. 1.

The first of the group’s fast-casual eating places, the fried chicken-centric Rowdy Rooster, opens in August on First Avenue and Ninth Street. Mr. Pandya is learning the quite a few Indian iterations of fried hen, from pakoras to Chicken 65, a spicy snack that supposedly originated in a resort in Chennai. A month later comes Kebabwala, on Second Avenue and Fifth Street, which is able to give attention to basic kebab preparations like hen tikka and seekh kebabs.

Rowdy Rooster will serve fried hen by itself and in sandwich kind, taking inspiration from varied Indian hen dishes. Credit…Lanna Apisukh for The New York Times

At Rahi, Mr. Kumar, 39, who was just lately the chef of Rasa in Burlingame, Calif., will introduce a menu of regional southern Indian meals in September. He grew up in Natham, a village in Tamil Nadu, with dishes like maan kari, venison with coconut, curry leaf, coriander, cumin and star anise; and blood poriyal, made by cooking nutrient-rich goat blood with turmeric, cumin, lentils and coconut. He mentioned he needs to indicate diners that southern Indian meals is extra than simply dosa and idli.

Opening in November, the revamped Masalawala in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on the nook of Fifth Avenue and Fifth Street, will enterprise into retail, promoting staples like basmati and atta, together with spice blends and sauces. It will even supply an all-day menu of regional Indian consolation meals, like pigeon chettinad seasoned with star anise and coriander, and patrani macchi, a Parsi dish of fish steamed in banana leaf.

“There have been two very specific angles to Indian food” in eating places, Mr. Mazumdar mentioned. “One side has been this idea of higher-end cuisine, which automatically has to be with foreign ingredients,” the opposite “the generalization of Indian cuisine.”

Building a deeper understanding of Indian meals amongst all Americans received’t occur with only one restaurant group, he mentioned.

But maybe they’ll make the trail slightly smoother for the subsequent Indian restaurant.

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