INDIA ABROAD March 3, 2017 37 CUISINE
By Pete Wells
nybody who tries to
tell you that the place
to go for Indian food is
Queens, hasn’t been
there in a long time.
Beyond question, Jackson
Heights is the first stop for anyone seeking an education in the
Tibetan syllabus: momos filled
with brothy beef under their
bellybutton pleats; laphing, noodles neatly rolled and sliced like
strudel and set loose in a puddle
of chile oil; steaming, salty, bracing cups of yak butter tea.
Most of the neighborhood’s
places for samosas and naan,
though, either are gone or have
faded into insignificance.
You less often meet somebody who sends you to Curry
Hill for the cooking of India. But
it’s the correct answer. Once
known mainly for cheap buffet
lunches (Haandi, long the reigning champion of the steam table,
is still one of Manhattan’s unnatural wonders), Lexington
Avenue in the upper 20s has
over the past few years become
home to the most diverse and
concentrated hub of Indian
restaurants in New York City.
A disproportionate amount of
this diversity is the work of two
veteran chefs and restaurateurs.
Shiva Natarajan opened one
Curry Hill restaurant that paid
tribute to Kolkata, particularly
its Jewish cuisine; another that
showcased food from India’s
southwest coast; a third that
brought together dishes from the
cities of Lucknow and Hyderabad; and a fourth that specialized in the Punjab.
He sold all four to Hemant
Mathur two years ago. Together
they started working on a fifth,
Sahib. It opened in the fall.
More than those other restaurants, one of which has closed,
Sahib darts around India. Mr.
Natarajan, who worked as the
consulting chef, organized the
menu around dishes he has been
gathering in India while
researching a cookbook.
He isn’t trying to be encyclo-
pedic, and the menu reflects
that; it pays a little bit of atten-
tion to several regions and
ignores others entirely. This
makes it hard to get a firm sense
of any one regional style, but
easy to enjoy several dishes you
may have never seen before.
This may even be true for
Indians. Goans might not recog-
nize Sahib’s wonderful blend of
fried eggplant stirred into a
smoky mash of eggplant that has
been softened in a tandoor; the
dish, only casually spiced, comes
from the northern city of
Varanasi, on the Ganges.
Potatoes are stewed all over
India, but Sahib’s dum olav may
be new to those who aren’t from
Kashmir. Little round potatoes
are stabbed with a toothpick
first so they will pick up more of
the sauce they’re cooked in:
yogurt seasoned with tamarind,
cardamom and Kashmiri chiles.
The sauce wins its arguments
through persuasion rather than
force, in part because it has no
tomatoes or onions.
To see what a difference leaving them out can make, try the
rogan josh. If you’ve had this
Kashmiri lamb dish at other
local Indian restaurants, you
probably think of rogan josh as a
bulldozer of a dish, more powerful than graceful.
Chances are onions and tomatoes were the ground floor on
which the thick brown gravy was
built. At Sahib, the sauce is
creamier and gentle enough that
the taste of saffron doesn’t get
lost, and I found myself really
paying attention to the flavors —
a new experience when it comes
to rogan josh.
If the lamb in both that dish
and another I tried was very
slightly more chewy than my
ideal, it’s also true that the goat
never let me down. In the
marchwagan korma, a curry
Sahib, in Curry Hill,
Lets You Eat All Over India
You seldom meet somebody who sends you
to Curry Hill for the cooking of India. But
it’s the correct answer
Left, Natarajan, who worked as the consulting chef, organized the menu around
dishes he has been gathering in India while researching a cookbook. Above, The
recipe for Natarajan’s chicken biryani comes from Lucknow. Made with both yogurt
and milk, it is cooked in a pot sealed with a leaf of pastry.
Above, Kori gassi is a very mild and irresistible chicken stew from the city of
Mangalore on the Arabian Sea. Below, Mathur runs three other Indian restaurants
in the neighborhood.
Brie Passano for The New York Times