I love Indian food and will not think twice about trailing cab drivers to their favorite haunts. I’ve been around – vegetarian at Punjabi on Houston, great naan from the clay oven at Pakistan Tea House on Church Street, and Haandi on Lexington with so many drivers popping in, the buffet trays never linger. All of this food is usually satisfying, homey and feels like the real deal. But then there are the times we trade mom & pop for more upscale. I found myself one evening in Midtown East unknowingly about to prostrate myself at the altar of Tulsi. Holy smokin’ tobacco – this is knock your socks off, flip upside down, rocket to outer space delicious. My stars. What started as friends feting me for my birthday became a group baptism. I think we even saw the light.
The NYT referenced the decor with a sting of displeasure. Good grief. Firstly…wrong, secondly…whatever. Starting with my delightful cocktail called Indian Summer – a beaker of gin, st-germain, lime, citrus and a whole lychee, acidic with a soupçon of sweet… I knew the evening’s tone was set and settled back in the comfort of our table set off from the rest by floaty white drapes. Subtle but chic.
We started with an amuse of a potato and spinach samosa – light, delicate, flaky and then jumped into the shared appetizers, knockouts all. There was manchurian cauliflower in a garlic chili sauce which was both beautifully sweet and very piquant, the worship worthy tandoor tofu with a sour and spicy tomatillo relish is everything any soy skeptic wishes tofu would be and to these we added a vegetable entree as an app, savory banana dumplings stuffed with fig and cashews, tomato gravy and a cumin-green pea quinoa…uh…..yeah!
Chef Hemant Mathur has a long standing reputation of excellence creating classic dishes that fall lovingly away from standard expectations. His signature tandoor grilled lamb chops with south Indian potatoes and apple chutney brought primal recognition, the highly regarded tandoori wild boar chops came with apple-cranberry chutney, pan fried semolina cakes proved stiff competition, the steamed fish of the day (halibut) in banana leaves with coconut, cilantro and sesame paste looked fantastic but alas it wasn’t my dish and as it happened, not one of us were willing to offer a bite! An undeclared arrangement was in play – we coveted our own entrees and only spoke afterwards about how fabulous they all were. Fine with me as my tandoori prawns with crispy okra and eggplant chutney still make me happy every time I think about them. And I still think about them. The naan with garlic, salt and rosemary was perfection, soft and crisp. And Tulsi’s dal. Lentils and clarified butter masquerading as a bowl of heaven.
For dessert it was four spoons and two plates. Rapturous banana fritters with caramel sauce, salty pecans plus butter-crunch ice cream and a lovely pistachio cake with passion fruit buttercream, kulfi ice crean and yup – gold leaf!
I’ve been told that Tulsi translated mean divine basil. Ha. I think it just means divine.
A few more recommendations:
- Street Cart Chaats
- Shrimp and Crab stuffed Pappadum
- Duck Moilee
- Bhuna Rabbit
- Tulsi Chicken
- Pistachio Chicken
- Roasted Pesto Portobello Mushroom
211 East 46th Street between Second & Third Avenues