I opened the door and stepped into the small crowd waiting for tables. But I didn’t care who was ahead of me or how long I might have to wait (not long at all as it happened), because I was in swoon mode. Holy cow, scents twirling around me, the headiness of aromatic curries, tandoori, inhaling the perfume that is Babu Ji catapulted me off the East Village streets and into Indian street food territory.
Eating here is like living in a Venus Paradise coloring set (only a certain age group will get that) This is the most brilliantly bright food I have ever seen that’s actually real, no red dye #2 here. I wanna look like this food, it’s gorgeous.
Right? This ravishing Anjeer Kofta of fig and pomegranate in a cashew and shallot curry was superb. For the vegetarian at the table or the devout carnivore, I defy anyone to avoid its embrace.
We’d started with the Gol Gappa, the crazy little balls of tamarind and spices that you are asked to put in your mouth whole. An epic moment, a crunchy explosion of cool, pungent, sweet. And I mean explosion. The pop rock of Indian street food offered to us by the dynamic husband-wife team that chef/own this place. Your taste buds are seriously aroused by the complexity of flavor and ready themselves for the beauty to come.
It’s been said that we eat with our eyes first, well feast away!
Raw day boat scallops in a turmeric, mustard seed, coconut milk based curry is a revelation both here and in the original location in Melbourne. It tastes as bright as it looks, sweet and spicy and I find myself thinking about it often. They also do a vegetarian version with roasted squash which I bet is great.
I don’t have a photo of the much heralded butter chicken marinated in ginger, garlic & yogurt in a tomato, fenugreek curry or the slow cooked Lamb Rogan Josh, that’s done with fennel seed and black cardamon. But I had to toss out the suggestions here because a friend who ravaged them remains transfixed and no one should miss out on that.
Maybe not as rainbow colored in pictorial glory but gorgeous in name and flavor is the tandoori charred whole rainbow trout. It’s buttery, flakey, zesty right down to the crispy skin. Redolent of spice and herbs, it’s a poem.
But back to technicolor…
Punjabi Khadi was a delight. Cauliflower chickpea flour fritters in a yogurt and turmeric curry.
The food here is an elevated and twisted turn on classic village food. They don’t embellish with oil and ghee, everything tastes fresh and clean with carefully layered flavors and you get to truly experience each level.
Even Babu’s Daal, black lentils simmered all day in ginger and garlic is a better than great version along with the aged basmati rice with cumin and lemon.
The feathery naan is a cut above the competition and comes in a big basket of wonderfully mixed flavors – sesame seed, garlic, plain and onion.
They have a lovely wine list that pairs well with the food but the very popular self serv beer fridge seems to be where it’s at. Over fifty beers to choose from and there’s always a group pointing and discussing before helping themselves. They have a wide selection of craft beers, Belgian, IPA’S, Porters, Ales, seasonal choices, ciders and more.
Whimsy shows up everywhere – in the rampant beer selection, the copper serving bowls, the traditional metal plates and cups, the fabulous portraits hung around the room, the old hindi silent film projected on the wall..
You can dine at the small bar if a table wait isn’t your thing.
The coup de grace though is the out of this world Kulfi. Two variations forthcoming of ice cream on a stick will be available but right now it’s the imperative cardamon, honey & pistachio. Rich, creamy, fragrant, substantial and much fun to eat. It arrives in a classic metal mould that you have to warm between your hands in order to release the kulfi. That’s little effort compared to the chef’s labor intensive process. It takes almost a full day to create with cooking and blending all the ingredients, hours of constant stirring and long freezing time but lucky for us it’s the right finish to a most enchanting meal.
Jessi and Jennifer Singh have a stable of successful restaurants in Melbourne (hence many Australian wine and beer selections) and are so lovely, making most people feel like old friends coming by for dinner. They’ve created a chef’s tasting menu for $50 per person as long as the whole table enjoys it together and it would give any diner a perfect overview of all the possibilities this menu has to offer – many of which I need to return to experience.
NYC has certainly bestowed a lively buzz around the duo and their restaurant. And why not? If unique, colorful, brilliant and bright are meant to be buzzed of and celebrated, start here.
175 Avenue B at 11th street
Dinner 6pm-late but closed on Mondays
Brunch on Saturday & Sunday from 12pm on