Rakesh Aggarwal left India for America in 1980 and his culinary talents soon earned him permanent gigs at New York mainstays such as Club 21 and the Oak Room. It wasn’t until 1994, however, that he set the cornerstone for his very own New York mainstay, though he may not have known it at the time. Baluchi’s, which is reminiscent of Rakesh’s childhood nickname, Balu, became an instant hit both for its Zagat-rated Indian cuisine and its exotic decor. Today, Baluchi’s has expanded to five locations throughout the city and received a fair share of ink from New York magazine and the New York Times, whose writer noted that the potato cakes were “among the best” he had eaten. Baluchi’s in Murray Hill sticks to the traditional Indian fare that has brought this chain such widespread success. The menu alternates nicely between meat and vegetarian options, with options such as minced-lamb kebabs with mango salsa and sweet-potato chaats baked in a tandoor and tossed with spices. The tandoori menus teem with robust options such as racks of lamb and whole fish, as well as curries prepared with seafood, lamb, and vegetables that carry just enough spice and heat to melt the heart of a curmudgeonly businessman.
Bombay Masala's chefs draw inspiration from the familiar spices and sauces that characterize Indian cuisine and create an eclectic spread of aromatic and flavorful recipes. Brooklyn Magazine heaped praise onto the chicken tikka masala⎯an Indian-style entree historically co-opted by the British⎯by naming Bombay Masala's version one of The 10 Best British Bites in Brooklyn. This particular dish, along with several others, begins cooking in the kitchen's clay tandoor oven, which roasts skewered meats and vegetables over a pile of smoldering charcoal and old love letters. As the skewers bake, the chefs whisk together curries and cream sauces that they spoon over everything from lobster to housemade cheese.
Baluchi's chefs sweep regional and classic Indian cuisines into a comprehensive menu of hearty meat, seafood, and vegetarian dishes. At the heart of the kitchen, a traditional tandoor oven works overtime to bake entrees, such as a whole red snapper or lamb chops, and fresh naan and paratha breads. Meanwhile, chefs simmer seafood curries in creamy coconut milk and top off feasts with scoops of housemade ice cream flavored with mango or pistachio. Though Baluchi's offers delivery, patrons who appear at the eatery treat their senses to a feast: clusters of colorful baubles cast light on shiny hardwood benches and a bar, backdropped by vibrant paintings.
The chefs at Maurya Cuisine of India create traditional Indian dishes such as tandoori lobster tail, shrimp masala, and chili chicken. They help guests acclimate their palates to Indian food’s palette of piquant ingredients by serving spiced garlic naan and vegetable samosas that can be capped off by pistachio-mango or tutti-frutti ice cream.
Devi is palatial, but not in the sense of unattainable grandeur—rather, it seems stuffed to the gills with earthly comforts and visual delights that completely insulate it from the world outside. “There are restaurants that bring you back to yourself and those that spirit you away. Devi belongs to the latter group, delivering a heady retreat even when the odds against such an escape are longest,” wrote Frank Bruni in a two-star 2004 New York Times review. He also praised the “pyramid-shaped rice puffs, too golden, crunchy and airy to permit unpleasant thoughts,” the “faultless” lamb chops, and the “splendidly moist” halibut. The tandoor is responsible for the latter two dishes, and it’s a virtuosic instrument in the hands of Executive Chef Dheeraj Tomar, who learned its secrets in New Delhi before honing his expertise at five-star hotels in Dubai. Amid all the grilled meats, his menu is exceedingly vegetarian-friendly: a vegan harvest stir-fry brims with a cornucopia of produce, joining beyond-chana-masala dishes such as jackfruit biryani, corn-and-bean curry, and tandoor-grilled vegetarian malai tikka kebabs. The eatery’s meticulously constructed wine list eschews large wineries in favor of small-batch, handmade varieties selected for their ability to complement the cuisine. Inside Devi’s two-story space, nearly every square inch that’s not covered in richly patterned fabrics or panels of gauzy raw silk is festooned with marble and carved wooden arches and balustrades, both imported from India. Lighting is whisper-soft and romantic, supplied by lanterns of ornate colored glass that cluster across the high ceiling like artisanal party balloons left behind after the birthday of a child prince.
The real treasure of Junoon isn’t the 50-foot sculpture that towers over its entryway, nor is it the lavish Patiala Cocktail lounge, which could stand in for a sultan’s chambers. It resides below deck in the aptly named Spice Room, where chefs ground, roast, and blend their signature spices daily.