Fans of Indian cuisine here in Manhattan are often fiercely loyal to restaurants located in neighborhoods like 6th Street in the East Village or the stretch of lower Lexington Avenue known as Curry Hill. But I like to explore neighborhoods that are maybe not known for having the highest number of Indian restaurants per-block, and see what options there are for dining outside my immediate stomping grounds. This past week, I discovered a true hidden gem (pun intended) on my first visit to Sapphire Cuisines of India on the Upper West Side, and feel like it is already a favorite destination owing to gracious service, lovely décor, and fresh, innovative dishes. Let me tell you about the experience I had dining with my favorite Foodie friend, Anne, at Sapphire.
Walking into Sapphire, you will be impressed by the unique architectural features, including a vaulted ceiling and intricately carved support columns, which suggest that the space may have had a previous life as a bank or church. Accented by dark wood finishes, mirrors and filigree lighting fixtures, Sapphire is both calming and elegant.
I’m not sure who this gentleman is, but he is positioned at the front of the space to welcome you further, perhaps ensuring that an immersive experience is in store.
To start off our culinary journey, we were served two mini amuse-bouches courtesy of the chef .
First, we sampled a tiny croquette of creamy chickpeas atop a crisp wafer, drizzled with cool yogurt, mint and tamarind sauces, with a sprinkle of shredded wheat. This bite had both a sweet and savory taste as the mildly spiced chickpeas mingled with the fruity tamarind sauce. Excellent.
The second bite, Dahi Kebab is a small dollop of hung yogurt (made by draining the whey from the curd for a thicker consistency), pan seared until golden, then topped with yogurt and microgreens, resting on raw mustard seed mango slaw. Served warm, the hung yogurt has a mouth feel similar to cream cheese, and the mango slaw added sweetness as well as a fiery kick. Very unique and enjoyable!
When dining for the first time at an Indian restaurant, Anne and I set a benchmark by ordering our favorite dishes to share, to see how well they do with dishes that we have enjoyed during other review visits.
Have you ever seen anything as beautiful as this plate of Tandoori Chicken? Trust me, it tasted even better than it looks: so juicy and flavorful. Sapphire serves a sharable portion of a Half Chicken, which is first marinated in yogurt and fresh-ground spices before going into the traditional clay oven. Restaurant Manager Darshan R. Shah visited us tableside and explained that a more traditional blend of saffron and turmeric seasoning give the chicken a golden yellow color, versus the familiar red color imbued by seasoning the meat with chili powder and cayenne pepper.
He also offered that all chicken served at Sapphire is organic, and spices are ground fresh from whole spices and mixed in house, to ensure freshness and peak flavor. You can definitely taste the care that goes into preparing each dish.
I always order my favorite, Chicken Korma, which arrived with plentiful chunks of fork-tender white meat chicken simmered in a mild cashew sauce. So good!
A side of Palak Paneer (cottage cheese cubes simmered in pureed spinach, with ginger, garlic and herbs) is delicious way to include a necessary ‘green thing’ with your meal.
Fluffy Basmati Rice arrives at the table sprinkled with tender, sweet green peas.
We made sure to order accompaniments such as our favorite Indian breads, Aloo Paratha (whole wheat flatbread stuffed with spiced potatoes, pictured above) and traditional Naan, fresh and hot from the oven. It is true that you can almost taste it with your eyes.
Sapphire’s dessert menu is varied and includes a few western selections, but we stuck with tradition and ended our meal with Gulab Jamun, warm fried cake balls in syrup, and Kheer, a creamy Indian Rice Pudding (pictured below). Both were very tasty and just the right amount of sweetness to complete a memorable meal.
Sapphire Cuisines of India is located at 2014 Broadway (two blocks North of Lincoln Center, between 68 and 69th Streets) New York, NY 10023, Phone 212)245-4444. The Restaurant is currently open for Dinner only, Tuesday through Sunday from 5:00 PM to 10:00PM. Visit Sapphire2014.com for more information.