Tag Archive | Indian Food

Vatan Indian Restaurant Offers All You Can Eat Vegetarian Feast in an Authentic Setting!

Table and Menu
All Photos By Gail

One of the most enjoyable parts of dining in an Indian restaurant, especially if you possess an adventurous palate, is the experience of being able to taste many different dishes as part of one meal. If I am looking for an incentive to step beyond the comfort zone of my ‘stand by’ favorites, and the quality of the food is still reputably high, I might check out a place that has unique decor, or that features the dishes of a region or state whose food I haven’t yet tasted — because all Indian cuisine is definitely not the same.

Entry Hall

I was recently offered the opportunity to visit Vatan, a Vegetarian Indian Restaurant in Kips Bay which specializes in Gujarati cuisine. A little bit of Googling told me that Gujarat is a state on the western coastline of India, with a strong influence of Jain culture and philosophy, which explains why Vatan favors purely vegetarian dishes.  Vatan is also distinct for its  prix fixe dinner, which includes a thali-style arrangement (many servings of various foods all served together on a large silver platter) of appetizers and condiments, followed by a thali-style main course array, including bread, followed by dessert. The price is $34 per person and it includes all you can eat of any featured dish from any of the three courses. Exciting!

Left Side of Dining Room with Tree

As soon as you enter Vatan, it is clear that you will be dining in an immersive atmosphere unlike other Indian establishments in Manhattan. Vatan’s cozy main dining area emulates the look of a beautiful open courtyard, so you will almost feel that you are dining outside. There is even a tall, leafy tree in the center of the room, whose branches spread out across the ceiling. If you look closely, up high you will see a couple of monkeys perched among the leaves, ready to playfully pelt you with an orange! Just kidding, of course, but it does look that way!

Monkey in Tree
“Hi, There!”

Interior Courtyard Shot

Interior View with Ganesha

Two seating options are offered for your optimal comfort: you can either remove your shoes and sit cross-legged, or sit western style.

Ganesha

The focal point of the dining room has to be this glowing red monumental figure of Ganesha, the Elephant-headed God who is the Remover of Obstacles. It is really captivating!

Mural Indian Lady

The walls also feature may colorful murals like the one above, which is just outside the kitchen, and the mural  below, which was adjacent to our table.

Dining Room Mural

All of the staff are dressed in beautifully-detailed, traditional costumes, which gives the experience an even more immersive and authentic feel.

Merlot

Our server arrived promptly to take our drink order (beverages are not included the fixed price), and they do have both beer and wine on offer. I ordered a glass of this lovely, full-bodied Merlot, which provided a nice complement to the spicy food. Menus are not really necessary, since Vatan serves a fixed fare (though you can choose a vegan, or gluten-free option), but they do have a few specialty sides, which are available for an additional charge. With the Entree Thali, you also have the choice of your preferred degree of spiciness. I opted for mild (which trust me, was still quite spicy) while my dining companion went with medium spiciness.

Appetizer Thali
Appetizer Thali and Condiments

When our appetizer course arrived, our server took a few moments to describe the ingredients in each dish, as well as brief details of how each was prepared (boiled, fried etc). She even offered suggestions as to which condiments went best with which appetizers, or main course dishes. The service was truly impeccable throughout the meal. Here’s a description of everything on the Appetizer Thali:

Chana Masala (Chickpeas With Onions And Coriander)

Khaman (Puffed Cream Of Wheat Flour Cakes)

Muthia (Steamed Flour With Spinach)

Mirchi Bhajia (Fried Hot Peppers With Garam Masala)

Batatavada (Fried Potato Balls In A Chickpea Flour Batter)

Ragda Patis (Potato Cutlet In A White Bean Sauce)

Sev Puri (Potatoes, Garbanzo Beans, Yogurt, And Chutney Filled In A Crispy Bread)

Samosa (Triangular Savory Pastries Filled With Spicy Potatoes And Green Peas)

Despite what you may be “used to” when dining out, I encourage you to just surrender to this unique experience. You may be tempted to ask for bread and raita (popular cucumber yogurt dip), since many Indian restaurants serve those items with the appetizer course, but sit tight, because that’s coming up.

Appetizer Thali

Detail shot of the Chana Masala (foreground), Muthia (right rear), Khaman (left front ) and Batatavada (left rear).

I enjoyed every dish on my tray, though I did offer my hot pepper to my friend, since I did not want to tempt fate. We were asked if we would like seconds of anything, but not knowing how much food was still coming, we declined.

Entree Thali 1

The Entree Thali arrived next, and it was just as beautiful as the previous tray. Here’s what we ate, as seen in the photo above:

Toor Dal (Boiled Lentils Cooked With Indian Spices)

Bhaji (Sautéed Spinach And Corn)

Ful-Cobi (Cauliflower And Green Peas Sautéed In A Savory Sauce)

Batakanu Sak (Potatoes Cooked In A Mild Red Gravy)

Chole (Chickpeas Cooked With Garam Masala)

Puri/Roti (Puffed Whole Wheat Bread/Whole Wheat Flatbread)

Papadam (Thin Lentil Wafers)

Kheer (Rice Pudding With Dry Fruits)

Aam Rus (Mango Soup)

It is not uncommon in Gujarati cuisine to have both savory and sweet dishes in the same course, such as the entree dishes of Rice Pudding and Mango Soup, which I enjoyed mixing together in a single bite.

Entree Thali 2

The little puffed Puri breads are ideal for holding small bites of food and making little tacos with them. Super tasty, and also, fun!

Rice and Yogurt Soup

Because you are not quite exploding just yet, they also bring you delicious Entree Complements (Seen Above):

Pulao (Boiled White Rice With Peas)

Khichdi (Lentils Mixed With Rice And Assorted Vegetables)

Kadhi (Soup With Yogurt And Chickpea Flour In Authentic Spices), which is similar to Raita, and which we shared for use as a sauce to cool the fire of the spicier dishes.

Roti Plus Two Dishes
Roti Flat Bread

Everything was delicious.

Indian Ice Cream

After a short break to let our food ‘settle’ a bit, it was time for the final Dessert And Chai course, consisting of mango and one other flavor of Homemade Indian Ice Cream, which we split evenly.

Gulub Jamun

There is also Gulab Jamun , a warm Donut Ball in a Sugar and Rose Syrup, which I just added to my ice cream because I thought would be more fun, and it was.

Masala Chai

Masala Chai is a sweet Indian Tea with Cardamom, Ginger and Milk; the perfect ending to a perfect meal. While we were advised that we could have as much as we wanted of everything, frankly, the cumulative portions served were very generous. The fixed price menu is an excellent value and I could not possibly have eaten one more bite. .We really enjoyed our evening at Vatan, and I am looking forward to returning for future visits with new friends!

Indian Lady Artwork

Vatan is Located at 409 3rd Avenue (Between 28th and 29th Streets), in the Kips Bay Neighborhood, New York City. Visit Vatan NY Dot Com for more Information and to Make a Reservation.

Vatan Signage Elephant

Cooking With Gail Presents: Amira Smoked Basmati Rice!

Amira Smoked Basmati Rice
All Photos By Gail

Do you like Rice? I sure do. I especially love fragrant, long grain  Basmati Rice from India. India! Seriously, it is the most delicious rice. Maybe you have shied away from making Basmati Rice in your home due to the additional required preparatory steps — such as rinsing, and then soaking the rice prior to cooking  — which can seem a bit daunting if you are used to the no fuss approach of throwing rice in a pan with some water, bringing it to a boil, and then forgetting about it for 40 minutes, which is a no-brainer.  I understand how you feel.

Amira Smoked Basmati Rice

But when you break it down, Basmati Rice preparation and cooking time takes maybe 10 minutes longer than traditional rice, so it can hardly be argued that it is a vastly longer or more labor intensive process. It just takes a little getting used to. I was recently sent a package of Amira brand Smoked Basmati Rice and I had fun making it and taking pictures of the process so you can see  that you don’t need to be scared to try something new. Come along and let’s have a little culinary adventure, shall we?

Basmati Rice Prep

Besides a spoon and a pan to cook it in, you will need a measuring cup and colander or strainer. Measure the rice (a general guideline is one part rice to two parts water, but the exact directions are printed on the bag so zero guesswork is involved) and pour it into the strainer. Next, run the rice under cold water from the tap for a minute or so, shaking it slightly to expose all grains, which will remove the excess starch.

Soaking Rice

That was fun, right? It gets better. Now transfer the rinsed rice to the pan and cover with water. Set a kitchen timer, or keep an eye on the clock, for 25 to 30 minutes while the rice soaks. You can either do prep on other parts of the meal during this time, or watch TV or play Words With Friends, which is something I enjoy doing.

Basmati Rice is a long grain rice by nature, but there is a very noticeable quality difference with Amira’s Premium Rice, which is extra long grain.  Amira smoked basmati rice is an all natural extra long grain rice, which is smoked in the ancient Persian tradition, resulting in an aromatic, smoky rice.

Once the rice is done soaking, drain it, and then add it back the pan with two cups of fresh water, bring to a boil, cover the pan, reduce the heat and cook for ten minutes. While the rice cooks, your kitchen may smell like you are baking a ham, but don’t be alarmed. After ten minutes, turn the heat off, move the pan to a cool burner and let it rest for ten more minutes. When you remove the lid, the rice will look something like this:

Amira Cooked Rice

Oh my, isn’t that beautiful! You can’t really tell from this photo, but the rice grains are so long that you may even freak out a little. It is really quite extraordinary.

Meal on a Tray

Here is a photo of my delicious and super easy-to-prepare single ladies dinner of two Trader Joe’s Masala vegetarian burger patties and huge pile of fluffy Smoked Basmati Rice, seasoned with little salt and some butter, because I love butter on my rice. What I discovered is that, after cooking, the smoke essence remains more in the fragrance than the actual flavor of the rice. So you do not need to be afraid that the rice will have a harsh, overly smoky, or meaty taste. It will just taste like delicious rice. Find out more about the Amira brand at Amira Dot Net.

Amira Rice Serving Suggestion

‘Aangan Style’: Fine Indian Dining on the Upper West Side!

Aangan Mosaic Chandelier
All Photos By Gail Except Where Noted

Do you like Indian Food? I sure do. I have a couple of favorite destinations on Indian Row (East 6th Street) and also Curry Hill (vicinity of Lexington Ave and 28th Street) but I didn’t really have a favorite Indian restaurant with a proper uptown address. That changed last week when I was invited to visit and review Aangan, conveniently located just steps from the 103rd Street stop on the Number One train. Even folks who dread traveling above 14th Street can be assured that dinner at Aangan is worth the trek!

Our considerable feast at Aangan included at least a dozen different dishes, all delicious, but where Aangan really distinguishes itself from its peers is in the restaurant atmosphere, level of gracious service and overall dining experience. Aangan is a Hindi word meaning “Courtyard,” and it is typically associated with the open spaces in traditional Indian homes – an area where families get together to relax, dine and spend time with each other.

Aangan Interior Shot

In this way, Aangan provides an authentic Indian courtyard restaurant experience on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The restaurant’s interior is beautifully fitted with a glass mosaic chandelier, wall mounted candle fixtures and elegant, modern padded wall finishes. Floor to ceiling windows looking out onto Broadway provide lots of natural light and great people watching. Once the sun sets, Aangan continues to glow with its special brand of hospitality.

Mango Lhassi with Rum Cocktail
Mango Lassi with Rum

My dining companion (also a food blogger) and I ordered modestly: two appetizers and two entrees – all to share – plus a basket of bread. But our waiter asked if they could bring us a few additional items and house specialties which they’d like us to try, and we could hardly refuse. What we ended up with was a bona fide Indian buffet featuring favorite dishes and tasty new discoveries.

What we ate:

Shrimp Balchao

Shrimp Balchao: Medium-sized shrimp marinated in Goan Balchao Sauce ($10.95). When people say a shrimp dish was “Perfectly cooked,” they are talking about the tender and sweet shrimp in this dish. The sauce has just a mild kick. Really lovely.

Bhel In Phyllo Cups

For an unusual appetizer, go with the Bhel in Phyllo Dough Cups, comprised of Spiced crispy Rice and Lentil Flour savories served in pastry cups ($6.95). It’s a light and tasty choice that I’ve never seen on any other menu.

Crispy Cauliflower

Another favorite that I first had at Junoon is the Lahsooni Gobhi: Lighty battered and Crispy Fried Cauliflower tossed in Tomato Garlic Sauce ($8.95). This is a hearty appetizer for vegetarians or a complimentary side to any meat dish.

Assorted Indian Appetizers

The two appetizers we ordered, Vegetable Samosas: Triangular turnovers filled with Potatoes and Peas ($6.95), and the Paneer Pakora: Cottage Cheese Fritters Served with Mint Chutney and Tamarind Sauce ($7.95), arrived on an attractive platter of mixed Vegetraian appetizers including Vegetable Kabob (mashed veggies in a lentil wrap) and a very delicious, pleasantly crunchy Onion Pakora. This off-menu assortment is something you could ask your server about if you are game for trying many different things. Aangan is very eager to make sure your experience is enjoyable and personalized. And, as you can see, they create a beautiful presentation with every dish.

Tandoori Chicken and Lamb

They also brought us a Small Platter of Chicken and Lamb Tandoori to sample. The lamb is exceptionally tender and flavorful, and the chicken is a good choice for the less-adventurous diners in your group.

Tandoori Lamb Chops

Tandoori Lamb Chops are another house specialty, priced to share at $19.95.

(Photo Above and Below By Anne Raso)

Tandoori Salmon

Also perfect for sharing, and with a gorgeous presentation, if I may say so, is the Tandoori Salmon: Filet of Salmon marinated in yogurt, coriander, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, cumin, paprika and turmeric ($19.95). The salmon is meaty, tender and perfectly cooked.

Chicken Korma

Here’s a dish everybody loves, Murgh Korma: Boneless pieces of chicken in a rich cashew nut and almond cream sauce ($14.95). I love that they put a cherry on top of this.

Murgh Xacutti

Murgh Xacutti, a very mild Goan Chicken Curry cooked with coconut and aromatic spices and served with mint rice ($14.95), is an excellent choice for curry fans who want to go easy on the heat.

Saag Paneer

Saag Paneer: Puree of Spinach Cooked with Homemade Cottage Cheese ($12.95). You just gotta have it.

Lamb Biryani

My favorite dish of the night was the Lamb Biryani: Aromatic rice with cubed Lamb ($15.95). I always love a good Biryani, and the Lamb in this dish was beyond tender and so flavorful. I would order this again.

Assorted Indian Breads

An extensive selection of Indian flatbreads are priced at $2.95 – $4.95, or you can build your own Bread Basket, with your choice of 3 breads ($11.95) which we did, selecting the Garlic Naan, Alloo Paratha (filled with mashed potatoes) and, my favorite, Onion Kulcha — which I highly recommend. These fresh and hot from the oven breads are light, delightfully chewy and crispy.

Malgova Mango Pudding

After enjoying such an impressive repast, we hardly had room for Dessert, yet we were able to savor a few bites of the Malgova Pudding – described as a ‘Mango soufflé’ with a touch of Coconut ($4.95). This fruity dessert has a firm, gelatinous consistency, rather than the traditionally creaminess one expects with something called “pudding,” but it was quite light, tasty and refreshing.

Come to Aangan and enjoy the Indian Courtyard Dining experience! You’ll be glad you did!

Aangan is Located at 2701 Broadway on the Northwest Corner of West 103rd Street (Right at the #1 Train Stop). Visit them online at Aangan Dot Com or Phone 212-280-4100 for Reservations.

Aangan Logo

Singapura Offers A Taste of Singapore in Curry Hill

Singapura Atmosphere Shot
Unique Lotus Flower Lamps Set the Mood at Singapura (All Photos By Anne Raso)

The NYC neighborhood known as Curry Hill (Lexington Avenue between, say, 26th and 29th Streets) is a popular dining destination for local foodies looking to satisfy their cravings for authentic Indian cuisine. But those seeking a bit of diversity in their quest for an Asian food fix have a new options, thanks to Singapura, which recently opened on this Lexington Avenue strip of restaurants and spice shops. The modern city-state of Singapore is a melting pot of Thai, Chinese, Malaysian and Indian cultures and the menu at Singapura offers a window into this diversity, drawing inspiration from the varied culinary traditions that make up that region while remaining familiar to the American palate.

Pan Fried Vegetarian Dumplings
Vegetable Dumplings

With its comfortable, modern interior and very reasonable prices, Singapura bridges the gap between casual sit down dining and the convenience of take out. In this narrow storefront space, half the room is illuminated by Lotus flower-shaded hanging lamps (we’ve never seen anything like these before!) while the other side enjoys the trending look of glowing exposed filament bulbs amid earth toned walls and banquets. And check out those brass lion head door knockers mounted on the backs of the chairs: very cool! Service is immediately attentive and friendly, with staff happy to suggest dishes or answer any questions you have about the ingredients of a dish. There’s also a well-represented selection of meats, seafood and vegetarian dishes to accommodate any diet.

Potato Curry Puff
Potato Curry Puffs

We started our meal with the vegetable option (chicken is also offered) of Singapura’s pan-fried dumplings ($5.00), featuring a filling of assorted green veggies wrapped in a lightly crisped spinach-based dough. Dumplings are served with a side of several dipping sauces, including hot sesame oil if your taste leans toward the spicier side of life! The Potato Curry Puff ($5.00) also enticed us with its blend of potatoes and cauliflower in a mild curry seasoning stuffed in a light puff pastry wrapping, enhanced by the accompanying cucumber and red onion chutney. So yummy!

Red Chicken
Red Chicken

For main courses, we opted for a couple of traditional favorites. Coconut curry is a favorite flavor of ours, so the Red Chicken ($14.00) sounded like an ideal option. Served in a rich sweet and spicy sauce (note: much more fiery than anticipated), tender chunks of white meat chicken were surrounded by fresh string beans, bamboos shoots, half moon slices of zucchini and tender-crisp carrots. Very delicious, but be forewarned that even if a dish’s menu description lacks a tiny red pepper icon next to it, the dish still may not be mildly spiced.

Pad Thai With Chicken
Pad Thai

It may have been less than adventurous, but we just had to go for the chicken Pad Thai ($11.00) – the thin rice noodle dish by which all Thai cuisine is judged! This one was a winner. All dishes are appropriately portioned for sharing, but with a hearty appetite you could easily polish off a single entrée by yourself. All ingredients are fresh and tasty which makes it very challenging to stop eating even after you’ve indulged as we did.

Mango Sticky Rice Dessert
Mango Sticky Rice

Singapura’s dessert menu is limited to just two choices, and were were too stuffed to try both, but we were delighted with our choice of the Mango Sticky Rice ($5.00): a simple dish of sweet sticky rice dusted with toasted sesame seeds and served alongside a generous portion of fresh sliced mango. On our next visit we will save room for the Fried Banana ($5.00). Singapura lacks a full bar at present, but serves a decent selection of beer and wine.

A dinner at Singapura will hardly make a dent in your wallet, but if you’re looking to increase the bargain dining factor, for a limited time you can get a deal at Groupon NYC that gives you $30 worth of delicious pan Asian cuisine for just $15. Hurry though, because we are not sure how long before this deal sells out.

Singapura is located at 106 Lexington Avenue (Take the 6 Train to 28th Street) in New York City, Phone (212) 684-6842. Visit their Website for more information or to make a reservation.