Junoon — Fine Dining with an Indian Flair
By Sophia Hsu / Photography by Erik Teng
So, which restaurants immediately come to mind when thinking of fine dining in New York City? Perhaps one of the major steak houses? A French cuisine establishment with a months’ long waiting list?
Junoon is here to change that first impression of what a fine dining establishment should be, into what a fine dining establishment could be. Seasoned restaurateur and classically-trained Indian chef Rajesh Bhardwej has already found success in New York with his first Indian restaurant in Jackson Heights, Queens. He continued on to co-found Café Spice, the now national Indian bistro chain.
Bhardwej, who has been known for his innovation, now had a new challenge to conquer – bringing the connotations of Indian food in America out of the tiny neighborhood closet shops, or larger, cookie-cutter establishments, and into the world of fine dining. After puzzling over how to create an Indian restaurant that fits into the idea of fine dining, he woke up one day and something clicked, “I want to open a restaurant that serves Indian food, not an Indian restaurant.”
While this may seem like simple wordplay, it was a paradigm shift in thought and approach for Bhardwej. He wanted to deconstruct all of the spices and ingredients that are traditional to Indian cuisine and re-assemble them in new, imaginative ways. With this in mind, he assembled a dream team of collaborators: Architect and Designer Tarik Currimbhoy, Executive Chef Vikas Khanna, Chef de Cuisine Adin Langille, Executive Pastry Chef Shoukat Hussain, Culinary Consultant Aliya LeeKong, Beverage Director Michael Dolinski, and Operations Manager David Shah. In three short years, Junoon has become an NYC destination for both locals and visitors from all over the world.
The premiere mixologist in all of India, Hemant Pathak, chose our cocktails for the
evening: a Mumbai Margarita scented with Indian spices and mango, which premiered only very recently at Junoon, and the Blood Orange Sour, a sweet and spiced twist on the traditional whiskey sour. Once the cocktails were sorted, Chef sent out what seemed like an unending parade of dreamy dishes, all with velvety textures, fresh flavors, and perfectly balanced spices.
Amuse-Bouche: To awaken the taste buds, a trio of salad, soup, and fritter arrived. The salad was a refreshing mix of orange confit, pickled berries, Bosc pear, and julienned mint with a bite of sunshine. The creamy carrot shorba was a pleasant contrast to the tangy salad. The homemade, chickpea-battered paneer pakora’s creamy-crispy contrast rounded out the amusement.
Appetizers: With awakened taste buds, it was now time to awaken our appetites. The Tandoori Octopus, Fluke Tadka, Eggplant Chaat, and Junoon Spiced Naan with the house mango, mint, and tamarind chutneys were presented with such flair that the dishes both widened our eyes and our appetites. The charred, confit octopus remained firm and crispy, almost sausage-like, while being both flavorful and complex. One would never see raw fish on an Indian restaurant menu, but the Fluke Tadka was a can’t-miss with the traditional Indian herbs and spices of mustard seeds, curry leaf, and green chili cooled by the sweetness of the baby coconut and the raw fluke’s creamy texture. The Eggplant Chaat remained delicately crispy under the yogurt, tamarind, red onions, and sev, a thin, crispy-fried chickpea noodle found in a variety of Indian snacks well-known from the street food stalls of Mumbai.
Entrees: Just as our photographer and I thought it was time to pack up, the server switched out our plates and silverware. It was time for the entrees. We were speechless. A fresh take on a traditional cauliflower and tomato dish, Junoon’s Gobi Aur Saag Ke Bhurji threw in fresh spinach just at the end of the cooking process, just barely wilting the leaves, keeping the veggies crispy and vibrant. The skate in a mango curry sauce with lime foam was light, airy, and cooked to perfection. The lime foam provided just a hint of citrus. If you love lamb, the Shahi Lamb Shanks were an incredible blend of sweet and savory, spicy and creamy. Braised for five hours in a black cumin and rose curry, and topped with brown butter-steeped cashews, golden raisins, and black currants, the meat just falls off of the bone with barely a nudge.
Side Dishes: The entrees were accompanied by Red Bhutanese Rice, a highly-regarded nutrient-rich rice from the Eastern Himalayas, Mint Raita with a surprising burst of pomegranate seeds, and Daal Makhni, a traditional stew of black lentils and red beans.
Dessert: We were stuffed to the brim, but upon the server’s recommendation, we selected light desserts to end the meal. The silky Pistachio Bavarian Cream Cake came with a small scoop of buttery avocado ice cream and a swipe of tangy apricot chutney. The Seasonal Trio of Kulfi was cool and light, served non-traditionally in cubes of pistachio, mango, and a rosy masala chai. Two lovely ways to end an outstanding meal.
As Junoon’s menu is seasonal and designed based on local resources, some of the dishes above may not be available in the spring. Make sure to call ahead or check online for the latest available dishes. Make your reservation today via OpenTable or request a reservation via reservations@junoonnyc. com. For more information about the menus, collaborators, or directions, visit http://junoonnyc.com.