Goddesses come in many forms.
Those for patience or intellect, lust or obsession, revenge or independence, righteousness or justice.
And of course, culinary. For every good meal start’s in the kitchen eyed by a goddess. Usually a mother, in the case of many chefs, aspirants and myself. Devi means Goddess in Hindi, and its no wonder that a Ganesha eyed you while you walked the street to it. Touted as the first Michelin Star Indian restaurant in New York, I expected magnificence from Chef Suvir Saran, who grew the business into a swanky catering service too.
A petite, illuminated red two story seating style greeted me. The first thing I did was arch my neck to see the Persia-meets-Rajhasthan stain glass light fixtures hanging in multiples from a mystic ceiling space. With seasonal corn cobs in autumn hues and dim gold and bronze lighting, it was immediately comforting, banishing any fatigue, adrenaline and letting me sink into its comforting abyss. Red is my favorite hue, after all.
Seated next to a glass mosaic red Ganesha peeking out of the window was a magical touch. Almost as if he too, was fond of people watching, and restfully felt like passing the day as my accomplice in culinary and people watching skills.
Sporting a bohemian Warli print shirt of Delhi, I waited, elevating my expectations, and to no surprise, seeing them completely met. Starting with the golden polka dot gilded plate and lotus motif backed menu art.
I started with the tamarind sour, one of my favorite flavors and preferred notes (Sour is my namesake, obviously). With indigenous tamarind Indian fruit shaken with orange and cranberry juice, it was tart alright. Perfect for cleansing the palette before a hearty Indian meal, with curry leaves and candied ginger to nibble on.
With a penchant for the hard to find Indian Chinese cuisine, I opted for a childhood favorite, the Manchurian cauliflower. Far before the vegetable became a superfood and started trending, I fell in love with its crunchy and tree-like texture dipped in tomato, garlic and green chili thick sauce.
With a flaky, crunchy crust that melts when the sweet and sour sauce hits the tongue, this was a starry perfection on a plate. I ordered it twice, another rarity in my frivolous quest for variety based food.
Keeping in sync with the Michelin minimalism and surprise quotient, the light tomato and heavy spice South Indian rasam broth was a warmer palette cleanser, clearing more than the palette (read as congestion evict-er!).
Anyone who knows me knows that I am infatuated with cottage cheese, aka paneer. A staple in any Punjabi kitchen, its no surprise that this more eloquent sibling of tofu and more hipster friend of cheese is a given when you hear my name. The paneer and zucchini kofta were a traditional Indian looking entree steaming in tomato, garlic and cumin gravy. The vegetarian equivalent of a meatball, this was spongy textured owing to soft, freshly made paneer that soaked in the gravy flavor, with zucchini added for a fibrous and tougher, rigid taste. For there’s nothing worse than a soggy ball. Kofta ball that is.
To my surprise, these were stuffed with prunes! While almost missable to look in an underwater texture, the surprising tang and bitter center to an otherwise butter centered dish was a delightful surprise. Due to the richness of the flavor, I opted to pair the kofta with simple naan and rice, saving up room for desserts, obviously.
The one thing about Indian Michelin Star restaurants is that the desserts are so familiar of a childhood memory, yet juxtaposed with the wildest of dreamy inventions and ingredients. I opted for a seasonal favorite, containing mango.
The mango almond cheesecake arrived shaped like a giant, gelatinous wobbling marshmallow atop a thick mango sauce, bordered with caramelized pistachio. With two nuts in this concoction, the textures were perfect: granular, crunchy and, despite being a soft dessert, alarmingly rigid and consequently filling. The mango was a subtle and sweeter flavor, which matched well with the nuts. Definitely a more superior cousin to a plain cheesecake, this one was more tart and made up for its softness with a nut duo.
Not to mention, architecturally crafted on a plate.
With a fulfilling meal at a fine Union Square outpost, I tumbled back into New York’s succulent city, satisfied with the whiff of a lasting memory of India’s culinary skills well preserved on this side of the Atlantic.
The Goddess of culinary was just to me. With a happy Ganesha for company.