Indian Accent, NYC
April 19, 2016
Indian Accent opened a few years ago in Delhi and was quickly recognized as special for its updating and globalization of traditional Indian cuisine. It is now rated the best restaurant in India in the San Pellegrino list and 77th on the global list. A New York version opened in late February, 2016. Linda and I went for dinner a few weeks later on March 14, 2016.
We were seated at a table along the entry corridor opposite the bar. But the foursome next to us was very noisy and we asked for a switch. They gave us a nice little booth for two along the wall of the main dining room.
This was the view from my first seat. My second seat was in the third booth along the wall to the left. The décor is quite plain with just hints of India.
Linda ordered a Great Divide Brewing Company (Colorado) ‘Titan’ 7% India Pale Ale.
I had a Ceylon Sour made with Blended Scotch, Cardamom and Cardamaro, the cardoon flavored bitter digestif from the Piemonte. .
The menu offers two, three or four course options with several choices in each course. There is also a chef’s tasting menu. We consulted with our server, who pointed out a few dishes which had aggressive spicing and assured us that was not the case with the others. Two appetizers arrived: roasted pumpkin purée in coconut milk shorba and blue cheese naan.
These were very good and an encouraging sign that traditional Indian flavors would be used wisely and not overshadowed by chilies. Anticipating a meal that was not wine friendly, we ordered a modest old standby: 2014 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir.
For the first of the four courses we were each to select two small plates, which we did to share.
potato sphere chaat, white pea mash
A chaat is a snack based on fried dough, but that was not evident in this pretty little spiced snack.
kashmiri morel, roasted walnut, parmesan papad
Kashmiri morels are regarded as very special. In Kashmir they are served at weddings and other celebrations. This one was much larger than American or French morels. The walnut and other garnish on it was good, but the papadum crisp had extreme chilies lying in ambush along with the parmesan. Fortunately one did not have to eat it.
sweet pickle rib, sundried mango, onion seeds
Pork and beef, not used in Delhi, have been introduced into Indian Accent’s cuisine in New York. This had a good sweet and sour effect.
duck chettinad, foie gras, idli, pearl onion chutney
My googling now shows that Chettinad cuisine “is famous for its use of a variety of spices used in preparing mainly non-vegetarian food. The dishes are hot and pungent with fresh ground masalas spice mix.” Of course, I did not know this when we ordered. Anyway, an idli is a savory breakfast cake; here it is with spiced ground duck meat mixed extraneously with foie gras.
Well, our four little starters made it clear that the cuisine was not what we were expecting. There seemed to be subtlety in the spicing, but for our palate it was overwhelmed by the heat, which lingered even if the next dish was more subtle.
Linda’s second course was
pathar beef kebab, garlic chips, bone marrow nihari
The beef kebab was good, but the nihari sauce traditionally cooked overnight with bone marrow, was too hot to reveal its subtleties. Too bad it was not served alongside.
baby squid, crispy rice, everything chutney
This was quite good. The liquid chutney was poured over at the table. It would have been better on the side so I could use it as I wished.
As our palates were already overloaded, we asked for some naan. It was very good.
Linda’s main course was
dal gosht, lamb, lentils, cumin sunchokes
We had specifically discussed this dish with our server when we were ordering. She assured us that the spicing was mild. In reality the red sauce was a green chili bomb. We did not eat it.
My main was
pork belly vindaloo, goan red rice
Now, I think of vindaloo as meaning very hot. But that is its British adaption. The word comes from the Goan Portuguese for wine and garlic. In this case the server was accurate in telling me that it was not overspiced, although it certainly was not bland. I enjoyed this.
Linda’s dessert was
doda barfi treacle tart, vanilla bean ice cream
This was described as a take on a traditional British treacle and it was very good.
My dessert was
crispy seviyan, rice pudding, coconut jaggery ice cream.
Toasted vermicelli noodles were on top of a rice pudding base. They were topped by an ice cream of brown sugar and coconut. Nice.
The restaurant, Indian Accent, is misnamed. The Indian element is not an accent; it is the heart of the cuisine, even if updated and globalized, with beef for example. A major reason we came here was the superb Indian accented cuisine we had enjoyed a few weeks before at Campton Place in San Francisco. The two Michelin stars awarded to Campton Place reflect the chef’s successful adaption to the American palate without seeming any less Indian. I have no quarrel with a restaurant designed for the Indian diaspora in New York and for those who find a lot of chilies enhancing, but I think that the restaurant’s presentation and the descriptions and advice it trains its servers to give should explain that. To me, outside of India, this is a specialty place, not fine dining. It is all the more regrettable in that we could sense the top quality ingredients and flavoring underneath.