Ever experienced a tasting menu that lasted precisely 1 hour?
I hadn’t…… until recently, when I visited Babuji in New York with a fellow-foodie (let’s call him Le). Le and I had already agreed on Babuji’s tasting menu instead or ordering a la carte, and when our server asked our preference – we immediately answered. So now, all we had to do was sit back, relax and enjoy a nice long evening of foodie conversations and lots and lots of tasty bites. Except, get this….. we were seated at 6:45PM… and our check came to the table exactly and hour later! Say what?!!!!
We were so stunned, and totally unprepared for all the extra time we now had on our hands. Luckily, in a city like New York there is always something to do. So we ended up grabbing a drink as we analyzed what had just happened! 🙂
The first part of this tasting menu, “From the Street”, is a few small bites of Indian street food. These plates came so fast – that we were barely done with one before the next arrived. Boom! Boom! Done!
The next part of the tasting menu was titled, “From the Pots”. It was a selection of curries, lentil, naan and rice. Seven different items were served thali-style (metal platter with multiple small bowls of food.)… instead of arriving to the table one by one. We hadn’t had much time to process the street food bites – before this course arrived. As a result, I could barely eat anything. Although, mind you, this platter was a good portion of food in itself – and could easily serve as a complete meal for anyone. It gave me some great tasting menu ideas that I could cook myself at home too.
Now let’s talk about the food and flavors for a bit, shall we? Starting with my all time favorite street food, Gol Gappa (this semolina puff was filled with savory and sweet chutneys) which was a flavor-packed bite! It wasn’t quite how its usually served in India, but still damn good. The Yogurt Kebab was next. It blew my mind! This is a new dish gaining popularity in India… and I am hearing about many chefs on Indian cooking shows demonstrating how to make it. I am not sure who invented it, but chef Jessi Singh of Babuji is doing a fantastic job of it. This dish is made with yogurt, hung to drain for hours… so that all you are left with is the creamy solids. Ginger, chillies etc are then mixed in – some recipes also call for mashed potatoes to bind the whole mixture into patties – which are then fried. So creamy. So spicy. So YUM! An absolute must-try at Babuji.
Next small bite, the Tandoori Chicken lacked flavor, in my opinion. And the Colonel Tso’s Cauliflower – is very close to Gobhi Manchurian served in Indo-Chinese restaurants. It was a bit too sweet for my liking.
Along with spicy, sour and salty – sweet is a key flavor in Indian savory dishes. This note is typically added to the yogurt and chutneys served on the side. I felt the menu at Babuji was quite heavy-handed with the sweet flavor. Thats heavy-handedness was the most evident in the dessert course of Kulfi… which is typically fairly sweet, but this version was a bit too much for me. Although I did enjoy the authentic metal moulds that the kulfi came in. It brought back a lot of happy childhood memories. Oh! I also enjoyed the fun quotes on the walls…. reminiscent of graffiti on walls in the streets of India. You have to know a bit about the Indian culture and be able to ready Hindi language to truly appreciate this. Otherwise you need a Hindi-speaking translator with you. Le was one-lucky diner. 🙂
Hours later, I contemplated a bit on Babuji’s tasting menu. It didn’t really feel like a tasting menu. I guess its not designed to be a “tasting menu” in its contemporary sense … ie: the way we experience it in fine-dining restaurants these days. No, I guess this is just a literal “tasting” of the variety of dishes offered on the a la carte menu at Babuji.
There is a nice selection of beer in a help-yourself fridge. Beer and wine pairings are also offered at additional cost.
Babuji was super-crowded on this Thursday night. With tightly packed tables and a long line of diners outside still waiting to be seated – I guess the media hype is paying off. The restaurant gets quite loud – making it hard to hear your dining companion. I was actually relieved to be done in one hour – and step out of there onto the “quiet” street! :-/
Food at Babuji is good. But not as good as all the buzz it has earned. But it IS a good choice if you’d like to get a nice snapshot of Indian food and its flavor profiles.
Babuji New York | http://www.babujinyc.com/