One of the recurring topics in The Foodie’s busy email box is people complaining that there is no Indian restaurant here in the Cape Region. That is sadly true, but desperate situations call for desperate measures: We have discovered that a mere 3 or so hours away is wonderful Indian food, right smack in the middle of New York City. Well worth the trip.
New Delhi natives Ajay and Kalpana Jaggi hit the jackpot with their diminutive yet powerfully flavored Papadam at 1448 First Ave. between 75th and 76th. This aromatic foodie haven was recommended by a couple of friends who live near the restaurant, and so far they have not steered me wrong. Their recommendation came with a caveat: “Let Kalpana order for you. She knows what to do.” We did just that. She asked us a few questions about our likes and dislikes, disappeared into the kitchen, and after a Kingfisher or two, the festivities began.
The menu is huge, but I suspect Kalpana’s selections would be a great start for anybody. Appetizers included Lassuni Gobi (crispy fried cauliflower florets tossed in a bracing tomato garlic sauce). I am not a fan of cauliflower, but when I tried to order a second plate of these amazing little gems, Kalpana warned me that there was lots more to come. Imagine everything you could want in a meatball, but it’s cauliflower. Who wooda thought!?!
More did come, in the form of Chana Saag. Kalpana mentioned sotto voce that this was a vegetarian dish (apparently she had been warned about my carnivorous proclivities), but I couldn’t have cared less. It was delicious, aggressively spiced and a textural adventure. Order it to split: It’s filling, but will make your mouth very happy.
A mid-course trek into the kitchen revealed an authentic tandoori oven where they bake the naan. Two types of this aromatic bread were suggested, and of course we ordered both. The garlic naan (think flatbread pizza with amazing spices and not-overwhelming garlic) and of course the naan stuffed with onions. I have seen that referred to as “kulcha” on other menus, but at Papadam they keep it simple and just say “stuff it.”
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The dishes that followed were not only beautiful to taste, but they were works of art in their own right: lamb chops simmered in onions, spices and a tomato sauce (beautifully presented with little cucumber rings); a deeply savory (though vegetarian) daal over basmati rice, and a delightful chicken tenders dish with chunks of white meat prepared in a variety of ways – each one very different.
Look at the gallery! Like that delicious naan, we were stuffed and refused dessert. But it slowly dawned on us that the tiny yet dynamic Kalpana is not the sort of woman to take no for an answer, as we were purposefully engaged in wonderful conversation with her and Ajay for upwards of an hour. Mind you, by this time the restaurant was packed, and carryout orders were rolling in one after another. But that didn’t stop her from slyly approaching us and saying, “Can you try some dessert now?” Ahhh, a method to her madness! And of course the answer was yes, and out from the kitchen came two of the most beautifully presented plates I’ve seen in a long time: rice pudding with just a whisper of rose hip water, and cheese balls in honey (gulab jamun). Again, take a look at the gallery.
Regulars here to RehobothFoodie.com know that Foodie on the Road is not a review, but more informational in nature. So I will leave it to you to try Papadam. But I’ll step over the line slightly to tell you that it’s not only the best Indian food I have ever eaten, but one of the most delightful evenings I’ve spent in The Big Apple in a long time.
When you’re in NYC, check out Papadam. You can call them at 212-879-6000. Tell Kalpana and Ajay that the Rehoboth Foodie says “Hi,” and wants more of that stuffed naan.