If you are one of those people who thinks they can only enjoy greasy, over-sauced Indian food from take out containers then I have got a place for you that will change the way you think about Indian cuisine. New York has a plethora of upscale Indian restaurants to choose from, but this one was impressive not just for its food but additionally for its decor and ambiance. The likes of Tamarind, Chola and Dawat have always been on my radar, but Junoon was a new name to me so I was excited to give it a try.
From the outside it’s fairly apparent that Junoon is one of those restaurants you reserve for a special occasion or some sort of business dinner. The entrance is intimidating with its tall glass doors that give you just a glimpse into the elegant entrance way. When I walked in I thought to myself, “I am about to dine at the Daniel of Indian food.” You may feel you are entering a palace rather than a New York City Indian restaurant – and maybe it’s a little over the top – but it sets an air of occasion and the design is really something special. The design of the dining room is soothing with a lot of oranges, yellows and reds, and each table is pristine. We sat at a table facing the open kitchen so we got to see all the action behind the scenes. Even the chefs seemed at peace and relaxed.
The menu offers tasting and a la carte menu options. The four-course tasting is $85, or $140 with wine pairing. I usually find it much more enjoyable at Indian restaurants to order for the table and share, so we opted against the tasting and did just that. To say that all the dishes on this menu were traditional might be a stretch but I think chef Vikas Khanna does an exceptional job of mixing the old with new, creating a modern Indian menu that does not sacrifice tradition. There is a variety of fish, shellfish, meat and vegetarian options to choose from. If you enjoy Indian cooking it would be hard to go through this menu and not find something appealing. The menu is also divided by the method of cooking so you know how each dish is prepared. For example, if a menu item is listed as “Handi” you know you will be getting something curried, whereas “Tawa” would signal cast-iron cooking.
The meal began with Eggplant Chaat, Lamb Boti Kebab, Daal Makhni and the Chutney Tasting. The Eggplant Chaat and Chutney Tasting were the highlights. The eggplant was thinly sliced and lightly fried with a light yogurt garnish. The tamarind and red onion gave the dish just the right kick. The chutney trio provided a taste of sweet, spicy and savory. Typically I would expect mango chutney as one of the options, but Junoon twisted the traditional with a pineapple sampling that tasted so good on my piece of Naan that I forgot my initial disappointment about the lack of mango on the table.
For the main courses we sampled from the meat, vegetarian and shellfish parts of the menu. The Murg Lababdar was Junoon’s version of Chicken Tikka Masala consisting of tender chunks of chicken in a spiced tomato sauce with a hint of cream. As “un-original” as the dish may be in the scheme of Indian cuisine, it remains one of my favorites and this rendition did not disappoint. We also tried the Kerala Shrimp Curry and Channa Pindi. The curried shrimp were jumbo-sized and drenched in a creamy coconut curry sauce. The last third of my plate was reserved for the Channa Pindi. This vegetarian entree consisted of stewed chickpeas in curry sauce with a number of spices, but it was really the cumin in this dish that stood out. I would recommend ordering some of the fresh breads and rice to complement the meal, particularly the specialty Naan.
The food was great, but there just was not enough of it (or so we initially thought). When the wait staff at Junoon delivers the food to your table they bring each dish out in a pot and place a portion on your plate. At least this is the case if you plan to share everything. The problem with this method is there is too much white space on the plate and the portions look puny (see the photo and you will understand) . Thank goodness we still had a little leftover in the pots to go for second helpings. In terms of the restaurant’s service, the wait staff was attentive and the meal flowed at a pleasant pace, but there were times where I felt too many people were taking care of our table. There were at least three people who took various orders from us or delivered items to our table. By the time the meal finished I was unsure whose attention I should get to pay the bill!
I was not expecting to order dessert as I cannot remember the last time I have done so at an Indian restaurant, but my sister found something that caught her eye so we went with it – Chocolate Hazelnut Gateau. This dainty but dense chocolate-hazelnut ganache cake with brandied cherries and espresso ice cream topped off the meal and gave it a sweet ending. It did not really strike me as Indian, but when it comes to dessert all it has to do is taste good as far as I am concerned.
Junoon only opened about a year ago and the praise as top Indian and overall restaurant in New York City is warranted. The design of the restaurant itself should receive accolades. There is no stuffy air of importance given off by the staff or the clientele, which was refreshing coming from an esteemed New York City restaurant. The whole experience was quite enjoyable. So if you appreciate Indian food and have a special occasion or business event coming up, I think Junoon will serve you well should you be looking for a more eclectic destination.
Junoon, 27 W. 24th Street, NY, NY 10010. Phone: (212) 490-2100.
When To Book: Junoon accepts reservations through OpenTable. You can typically get a reservation a couple days in advance at a reasonable time.