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“Kalustyan's Cafe”

  Occasion: Cuisine: Area: Cost: Rating:
  Night Out Indian Flatiron Moderate Great

The dim and dusty stretch of Lexington Avenue just north of 23rd Street is chock full of friendly, cabbie-crowded Indian dive joints. But it was—until now— missing a more welcoming place for the neighborhood and beyond to come and eat authentic Indian fare tweaked for a New York crowd.

Earlier this year, the owners of Kalustyan’s—the Indian culinary equivalent of Sephora—filled with assorted spices, rice, grains, teas, nuts and all manner of aromatic and wonderful imported products from India—decided to alter the lower Lexington Avenue landscape with Kalustyan’s Masala Café. This was a great idea in theory—open a restaurant as an edible illustration of the aromatic wares available up the block. But their first chef, while a good cook, was not quite right, and the vibe-less space didn’t hold much promise.

And so, as with style-poor straight guys all over the nation, there was a makeover.

The owners hired a new (and quite talented) chef—Mohan Ismail of Tabla, Spice Market, and most recently of Farmer Dan’s Blue Hill Stone Barns. And to match the terrific new food, they are in the process of redesigning the space and improving the service—to make it a warm, inviting neighborhood hang. The restaurant isn’t Spice Market in décor (but what really is?). It’s a modest, jewel-toned space, that could use something to cover the tile floors and might benefit from more comfortable chairs (the banquettes aren’t bad) and perhaps some curtains to keep the plight of Lexington Avenue out of view, but other than the lack of sex appeal of the space, the food is just delicious, so bring your own atmosphere and enjoy!

I approached the menu like an Indian banquet feast on par with a wedding-rich Bollywood film—and I encourage you to go with enough friends to do the same—ordering lots of little plates to start, then some fish and then some meat. Begin your meal with multiple orders of curried tamarind chicken puffs ($8)—delicate phylo pastries that are so light that they seem to have been inflated from the inside out—poofed up so they are like little triangle balloons—that give a good crunch before revealing intensely flavored minced chicken inside. By all means liberally dip these in the accompanying cool and creamy cilantro yogurt sauce. In fact, if you have ordered some of the heavenly naans ($3) from the tandori o ... [more, click below]

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