Thursday, February 28, 2013


I have been waiting for ages to write this review.  Unfortunately, it's not because I followed the chef here, though I well could have.  Chef Vikas Khanna has earned a ton of accolades for this latest venture, and after having experienced it, can confirm their merit.  My motivation for visiting Junoon was simply a word.  To determine whether Junoon was, or was not, jejune.  It was too perfect.

And luckily, Junoon did not at all define the adjective. I didn't think it would, and I proved myself right.  Junoon means "passion", and you can taste it in what comes out of the kitchen.  The room, on the other hand- if a room can be jejune- was.  Bordering on sterile, the spacious dining room looks a bit like a corporate cafeteria that is temporarily housing an incomplete installation of mid-level contemporary Indian decor.

 There is a large, quite lovely mirror that reflects a trio of intricately carved panels, which seem to have no purpose but to soften the room's harsh lines.  The harsh lighting doesn't help, but my visit was a lunchtime one, this might be ameliorated later in the evening simply with a dimmer switch.  A window to the open kitchen was too far from my table to supervise the activity, but it was definitely percolating with activity, even during the sparsely attended lunch hour.

The menu offers much diversity, and I had trouble choosing anything (it all looked good) until my eye landed on the roasted mushrooms with ajwain.  A small fennel-looking seed,  ajwain is a pungent little spice with a flavor that combines thyme and black cumin... and I adore it.  The one fault I had with Junoon's food is that typical Indian snare: a heavy hand with the oil.  While Junoon's cuisine is much elevated beyond your typical East 6th street channah masala joint, it still frequently suffers from a slight excess of grease.  A perfect example were these mushrooms, which were roasted chewy and intriguingly seasoned,

 but the drizzle of deep orange oil would've been better off- and more modern- substituted by a fresh herb puree or reductive jus.  But they were so tasty, nonetheless, capped with a crisp salty tuile and nestled with savory caramelized onions. There's a lot of umami going on here and elsewhere, not in the least absent in the Lahsooni Gobi (it's fun to try and pronounce the unfamiliar names), three bulbous florets fried and then smothered in a tangy, ketchupy tomato chutney kicked with chili, the plate artistically swiped with more of the same.   The menu calls them "crispy", which is never the case when a deep fried object is subsequently doused in sauce.  Even if it once was, by the time it gets to you, it won't be, so menus shouldn't call things crispy unless they are.  Pet peeve.  Along with the typo on the website where "menus" is written "menu's"... 'cause pretty much menus are already possessive of things, so unless they meant the menu's content- but that's more than a little redundant.

For entrees monkfish jumped out at me, mostly for its accompanying charred brussels sprouts, which were disturbingly absent when the plate arrived.  I searched underneath the small tumble of lemony frisee and radishes to no avail.  Apparently, they had been forgotten underneath the heat lamp in plating, but the chef quickly re-charred a new set and turboed them out to me... although it took substantial effort to flag down a server in order to issue my complaint.

They balanced the sort of sparse dish as well, adding a heartier vegetable component to the fresh salad, although they too suffered a little excess of oil.  But for the minuscule portion that they were (there must have been all of four quartered sprouts), they were perfectly cooked tender, earthy and nutty, with a true bit of char, just like I'd hoped for.  The morsels of monkfish were succulent and tender contrasting with their ruddy coating of tikka sauce atop dollops of a mustardy

 apple cider foam.   We also tried Chicken Hydrabadi, a thickly sauced crock of creamy chicken stew.  Despite the cashew nuts and poppy seed cream, the flavor might belie its richness, especially if it's mixed into the fluffy rice pulao and consumed in its entirety: you could end up maxing out calorically, if you know what I mean.   But chicken cooked like this reaches such an ethereal tenderness it's hard to stop eating, so be forewarned.  It's probably a good idea to leave some of the gravy to the Unfinished Plates Club.  The naan are equally addictive, as chewy and pliant as a bread could possibly be, with toasty patches of tandoor char and a wonderfully warm, soft density.

The service was, as evidenced by the brussels sprouts privation, pretty inattentive.   Thus, we took so long to finish our meal we hadn't time for dessert.  Nor was it even offered, however.  Those on the menu were tweaked renditions of classic French desserts:  lemon crepes with macerated strawberries and a blue cheese streusel, a chocolate creme brulee, and a fig gateau that offered a black sesame crumble as the only thing even remotely Indian-ish.  It's unfortunate to have such lackluster and disinterested servers at a restaurant where the food is this good (and certainly not cheap!), because one can tell by the food that the chef is anything but.  A more inspired waitstaff, some tweaks to the decor and a bit of restraint with the lipids and this place is easily on par with the best Indians in the city.  So NOT.... well, you know the word.

27 West 24th street

Sunday, February 3, 2013


Resto has been on my radar since it was helmed by wunderkind/wild-child Ryan Skeen (we're both from Portland).  Preston Clark now has the reigns, and he's steering Resto in a very agreeable direction.  It's a small restaurant, low-ceilinged and low-lit, with a rustic, sylvan interior that complements the cuisine.  We happened to be taking advantage of Restaurant Week here, but
 this served no disadvantage.  Seated at a small table near the back, Resto is conjoined to its next-door "little brother", Cannibal.  One hopes that all attention isn't deflected to this nose-to-tail  (correction: pig's-head to goat's-leg) hotspot, but for now, while the dining room was sparse when we entered, it soon swelled to capacity even before our appetizers arrived.

And for those we left the pig's head terrine option to the kids next door, and opted for the creamy squash soup and an escarole and pear salad.  The soup came in a bulbous little tureen, spritzed with a streusel of spiced pecans and drizzled with a sweet maple creme fraiche flecked with chives.  The thick broth wasn't too sweet itself, though, most likely benefitting from homemade stock and an earthy variety of gourd.  Escarole salad paired sliced pears and parmigiano with the sturdy

 greens in a punchy cider vinaigrette, doused with about twice the amount of hazelnuts needed (somehow, throwing a landslide of nuts on things seems to be a popular thing to do of late, but for me, these should more garnish than garish).  Plus, nuts are expensive, so scaling back on them would seem prudent on all fronts.

For entrees, a dense hunk of short rib fell tenderly into smoothly pureed parsnips.  Crisp fried shards of shallots punched up the mild tuber, surrounded by a meaty pool of deep, horseradish inflected jus.  An off-the-Restaurant-Week-Menu order of roasted brussels sprouts were a welcome addition, given the paucity of vegetation included in both our entrees (most of Resto's regular menu mains seem to include a greater proportion of veg).  These sprouts were much like I fix myself, for better or for worse.  Some could've been a little
more cooked, some were perfect, but all had that hallmark nuttiness from good, high heat and a lively blitz of lemon.  I was happy to see skate as the fish option, as it's a favorite of mine.  A full wing arrived on the bone, which wasn't so easy to navigate.  Skate is almost exclusively served clean... and there's a reason for

 that.  Skate is like the short ribs of fish... the angel hair pasta of the sea.  The ropey texture is its unique, defining feature, and when you demand meticulous pilfering through the meat to separate delicate ivory flesh from delicate ivory cartilage, it becomes much less magical.  The fish was well cooked and well seasoned, however, bedded in a creamy puree of celery root and an slightly sharp juniper sauce that begged to be well-apportioned amongst bites to counter its bracing tang.

For dessert, our poached pear fared a little like the brussels sprouts, wanting for a little more time to relax its firm texture into dessert-worthy submission.   Instead, it fought again our spoons, and for lack of a knife, threatened to catapult off the plate without a very deft manipulation of multiple utensils.  A thick smear of mascarpone helped smooth things out (and adhere them to the plate), enriched with a sandy crumble of sugary

brown butter.  Panna cotta was spiced mildly with chai, plated with a zesty orange jam and a flurry of candied pistachios for crunch.

Resto feels like a perfect little combo of neighborhood gem and farm-to-table hotspot- where the staff would get to know you and you feel right at home, but you might actually need a reservation, 'cause these tables don't sit around and collect dust.  But that can be a good thing, since it makes it something to look forward to.

111 East 29th Street

 tel.  212.685.5585

  • 212.685.5585

  • Friday, February 1, 2013


    Paula Deen is from  Georgia.  Kyle Knall, from its nearby neighbor, Alabama.  And while Maysville is named after a town in Kentucky, all of the above seem to be joined at the hip.  The main reason I was driven to visit Maysville was from a quote from Village Voice's Tejal Rao's review, stating Knall was trained under and shared Gramercy Tavern's chef Michael Anthony's "reverence for local vegetables, always accompanying  moderate portions of meat with several kinds of beans, greens, mushrooms, and tubers, and often pickling whatever is growing at the moment to elevate and brighten a dish."  You know how I loves me my veggies.  Well, maybe he reveres them so much he's keeping them all to himself, 'cause the only ones evident on the menu at Maysville were so hyper-blitzed and buttered they began sharing the same nutritional profile as your average brisket.  

    Which makes sense given the Alabama influence, but not so much the Gramercy Tavern affect.  The dining rooms of both have a similar modernized, spiffed-up barnyard chic, but here is a bit lighter inside with ivory painted walls and huge, pencil-sketched murals of horses across from the glowing wall of whiskey behind the bar.  That's where any similarities end.  Our server was chipper verging on saccharine, but just this side of it so his enthusiasm remained endearing.  I know I should've sampled a whiskey cocktail since that is practically the point of the joint, but apparently I didn't decide quickly enough.  By the time our appetizers arrived, I was already thankful for my hesitance: it looked like these was going to be some gut-busting victuals, and probably I wasn't going to have room for extraneous alcohol.  (I was right.)  But depending on your constitution, whiskey (or wine: they have an admirable and extensive wine list) might help the food go down a little easier.  In fact, the best way probably to approach Maysville is for drinks and a sharing of plates as bar snacks.  This is no rabbit food.  

    We tried to start off a lightly as possible with a brussels sprouts salad (described by Rao as "fine" in "just enough lemon and buttermilk dressing"), which was anything but fine or just.  The dressing certainly wasn't the problem;  its quantity was appropriate and it did its best to  brighten the otherwise slaughtered pile of fried leaves, fraternizing with dice-sized chunks of crispy pig's ear and an incoherent hard boiled quail's egg, covered in a thick shroud of finely shredded parmesan on top a smear of that dressing.  The white of that egg hovering on the periphery actually cut some of the richness, but adding the yolk almost induced wooziness.  Eating that whole plate would be like eating an entire bag of potato chips.  Kettle cooked.  With cheese.  One bite, delicious.  Two, satiety.  Three incites incredulity that there are still about thirty-seven bites left to go and probably you're still planning on entertaining a main course. 
     A more prudent choice is the winter vegetable salad, but this too could easily serve as a dainty lunch in itself.  A melange of roasted beets, sunchokes and turnips pile atop a mound of earthy black quinoa nestled in thick, whipped goat cheese with a flourish of savory peanut brittle.


    Paired with the scrumptious little corn muffins provided upon seating, this could be a lunch.    The first pone I tried was a bit doughy in the center at first bite, but they are so piping hot that their residual heat cooks them a table, attaining the perfect texture as their heat dissipates 'til they reach a consumble temperature.  So just hold off for two shakes of a whisker (or until your appetizers arrive). 

    After a small muffin and that gut-bomb salad, I was already not really hungry for more food.  But entrees arrived, and they were at least modest in portion.  But not spartan, not in the least.  A crispy chicken 
     leg & roulade was just that, an elongated drumstick crusted bronze with a nugget of white meat furled with herbs.  Crispy skin addicts will appreciate his proficiency here.  They straddle roasted Ruby Crescent potatoes strewn with lightly marinated mushrooms, which provided some headway in cutting the richness of everything on the plate. 

     Flounder swam in an unctuous sauce of what seemed to be an emulsification of butter and... butter.  "Grilled" calamari wasn't grilled at all but either poached or steamed, surrounded by thick, pink ribbons of gently smoked ham (not that you could taste much smoke given its submersion) and some token discs of sunchoke and mild salsify that were all but lost in the sauce.  No side dishes are offered- not that my stomach could've taken much more volume of anything, anyways, but the vegetation might have been appreciated.  Especially since Knall's pedigree should qualify him to muster up something nice with them.  

    Onto dessert, we tried one just to try one, obviously going for the lightest possible option.  And thankfully, it succeeded with flying colors.  Light, yes, and refreshing, a snowy apple granita mounded atop small cubes of myriad varietals of raw, candied and roasted apple.  I actually think I felt my stomach offer up a little cheer of appreciation for the respite from grease.  And I'm sure the bread pudding would have been solid, given his credentials, and the heft of the rest of the menu.  Or else, finish off your meal with any of the vast choices of whiskeys.  A good, stiff shot might just cut through all that fat. 

    17 W. 26th Street, Between 6th AveNUE & BroadwaY, Near N R F M 1 Trains

    tel.  646-490-8240