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

1 comment: