Indian cuisine, like Mexican, Italian and Chinese, can be found in New York just about everywhere you look. Nine out of ten restaurants offer the standard dishes that you could name in your sleep. Truly memorable Indian restaurants are rare.
Dévi, which opened in 2004, is that rare exception. It earned two stars from Frank Bruni, which is almost the high-water mark for an Indian restaurant, as only Tabla carries three. This year, the Michelin Guide agreed, awarding a star — one of the few granted to a restaurant not serving European (or Euro-inspired) cuisine.
I dined at Dévi not long after it opened, and it was on my short list for a return visit. On Saturday, my friend and I had the six-course tasting menu, which at $60 is a bargain. We made different choices for most courses where a selection was offered, so I got to taste most of the menu.
Calcutta Jhaal Muri (rice puffs, red onions, chickpeas, green chilies, mustard oil, lemon juice)
Salmon Crab Cake (tomato chutney mayonaise)
I had the salmon crab cake, which was just fine, but I would have liked a little more spice in the tomato chutney mayonaise.
Tandoori Quail (spicy fig chutney)
Grilled Scallops (roasted red pepper chutney, Manchurian cauliflower, spicy bitter-orange marmelade)
I think the quail was the better deal here, as it was the whole bird, and the piece I tasted was wonderful. The “scallops” were in fact a single scallop, and tasted just a tad under-cooked.
At around this time, the server dropped off a plate of the spinach & goat cheese bread, which was probably the best bread I’ve ever had in an Indian restaurant. We were glad to have eight slices of it to share; we noticed that a nearby table of four received the identical portion.
Mirchi Wali Machi (roasted pepper chutney, spiced radish rice, fish of the day)
Veal Liver & Brain Bruschetta (veal with quail egg and green chilies, liver with cinnamon, tomatoes and onions)
I’m pretty adventurous, but neither of us had the guts to try the liver & brain dish, so that left us both with the fish, which I believe was a black bass, enjoyably spiced.
Tandoori Prawns (eggplant pickle, crispy okra)
Once again, the restaurant had a little trouble distinguishing singular and plural. This was a prawn, not prawns. Eggplant is one of the few foods I never enjoy, but my friend thought this dish was just fine.
Tandoor-Grilled Lamb Chops (sweet & sour pear chutney, spiced potatoes)
You can probably guess what’s coming: one chop from a rack of lamb, not chops. I thought this was competently done, but I would have liked a more crisp exterior to the chop.
Emperor’s Morsel (Shahi Tukra) (crispy saffron bread pudding, cardamom cream, candied almonds)
Pistachio Kulfi (Indian ice cream, candied pistachio, citrus soup)
I get almost weak-kneed at the thought of bread pudding, and Dévi’s presentation didn’t disappoint.
The alcohol, just like the tasting menu, is very reasonably priced. Specialty cocktails I tried ($12) included the Cilantro Tonic (Hendrick’s gin, cilantro, tonic, lime) and Hard Limeade (Kaffir lime vodka, guanabana nectar, lime juice). Paired wines with the tasting menu would have been $40 apiece, but we decided to spend that amount on a bottle to share between us.
The bi-level space is striking. Like most of Dévi, it isn’t cut from the same generic cloth as most Indian restaurants. We were seated upstairs, where it almost feels like you’re at a small private dinner party. Service was solid and assured throughout.
Dévi (8 East 18th Street between Fifth Avenue & Broadway, Gramercy)