Note: This is a review of Tulsi under opening chef Hemant Mathur, who is no longer with the restaurant as of January 2015.
Dévi attracted a devoted following, including a favorable two-star review from Frank Bruni and, for a while, a Michelin star. I also gave it two stars. The restaurant is still in business, under the supervision of Mathur’s former partner, Suvir Saran. It has survived numerous ups & downs, including closing for a while when the original management gave up on it.
Most of the Indian food in New York is inexpensive and interchangeable. The challenge at such a place is to persuade diners that the price premium is worthwhile. It’s the reason why Dévi struggled at times, and why Tabla is the only restaurant Danny Meyer has ever closed.
At Tulsi, there are recognizable favorites, like Tandoori Lamb and Rogan Josh, but most of the menu consists of more unusual items, such as the appetizers we tried, Tandoori Tofu ($9) and Manchurian Cauliflower ($11) in a chilli garlic sauce. Goat Dum Biryani ($24) was probably the most conventional of our choices, offset by the wacky but wonderful Pistachio Chicken ($22). We found the flavors spicy, bracing, and (at least to us) highly original—at least for New York.
We ordered comparatively inexpensively, but most of the fish and meat entrées are over $25, and there are several over $30. I wouldn’t mind paying those prices for food of this quality, but long-term success will require building up a cadre of regulars who believe in the chef. Fortunately, Mathur brings a loyal following with him, from his previous stops, although the location (not convenient to any subway stop) somewhat discourages impulse visits.
The wine list is expensive too. I didn’t see many options below the mediocre $52 Domaine Chamonard that we ordered. The bill was $128 before tax and tip—certainly well worth it, in our estimation, but more than most diners are accustomed to pay for Indian food. Partly, you are paying for a lovely, romantic space (even nicer than Dévi), which must be one of the nicest ever built for Indian cuisine in New York.
Tulsi (211 E. 46th Street between Second & Third Avenues, East Midtown)