I wouldn’t call two a trend, and perhaps it’s only a coincidence that two upscale Indian restaurants have opened within the last two months: Hemant Mathur’s Tulsi; and from Salaam Bombay alumnus Vikas Khanna, Junoon, which means passion.
The space at Junoon is much larger than at Tulsi, with a comfortable bar and lounge area bigger than many whole restaurants. There is talent behind the cocktail menu, and a minor addiction to egg whites, featured in three of eight items. I especially liked the Agave Thyme (Reposado Tequila, muddled pomegranate, thyme, egg white, and white peppercorn).
The menu is on the expensive side for Indian cuisine, with entrées from $22–36 (most above $25). It is neither as clever nor as well executed as at Tulsi or Tamarind, but the elegant room and polished service offer sufficient compensation, if you want an unhurried experience where the ambiance is as important as the food itself.
The amuse bouche, as I recall, was a bite-size potato pancake. We shared the wonderful Hyderabadi Pathar Paneer ($12) appetizer, consisting of four small slices of house-made cheese in a turmeric (ginger), mint, and lime sauce.
Among the entrées, a braised lamb shank ($26) with onion, tomato, and yogurt, was the better choice. A Cornish Hen ($24), made in the tandoori oven, was over-cooked and dry. The kitchen sent out an extra entrée, a chicken curry, which was much better, but by this time it was more than we could eat, especially after we’d overdone it on the addictive Naan.
The 250-bottle wine list covers a wide range, priced from $38 to $1,800, with many in three figures but plenty below $50. For a 2006 Haut Bages Averous ($55), the sommelier rolled out a cart and put on a decanting show as if I’d ordered a 1962 Lafite Rothschild. He appeared to be doing it at every table. You may call it pretentious, but hardly anyone in town goes through the full ritual any more, and someone might as well do it. So why not here?
There were petits fours at the end—not memorable in themselves, but you don’t find them in Indian restaurants very often.
The restaurant was fairly quiet on a Sunday evening, traditionally a slow night. I have no idea how they’re doing on the other days, but they do have a large space to fill. I suspect the rent is stratospheric, and I don’t know how many of these places the market can support. The service and ambiance are memorable; the food a shade less so.
Junoon (27 W. 24th Street between Fifth & Sixth Avenues, Flatiron District)