Sunday, December 13, 2009

19 High ridge road
Stamford, CT 06905
(203) 977-0400

ChilliChicken is a new restaurant that has opened up in Stamford, CT, at the site of the old Tawa restaurant, only a 20 minute drive through the backroads from Chappaqua. Chilli Chicken serves Indo-Chinese food, and as its name implies, originates from the food served in chinese restaurants in India. Set up by waves of Chinese immigrants of Hakka origin who started migrating to Kolkata from Southeastern China as early as the late eighteenth century, the menus in these restaurants were modified by the tastes of Indian customers (and likey British colonial customers before them). Kolkata still has a substantial population of Chinese immigrants, many of whom were persecuted during the Indo-Chinese war of 1962—I am still haunted by the owner of a Chinese restaurant on Central Park Ave in White Plains who upon learning that I was Indian, emotionally confronted me in the early nineties, about why they were thrown out of Kolkata in the early sixties during the India-China war. Visibly successful in the USA, he gave me the look of faraway bitterness as he recalled those days, noting that they had had no reason to move, till the war started.

The leitmotif for the Chinese restaurant in India, is a garnish bowl full of green chilli pieces soaked in vinegar and a little spoon for scooping out the vinegar to add a bit of zing. And if this isn’t enough, then there would be a green, evenly smooth paste called “chilli sauce that was actually made using papaya and pumpkins. These two condiments are de rigueur for a Chinese restaurant in India, and I was reassured to find the chilli-vinegar at our table in Chilli Chicken.

The food at ChilliChicken is more on the “Indo” side of Indo-Chinese, as is typical of this genre in the US. What I found to be its most welcoming, evolutionary aspect, was the absence of oiliness--the bane of the typical Indian restaurant--and the departure from the “no spice unturned”, mode of cooking that many Americans have unfortunately come to expect from Indian food. We stuck to Indo-Chinese classics-- chicken sweet corn soup that was light and airy; sweet and sour chicken—refreshingly easy on the tongue, unlike equivalents that I have eaten in New Jersey that were fit more for a fire-eater’s convention; slightly soggy Hakka chowmein--really an Indo-Chinese concoction that originated from the Hakka origins of South-Eastern Chinese immigrants. Thrown into this mix were appetizers that gave away the Bengali origins of the chef, “Jhal Muri” a spiced up, flirtatious mixture of puffed rice, with the grains of the rice held together with moist sauces and condiments—in your mouth the dry on the inside moist on the outside grains of puffed rice crumble up with the the spices playing a blitzing game with your tastebuds, not too strong, but like little evanescent explosions of a thousand colors. Washed these down with some “Thums Up”, an Indian cola drink that rose to prominence in the late seventies when Coca Cola was banished from India as part of a wave of nationalizing regulations. Rushing in to fill the void, we had new products such as Thums Up and the less successful Campa Cola, belittled in those days as fallbacks that did not come close to Coke, yet serving the nostalgias of the diaspora today, sitting in small Connecticut shopping centers like us.

As I have mentioned earlier in my posts, Indian food has become popular enough that one expects something beyond the usual for increasingly sophisticated foodies. Sometimes these morph into expensive and pretentious combinations of cuisine that can be forced, or they can be the introduction of a time-tested hybrid, cooked sensibly, and for sensible palates (for really hot food, receive the food into the back-side of the mouth and avoid extensive contact with the tip of your tongue where the density of “heat” sensing tastebuds is highest). Along with Westchester Groceries, Chili Chicken is one of those restaurants that are making the Weschester area increasingly cosmopolitan in its Indian food—give it a try and you will not regret it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A trip to Tokyo in November

There is a cocoon like sense of safety travelling in a large jetliner ten thousands of feet above the earth as the flight path traverses rugged mountains, permanent ice formations and bleak landscapes. Mid-flight, I survey a Siberian landscape, looking for signs of life and motion on a desolate, ice filled expanse of crinkled white merging into the distance, into the glare of the sun. It is a clear day, shards of sunlight filter in through the occasional half exposed windows, the outside temperatures register -50F. Inside, the aircraft exhudes a lived-in feel, seatback bins overstuffed with magazines and empty plastic cups, passengers swathed in red blankets, din of a fussing child reaching through the music on my headphones.

Landing in Japan is evocative of the mood in Lost in Translation, a cliché of a comment, but nonetheless true. There is a stillness inspite of the encircling flurry of activity—as if one is part of a video in mute mode. My feet slide over the grooved escalator floor with a scraping sound, beats from a tabla waft over the loudspeakers near the immigration area. I have done this route often: draw money at the ATM machines that accept foreign cards, pick up a bottle of water from the convenience store at the airport—holding out an open palm filled with Japanese change (from earlier trips) from which the face-mask clad store attendant picks out the amount; take the Narita express downstairs to Tokyo station, grab a cab with a white gloved driver for the last leg of the trip to my hotel, drive past the gnarly trees with windswept shapes on the grounds of the imperial palace, watching the yellow arrow snake through a network of streets on the cabbie’s GPS.

A lasting consequence of the 1964 Olympics has been that the Tokyo metro is sign posted in English. The signposting is pithy, but adequate—a small English word or two inset within the jumble of instructions in Japanese. As I make my way, from the Narita Express platform deep within the bowels of the station to the surface exits, massive crowds of passengers swish by in collective motion, heading out of an arriving train, bifurcating in different directions, then deftly bypassing another school of passengers headed in the opposite direction.

A highlight of my trips to Japan are the noodle shops. Formal Japanese meals in upscale restaurants are—of course-- delicate, elaborate, and exotic. Nowhere else, have I been offered the brilliant variety of meats as I have here: chicken sashimi, raw horse meat, dishes requiring extreme care that only specialized restaurants can provide. These are lengthy, multi-course meals perfect for a long enjoyable evening out with others. But when alone, for a quick cheap meal, there is nothing—anywhere—that beats the taste and camaraderie of eating with other fellow travelers in a hurry as in a noodle shop. As in many other places in Tokyo, noodle shops are cramped spaces with a small kitchen behind a food counter. Outside the store, on the pavement, there are coin slot machines with pictures of noodle dishes available. After accepting payment, the machine dispenses a receipt that you then present to the cook. Standing encircled by large cauldrons of hot steaming water, he conjures up your bowl in a couple of minutes. There is an efficient arrangement of bar like seating, a water dispenser within reach, and a moist cloth to dab one’s hands on. There is little disposable material—no paper napkins, no sauce packets, or straw covers. Most patrons forgo the wooden soup spoons and prefer to sip directly from the bowl instead, in-between mouthfuls of chopstick fed noodles. There is peace and contentment within, and the sounds of deep slurps with-out. This—is moksha—for me. I try to pack in as many noodle shop trips as I can, sometimes heading out at 6:30 am for a noodle breakfast.

Japan is a country with a wonderful sense of engineering, and it reminds me much of Switzerland in the attention to detail, and the “put togetherness” of components. There is an engineering orderliness where not a bolt or tubing is superfluous, readily apparent in a drive through the city, or a rail trip into a train station. It is clear there is a method for everything, an adhered to code for every public placement of an engineering or electrical structure, a dignity and pride in one’s work. For me, this is as much part of the beauty of Japan, a no-nonsense beauty of efficiency, as is Mount Fuji—whose majestic prominence we can see clearly from my hotel in Akasaka on a clear day. There are no cheap looking galvanized metal siding scattered about, utilities and pylons are indexed with numbers, no doubt tracked and kept in perfect working order, stainless steel screws, washers, bolts in a perfect harmony of placement. Yet within this sense of orderliness and pre-determined neatness, are signs of occasional entropy, like the van driver who stood by his van on a busy street on an early morning, relieving himself, as I headed out for a jog; or the trio of homeless men under the bridge in sharp contrast to the suited salarymen on their way to work on an early morning.

Tokyo itself has a magnificence of scale. Enormous buildings line the streets, behemoths seated next to one another like giant football linemen by the sidelines of an unfolding game. The city comforts you with the familiar trappings of modern life, yet keeps you at bay with the unfamiliar and exotic. Blue collar mechanics at a roadside project wear Capri length flared baggy samurai workpants but with western workboots and leather toolbelts hanging from their waist. I recognize all of the power tools in their hands and belts, indeed I may own some of them, but the flared samurai workpants are new to me.

You cannot fully appreciate the beauty of Japan unless you are an engineer at heart. From the exquisite joinery and sparse elegance of Japanese cabinetry, its incredible metallurgical blademaking techniques, the precision and cold stainless heft of its industrial machinery, to the delicate precision with which its food is presented, the entire country unfolds itself as an exercise in efficient, rational design that is at the core of the country’s basic philosophy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Indian Ocean at the BB King Blues Club

Indian Ocean performance Oct 09 2009
BB King Blues Club
237 W 42nd St
New York, NY 10036-7201
(212) 997-4144

I have always enjoyed the band, Indian Ocean, ever since I picked up one of their CDs in Palika Bazaar in New Delhi, where I had gone to try to find some music by Junoon. So when our close friends A&U told us that Indian Ocean was going to be playing at the BB King Blues Club in Times Square, New York City, we could not resist

BB King Blues club has a cosy stage and a superb acoustic ambience. The place was filling up, mainly with youngish Indian couples in their twenties occupied behind square New York glasses, kisses and cutesy hand waves. The place is dark, womb-like, with two circles of tables beholding a lit stage at center, and an open place for dancing inbetween. I see John Turturro at a table, fiddling with his Blackberry, ostensibly here to enjoy Indian Ocean. I order a beer on tap--it is flat. We order some chicken wings and calamari, they are rubbery and insipid. I call such dishes twice killed chicken—once by the butcher, and once by the cook. We did not come here for the food, and it looked like the establishment wants to keep it that way.

Indian Ocean is a treat to listen to, one of the most original and long lived Indian bands, with a guitarist who punches out an original, mellifluous, spectrum of Indian sounds from his electric guitar. Playing a guitar that has a peripheral frame instead of a solid or hollow body, the sound is almost entirely feedback free (since there is no resonator that can start vibrating sympathetically with the sound system). The band comes on fire with the heart-rending songs of the North-East Indian country-side. They play a beautiful new number, Bondhu, set to music by Indian Ocean and originally sung in the Assamese by the visceral Anusheh from the Bangladeshi band, Bangla. This glissile song undulated as if across a muddy river, reflecting the vivid green countryside around, ebbing and wavering with its musical oars setting it to motion. Deftly working the crowd with asides, the bassist steers the crowd into the Bihari classic Hillela—an ode to the hip swaying beauties of Chapra district, played to devastating effect on the assembled crowd now dancing on the floor. They play their usual classics, Kandisa, Ma Rewa, Bandeh--their most westernized song to date-- substantially re-Easternized in the live version—almost sounding as if the guitarist in the recording were a different person. This is a multi-cultural crowd, through the corner of my eyes I see the East European waitresses ringing up checks on the cash register, jiving to the music their faces nodding in appreciation, lit up by the cold blue light of the LCD screens.

For me, the treat was in learning about the band Bangla, at this show. A few days later I pick up one of their CDs in Jackson Heights and the next day, pop it into the player in my car on a short trip north up the winding Taconic State Parkway in the morning. Fall colors are starting to burst through the hillsides. Anusheh Anadil comes through with her guttural Baul inspired numbers, her voice elevating the music above the occasional self-indulgencies of the guitarist and keyboardist. I compare this with Indian Ocean’s music. Bangla retains its rawness, Indian Ocean has succumbed slightly to the pitfalls of electronics—admirably their guitarist remains distortion-free but the vocals have creeping hints of electronic massage. I am a great fan of Indian Ocean, but perhaps, just perhaps, it is time to repackage these rural classics a bit less. You can marinate it all you want, but do not cook the tuna all the way through.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Kabab King and Alauddin Sweet Meats

Kabab King Diner
7301 37th Rd.
Jackson Heights NY 11372
Phone: 718-457-5857

Alauddin Sweet Meat USA
3714 73rd Street
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
(718) 424-6900

Rajbhog Sweets and Snacks
72-27 37th Avenue Jackson Heights,NY,

I visited Jackson Heights, Queens, after 16 years. And I went back there in a few weeks, and then again in a couple of days. The two blocks around are a little slice of Bengal: the sights, the sounds, the voices, the feel of the place. West Bengal and East Bengal are—like East and West Germany, or North and South Korea—the same people: differing in accents, but shaped by the same literature, music, and food.

Kabab King is at the crossing of 37th. and 73rd, next to a desi movie theater, and it excels at muslim cuisine from the sub-continent. It never closes, it is two storeys high--the lower level with a take-out section where the clientele varies from taxi drivers to visiting suburbanites. Upstairs is the sit-in area and when you walk in there you are greeted by the hustle and bustle of a subcontinental restaurant: the clanging of metal pots and pans, honks and engine noises from the streets, sntaches of Bengali, extended families—mothers, aunts,sisters,uncles, kids sitting at long tables, or two teenaged cousins munching out on a sunny afternoon. The available dishes are different than what you will find at a standard Indian restaurant and you ought to avail yourself of this opportunity. So here goes a meal—distributed across three establishments—all within minutes of each other by foot.

If you are a Bengali like myself, you have parked your car and are strolling down catching bits and pieces of conversation in colloquial Bengali dialects that bring you back to your youth and your visits to the houses of aunts and uncles. Shops selling familiar goods pass by, but the trip from Westchester has ratcheted your appetite and you head straight for Kabab King. If you are not from the sub-continent, you are taken a bit aback, amazed at this little eigenstate of Bengal tucked away a few miles from La Guardia; where your suburban Indian restaurants with names evoking the Raj, Taj and royalty seem worlds away, sanitized mockeries of the real thing.

So start off with the goat biryani at Kabab King, and order along with it some haleem, lamb seekh kebabs, and some goat chops. Go for the stuff that you don’t usually get. Biryanis are ubiquitous, but the one with goat is unusual in a standard Indian restaurant. It is a meat that you ought to try if you haven’t already, it has far less fat than lamb and lacks the slightly odorous aftertaste that lamb can sometimes impart. Haleem I have never seen at the standard suburban or urban Indian eatery—it is a dish popular from Bangladesh to Iran, and is a paste of lentils, minced beef, and wheat cooked for hours. A dish with high protein content, have it with a naan, or mix it in a bit with the biryani. Goat chops are rib chops, cooked with the dark charred meat mixed in with the spices that give it a special bite. What is different about muslim food from the sub-continent is the slightly different tone of the spices (similar to the packaged mixes sold under the “Shaan” brand name at Indian grocery stores), and the singular sense of all encompassing tenderness of the meat that comes from marinating with pulverized papaya. Papaya contains the enzyme papain, that will catalyze reactions which cleave the protein chains in the meat, tenderizing it.

Engorge on the meat at Kabab King, but forgo the dessert menu and instead skip down the stairs and talk a walk down the street to Alauddin Sweets for Bengali dessert. Alauddin Sweets is a Bengali sweet and tea-house. Walk in on an evening and you will find, aside from the take-out customers and sweet-meat purchasers, groups of young men relaxed after a days work, sitting around tables with cups of tea and snacks, engaged in what is called in Bengali—an adda—a “chat session”. Alauddin Sweets offers non-descript samosas—I was not impressed the one time that I ate them, decent Indian roadside stall tea, and an assortment of Indian sweetmeats. The one item—the one that should bring you to this place, are the “kachagollas” made with khejurer gur. Peer into the glass display cases filled with sweets. Look for the one where each sweet is individually wrapped in a tissue paper. This is the kachagolla, called thus since it is soft and malleable. Made using unrefined sugar from the sap of date-palm trees in winter, it is a delicacy in Bengal. Unwrap the tissue paper as if it were a little jewel and behold the light brown soft texture of the confection, imparted by the date palm sugar. Consume a few of these, wash it down with a cup of tea, pack a bunch to go (will keep their texture in the fridge for a few days), and then—if your sweet tooth is not satiated, saunter over to Rajbhog Sweets to sample the king of Indian ice-creams—the kulfi, denser than ice-cream, milk based, with ground nuts and hints of saffron. Rajbhog sweets are among the largest producers of kulfi in the tri-state area and you can find their pre-packaged products across many stores in the city. They have been pre-made in large scale, they are certainly not the best kulfis that I have tasted, but they are pretty good and will do the job.

Once you are done with the food, walk into one of the many DVD/CD stores selling Bengali movies and music. In addition to the large number of Bollywood inspired Bengali emotion flicks, you will find entire collections of the movies of the well known director, Satyajit Ray. Along with these, if you are looking for a great, relatively unknown (to the west) film-maker, you will find DVDs of the angst filled movies of Ritwik Ghatak, one of the most original, stylistic Indian directors of all time. "For him Hollywood may not have existed", commented Ray once, indeed Ghatak was an uncommon film-maker who interest in film lay only in its ability to get him an audience to convey his message. Displaced from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) and settling in West Bengal, he never got over the trauma of the partition that accompanied Indian independence, and his films on the racks of a movie store in 21st century America frequented by Bengalis from both Bangladesh and India are a small tribute to this great man.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

trip to India and Bangladesh July 2009

It is late in the night, Mumbai is emerging from a flooding storm, and I am on the road to Pune, 130 kms away. I have just landed from a flight from New York and it has been tiring. After an hour, we have cleared the clutter of Mumbai and climbed onto the Mumbai-Pune expressway—six fast lanes that thread through the western ghats in a combination of well banked roads and cavernous tunnels. The roads are full of trucks at this late hour. There was a time when trucks, or “lorries”, were puny compared to their behemoth western counterparts. Brightly painted signs over their bodywork reading “OK Tata”, “Honk Please”, “Use Dipper at Night” made up for in spunk what they lacked in size. Alongside these vehicles lurching under their tarpaulin covered cargo , I see newer, torquier trucks, huge side view mirrors hanging from one piece brushed aluminum drops, large flatbeds with names like Maersk on plain grey siding in the staid, efficient style of the pragmatic west. Cars on Indian roads underwent their transformation several years ago and the old Hindustan Ambassador is rarely seen on highways, replaced by sleeker, safer cars better equipped to handle the . This transitional moment appears imminent for trucks today—little things like rear brake lights, almost absent in the trucks we trailed on a trip to Agra in 2005, are today omnipresent.

Lonavala passes by, I see the ubiquitous McDonalds arch by a rest stop. In the distance, the land and hillsides are dotted with the yellow glow of sodium vapor lamps scattered through a dusty haze, giving the Indian scenery its characteristic nighttime tint—these lamps largely absent in the west in such extensive proportion—neither a cold blue, not the warmth of the red, but an obfuscating peela color smearing the dimensionality of the space between the road and the hillsides. We arrive in Pune in the early hours of the morning to empty streets, limping street dogs slinking out of the shadows like liquid droplets, by rumble jumble construction and then onwards to the government guesthouse I was staying in. I try to wake the night clerk, prostrate across the counter—he shrugs, makes a half hearted attempt at rising, loses his resolve, turns around and goes back to sleep. It takes me ten minutes to be able to sign out the keys to my room.

I am here to present an invited talk at the 60th. Jubilee celibrations of the National Chemical Labs, an ironical event for someone who nearly failed his chemistry exams before leaving the country 24 years ago. Inbetween meeting sessions, I take a walk down Pashan Road to the school where I spent my elementary and middle school years, down whizzing traffic and chrysanthemums and gulmohars, with the bittersweet memory of a place you realize was your own at one time, where you can see flat topped hills whose rocks you climbed beyond the unrecognizable road; where you are turned back by the guard at your own school as an unknown, yet you recognize the light beige uniforms of the children with the embroidered emblem that hasn’t changed in 35 years. In the evening I take a car to visit my old neighborhood. The gates to the compound are, surprisingly, the same ones I swung on thirty five years ago. I go by our old flat and I speak to the gentleman who lives there. The metal railings, the houses and the verandahs remain—perhaps slightly rundown, but there is a sense of reinforcing permanence—these are the easels of life upon which so many sketches have been drawn: a set of people who briefly converged onto this campus before dispersing again, only to be replaced by the next cast of characters. I take my leave from the old campus and head on to meet an old friend and her family. We talk, we drink, we go for dinner, and they drop me off late at night by the guest house, on a sweet smelling Indian summer night, a bit tipsy as I walked under the neon lights in a light breeze with the gulmohar trees around me.

The drive back to Mumbai early in the morning allows me to take in the landscape of the ghats. There is a drizzling rain, the cloud and fog has not lifted over the hills and mostly what I see is verdant landscape and wet, shiny igneous rocks. Vehicles remain lanebound, there are no two wheelers or pedestrians and the journey proceeds without the characteristic drama of Indian streets. I fall into a conversation with the driver. He makes two trips a day, every day: Pune-Mumbai-Pune. Polite, quiet, and helpful these guys are giving in a way that they don’t have to be. This is something that I have repeatedly experienced in Indian trips, where service personnel will go out of their way to help you. On the flight into Mumbai I had long conversation with the Air India flight purser—a lifelong Mumbaiker with the light eyes of a Maharashtrian. He was doing the job, he said, for six years and had joined out of a desire to see the world. After getting married recently, travel made things tough on the family side. He did a flight, followed by a break of 4 days. At the same time, the flying habituated him—the rest period left him itching for the next flight out. I asked him about jetlag. After so many years, he said, it was not a problem any more—the body went to sleep on demand.

Mobile phone costs—at about a rupee a minute-- are around the lowest in the world, triggering a mass adaptation. Almost everyone I meet has a cellphone. Important looking people have two cell phones. Cellphones are always handled with an air of casualness. They ring with custom soundbites--the busy man will glance at it, and just as you thought he was going to let it ring, he would bring it to his ears in a slow, arc, lower his voice to a “hello”. Others will throw their heads back and allow themselves a slighter wider, "haelo". Professional conversations are rarely elaborate, if it is a driver the next sentence will usually be something like “Ha Bandra mein”: that would be the end of the conversation.

From Mumbai I head to Dhaka and overnight at Kolkata. I have dinner at the hotel bar, and over a pint of Kingfisher get talking with the bartender. He is well spoken, educated at a hotel management institute, and ambitious. Jobs in the service sector have multiplied. In 1980 there was one hotel management institute in Kolkata, today there are many. I ask him about the drinking preferences of patrons. About 60% prefer hard liquor, 30% will have beer, and 10% are wine drinkers. Among hard liquors, whiskey is the most popular and among whiskies, Black Label sells the most. Single malts are available though not as popular, not due to a lack of buying power, but rather awareness. I ask him about the big names of my time—Peter Scot, Diplomat—Indian whiskies from the 80s. Not at his bar, he says. What about rums and the legendary Old Monk, the Indian army rum? Losing ground to Bacardi. Among beers, bottled products are more popular than draught, and Kingfisher is by far the most popular. Draught beers are unpasteurized, therefore need careful handling and have limited shelf life—as a result of this, their availability and popularity has been limited. Wine drinkers are a small number, though there is a concerted effort at raising wine awareness through tasting sessions and classes. Here you see the machinations of corporate in influencing acquired tastes. Get these guys to start becoming snobbish about wine correlate it to culture, and there is a whole new business opportunity. Gone are the days of Golconda Red and Golconda White—vinegary tonics of the past, labeled as wines in a fit of optimism. Indian wines, such as Sula are much better, though uneven in quality. My bartender wishes to start his own restaurant some day and for this he is now gaining experience. He hopes to travel abroad for a few years, make some money, then return to open his business. He is curious about my life and how I ended up abroad after growing up in Kolkata. In me, he sees an outward bound trajectory that he would like to emulate, in him I see a countenance mixed with youth and the characterizing sense of self confidence vested into his generation. In the years past, these same young men would be unemployed, or underemployed sitting around at street corners, drinking tea, eyeing women, social misfits waiting in line for the few jobs that came through.

The next day I am in Dhaka, Bangladesh. An excruciatingly slow immigration line. “Computer slow hoiya gesey aazkey” (computers have slowed down today), says an official, in a passive acceptance of . I miss my first meeting due to delays--Dhaka today is like the Kolkata of 15 years ago. Random traffic patterns, immobilizing traffic jams, worn vehicles whose bodies bear the mark of a thousand body shop assaults, Dhaka serves for me as a reference marker for highlighting Kolkata’s progress. There are the little things indicative of India’s progressive prosperity. Government immigration forms, handed out on the aircraft before landing, are no longer on cut rate, blotty paper, No longer do I see decrepit public transport buses with passengers hanging out of the doorways. Commercial vehicles that are more than 15 years old will soon be banned from the streets. Traffic patterns are routed with a system of one-way traffic rules and lights. Slowly, but surely, this unruly mob of motorists have begun to stay within their lanes. I am struck by the warmth of the people in Dhaka. Food is an obsession, fish is their passion—and among the fish the Hilsa rules supreme. Somewhat similar to shad, hilsa leads the bulk of its life in the ocean, then migrating upstream the river from the delta to spawn—as far as a thousand kilometers. The fat content defines the taste, fish that have migrated further upstream have a higher fat content and highly sought, particularly the ones caught on the Padma river. I have fish like there was no tomorrow in Dhaka. Grilled, curried, fish head mixed in with lentils, fish balls, small fried anchovy like fish, fried steaks of hilsa.

After a whirlwind 8 days, I am back in New York. A leafy, sunny morning at the Pleasantville farmers market, it is a world apart, as Audis and Volvos drive up into the parking lot to shop with farmers driving down early in the morning from the agricultural hinterlands of New York City. As the metropolises in the developing world shift to the conveniences of mass manufactured broiler chickens and vegetables ready to throw into the refrigerator, there is a quiet movement, albeit expensive at this point, in the country that started this all, to reverse this trend.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Bukhara Grill New York Indian Restaurant

217 E 49th St
New York, NY 10017-1501
(877) 285-4272

Net: Go here for Indian grilled/tandoor food—this is close to what you will get at the best kebab places in India.

A surefire way to get a conversation going, when I meet Indians residing in Manhattan, is to tell them that I have never been happy with the authenticity or quality of Indian food at any restaurant in Manhattan. This is not an entirely true statement. But I leave it out there since it generally draws an animated response, and recommendations to offbeat places. Perhaps the restaurant with Latin fusion food with Indian thematic elements, where everyone is dressed in Manhattan black. Or the establishment that offers handpicked, organic beef cooked “Brahmin style”. Or this real authentic place where you can sit elbow-to-elbow with Bengali taxidrivers. Fads are pursued in Manhattan with the zeal of kindergartners chasing a soccer ball—Indian food is no exception. But there are some really great places to be found, and for that I left it to my close friends A and U, to pick one and then take us out to celebrate a promotionary dinner. This is what led us to Bukhara, on a recent Sunday evening.

The better known Bukhara is in Delhi, at the Maurya Sheraton hotel and is probably India’s best known restaurant for tandoori food. I was there 3 years ago for dinner, and the food was certainly good, my visiting Austrian friend leaning over informing me in the process of engorgement, that he did not care whether he was going to pass out, as he and his food became one.

At Bukhara in New York, the menu comes on varnished slabs of wood. The décor is a touch country woodsy: thick, uneven, heavily polyurethaned slabs of wood form tabletops, little polished wooden slabs cross-cut from logs hang on the walls as decorative motifs, alongside rich Persian carpets.

We had hariyali chicken and crab for appetizers. The chicken, marinated in a spicy green chili based sauce, then grilled, was soft, perhaps slightly softer than I would have preferred. Raan—a North Indian (as well as Afghan) favorite—grilled lamb on the bone was as good as I have had, yet the highpoint were the the grilled lamb chops, with tender meat slightly charred and crisp on the outside. A curry’s beauty lies in the uniqueness of its spicing, and it should be built around a fundamental taste component, a case in point is the Kashmiri Yakhni where the overpowering use of Saunff (cumin) feels right. It is all too often that Indian restaurants pervert their curries into ugly orgies of oil, food coloring and a medley of spices. This was the case for Bukhara, yet this comes as no surprise or offense, after so many years of suffering this abuse. Avoid these run-of-the-mill curries: and go for the grilled and tandoor meat dishes, they are first rate. The chef here know what he (she) is doing with his tandoor, a clay oven with a cylindrical cavity that has evolved over the years in Northern India and Central Asia. The walls of the clay cavity absorb the heat from the hot coals at the pit of this oven and heat food by a combination of conduction and radiation.

Bukhara makes its own Kulfi, traditional Indian ice-cream with pistachio and almonds, denser and harder than western ice-creams. Do not miss this. Stay away from the house wine--I had a glass of Merlot, and while I am far far away from being a wine snob, it would probably have been best to have stuck to beer.
Bukhara Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Shiraz Restaurant
81 E Main St
Elmsford, NY 10523
(914) 345-6111

Great lamb shank, spotty service.

Shiraz is the first Persian restaurant that I have seen in Westchester, located at the site of the old “Oki-Doki”, a Korean restaurant that closed down some years back. The first time we went to Shiraz, on a Saturday night with the economy less than healthy, the manager informed us that he had run out of food. Food must be good, we concluded, and made a second attempt a few weeks later. This time I had the gumption to call in for a reservation.

Persian food has strong similarities to North Indian food. There has been much migration into India from Iran over the centuries, indeed the language, Urdu, which means “army” in Persian, arose as a bastard dialect that formed the compromise between the Persian generals and and their Hindi speaking soldiers. And so with the food as well. Meat preparations such as kebabs, rice dishes that go by polow in Persian, pilau in Dari, and pulao in most of India; cucumber-yogurt side dishes, khira raita to the Indian, the more dramatic mast-o-khiar to the Iranian; Zulbiya (Jalebi in India)--a deep fried (in sugar or honey) batter of interpenetrating rings fused together, with caramelized sugar on the outside and partially fermented sugar on the inside, was popularized in India by the Mughal emperor Jehangir in the 17th. century. Persian food makes more extensive use of dried nuts and fruits, such as zereshk or dried barberries. It tends to be less spicier than North Indian food, and I prefer this level of spiciness since it matches closer to levels of home cooked Indian food.

The manager at Shiraz, a pleasant looking sort of chap, looks like he skipped a couple of courses in basic restaurant management courtesy. After taking our name, he pointed out a table with the peremptory wave of an Indian bureaucrat, and promptly forgot about us. After a healthy wait, we flagged a waiter down for menus, some time later we flagged another one down for some water, it was, as if, the establishment ran an a la carte’ service for basic services. Once we ordered, it took a significant amount of time for the food to arrive, though in this case the delay was a welcome one, reflecting the time it took to genuinely prepare a dish from the ground up rather than composite one from pre-prepared items in the bin.

The dish to order at Shiraz is the lamb shank: with tender meat falling off the bone, set in a mild, flavorful souplike gravy that tasted like really good homemade Indian meat curry. This was probably one of the best lamb dishes that I have eaten in Westchester. A second meat dish we ordered, a concoction of pomegranate and beef -- I would avoid in future, the combination falls flat. The rice was good, individual grains evenly cooked, without stickiness, “equal but separate”. We ended the evening with dessert—zulbiyas and Persian ice-cream, the zulbiyas shriveled and stale from that morning or the night before, but the Persian ice-cream, popularized in Iran only after the first World War, with its saffron and rose water infused flavors on that cool, calm Elmsford evening reminding me of Ralli Singh’s Rose Syrup, Rooh Afzah, and times long gone.

Revisit (note added Aug 20, 2011)
A few days back we returned to Shiraz and can attest to the fact that the place has retained the high quality of its dishes.  The lamb shank (they use New Zealand lamb) remains the best that I have had in Westchester.  The gravy, less spiced compared to Indian food, has a deeper, subtler flavor.  The beef kebabs, particularly the ones made from ground meet were superb.  And I cannot shower any more praise for the ice cream--with its saffron and rose flavor, this is one of the finest and most exotic of ice creams that you will have had. 
Shiraz on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A brief trip to Seoul

A brief trip to Seoul (April 2009):There is a familiarity in the air common to all Asian cities. Something in the quality of the light, the dilute haze of the atmosphere, the pressing density of population mixing in with gasoline exhausts, that conspire to make your skin and nose feel different. Scientifically, I cannot explain it. Yet this is how I feel as I step into the morning pedestrian traffic in downtown Seoul around the COEX district. There is a slight nip in the foggy air, as in a North Indian city winter, and around me is a swirl of pedestrian traffic and the drumming clip clop of high heels. Handicapped by footwear, but pressed for time, a ritualistic urban tribal dance unfolds. Clutching assorted bags to reel in the center of gravity, tight skirts restricting the stride, narrow contact patch heels striking a rapid staccato: the result is a pleasing liquid collection of individually awkward motions. The COEX area is all metal and glass buildings that form office complexes, stores, and shopping malls. I cross a busy 14 lane road, wide as the Brahmaputra, and it takes me a full 6 minutes. In a city where little English is spoken, most storefronts bear English names, a mix of Anglo-Saxon identifiers and down to earth translations from Korean—Johnson Pork and Stew, Heart Scan and Mind Scan, Hi Call Taxi, Kind Call Taxi, Seven Luck Casino, and right next to it, the imposing “Oakwood Conference Center”.

Multitudes of high rises extend across greater Seoul. From the street level in downtown they soar upwards like some giant exercise in crystal growth. Further out in the suburban areas, they have taken over the hillsides—concrete monstrosities, giant numbers painted on their sides, hued in muddy yellows and grays: each window, balcony and AC vent a replicative unit stitching together an entire floor, each floor duplicating the one below creating a perfect building, each building cloning the next, creating a perfect colony. Devoid of an imperfection or aperiodicity, the mind is drawn to the drabness of their architecture, a sense of desolation, a loss of identity.

The evening before I had flown into Incheon airport on a 14 hour flight. The aircraft drops you into the lap of a hollow silence of muted sounds that is the airport, following the tribe of passengers through a sequence of passageways like a character out of a grainy handheld camera shot movie, escalators, advertisements whisking by, through immigration counters, quarantine checkpoints, pulling out local currency at the ATMs, buying tickets at the bus stand, all of this on autopilot compounded by the daze from the lights and language of a foreign country. The airport itself is on an island and the large, modern highway that leads into the city passes through paddy fields, golf courses, and bleak wetlands where the sea has retreated for now. The traffic is fast on a Sunday. We pass a cemetery on the left carved into a hillside, presided over by a large advertising billboard. Up in the evening sky an aircraft hangs frozen in the air by the vectors of our relative trajectories. The Han river, criss-crossed by a multitude of bridges, cuts through Seoul dividing it into a southern (Gangnam) and a northern part. The city is a mix of rich urban spaces and regional flavors from the earlier Korea. On a previous visit I had gone to the NamDaeMoon Market at 4:30 in the morning. In contrast to the upscale area where I am today, this was a massive wholesale market open all night, where small town retailers drive in from the hinterlands and pick up their selling stock. The place is full of little stores-- open air and covered--selling products for everyday use. Clothes are piled in a heap, fine goods are kept under glass lidded cases, the only difference from a 1970s style establishment is the presence of personal computers. The thinly woven textiles, the plain nylon socks in bundles, and their crinkly plastic wrappings remind me of products I was familiar with in India.

The night that I arrive, I take a long walk through the streets now relatively quiet, where the only places open are the restaurants and small family run convenience stores. I pick up an electrolyte drink at one of these—Polcari Sweat, brilliantly named and branded. If I am sweating in a gym I would like to grab something with the name Sweat, for the vindicative feeling of earning the rights to its consumption. The walk loosens the effects of the flight. I cross an Outback Steak House and come to a small two storey building—Pho Saigon on the ground floor, and-advertized through smoky blue windows and shimmering neon signs—Tokyo Jazz for “music/bar”. Suspecting that the latter is a hostess bar, I settle for Vietnamese noodles and a beer at Pho Saigon. Chinese, Vietnamese, and south-east Asians form the largest immigrant group to Korea, in most cases—and as is often the case worldwide—carrying out menial tasks that Koreans are uninterested in doing. Increased migration to the urban areas have opened up, “international marriages” between South Korean farmers and South East Asian women are expected to generate as many as upto 50% of rural mixed ancestry children by 2020 (

Seoul is not a particularly pretty city. The beauty of the river and the surrounding hills have been long sacrificed to construction. But there is no denying that this is a country that has remarkably transformed itself through technology, from being followers to leaders, starting initially from the steel and shipping industry then moving relentlessly through semiconductors and automobiles. Standing in Seoul, enveloped right inside the guts of this pulsating national engine, you have a deep sense of this vibrancy. Their progress was driven no clearer to me a year and a half ago as I visited the demilitarized zone and looked through binoculars into the distance at the desolate North Korean city of Gashong, a big statue of Kim Jong Il, some farmland, a few apparently empty skyscrapers built to impress viewers like us—shimmering through the telescopic image in the distance. It is the story of two brothers in a hindi movie—one growing up rich and the other in poverty. I wonder if this will meet the happy ending it deserves, or will we continue to see rockets streaking across the skies in this incredible hubris of chest thumping between the haves and the have nots.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A trip to Pittsburgh

I am headed toward downtown Pittsburgh in a cab, getting a crash course on traffic patterns. I learn that it took the cabbie 30 minutes to get to the airport early in the morning. I learn about the roads you ought not to take when rush hour threatens, the number of rides you can expect in a 16 hour day, and received options for three routes to the Convention Center from my hotel. I hear that Pittsburgh holds the second largest St. Patrick Day’s parade in the US (after New York, but “actually a lot better”). And then, in-between this navigational discourse: “you’re here for the American Physical Society Meeting, right? What are you folks anyways—physical therapists? Some of the guys wus wonderin’.” Pittsurgh is not quite in the mid-west but it feels like i. I ease into the familiarity that I had with Minnesota. Large beefy men and women, more American cars on the roads, Steelers and Pirates apparel on the streets. It is early in the morning and the taxi drops me off by the Hilton, a soviet style highrise beautifully located and overlooking the three rivers stadium. I walk through downtown in the early morning rush of office goers. It is a maze of construction, undergoing what is called a “downtown revival”. Not quite completed, it is a mix of toney establishments and down to earth deli joints sharing frontage with rundown buildings. The American Physical Society meeting is being held at the Convention Center and everywhere around me, supplementing the stereotypical urban American headed to work with Starbucks in hand, are gaggles of physicists with convention badges hanging from their necks.

I turn into Sixth Street and then head along Duquesne, hugging the waterfront. The great buildings of the industrial belt jut out from the waterside, the river sides embanked in sections, like so many of the rivers are in the urban areas of India. This was the great steel city—at one time producing almost half of the nation’s steel. Described once as "hell with the lid off" in 1868 (James Parton), Pittsburgh remains near the bottom of the list among cities for atmospheric particulate pollution. Said Anthony Trollope, a 19th-century visitor, "….. I was never more in love with smoke and dirt than when I stood there and watched the darkness of night close in upon the floating soot which hovered over the house tops of the city." Lesser known is Pittsburgh’s contribution to metallurgical science and technology--from the Bessemer process of steelmaking, to the book by Barrett and Massalski that no doubt influenced countless engineers in rolling mills and steel plants from Indonesia to Kazakhstan.

Near my hotel is a spot--the Three Rivers Park-- where the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers meet. Surrounded by bridges and enveloped by downtown traffic, it is nevertheless an oasis of tranquility, as though cocooned by the cancellations within the gallery of encircling sounds. Embankments on the water border the park, park benches scatter along the walkway. A couple sits with a book, teenaged skateboarders behind them. Two funiculars move up and down a nearby hillside giving a rhythm to the lapping waters around. Facing the confluence, on the right rises the great Three Rivers Stadium, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, one side opening up to the rivers. At night I stand and watch this same park from my hotel room window high above, lights turned off, drapes drawn. I view the funiculars still pushing up and down like piston heads, overseeing a festival of criss-crossing automotive lights across the bridges. It is a calm stillnesss, and a magical moment as nighttime Pittsburgh unfolds outside, soon punctuated by the need to prepare for an early flight the next morning.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Kati Roll Company

The Kati Roll Company
99 Macdougal Street
(between Bleecker St. and West 3rd St.)
New York, NY 10012

On one of our rare visits to Greenwich Village , we dropped in for an early dinner at the Kati Roll Company, one of the older roll places in New York City. Kati Rolls started in Kolkata, at a place called Nizam’s on the backstreets of the Esplanade area. Legend has it that a take-out customer in a hurry wanted to grab something quickly: so they made him a Kati Roll--a piece of roti or paratha or rumali roti that is rolled around a median strip of chunks of meat--garnished with onions, vinegar or lemon, spices and other vegetables. The cylindrical, rolled roti is then wrapped with paper that takes on a translucent look once the oil from the food seeps through. One eats holding the roll like an icecream cone, unraveling the greased paper while working downwards.

Kati Roll Company has a catchy name. The walls have large posters of Bollywood blockbusters from the seventies. It is a small place with a couple of tables for seating. We had rolls with chunks of beef, rolls that had minced mutton, and a vegetarian version of a roll with paneer. They were a disappointment, and I only hope that this wasn’t a normal day for the Kati Roll Company. The oily parathas were a fraction of a mm too thick and the rolls were supersized to American proportions. It is time Indian eateries moved away from the paradigm of oily food, it is a clichéd theme that has served its time. Oil can cover your mistakes, it can herald a false richness to food without trying. You can go through oily Indian food without feeling the flirtatious lemony chili tang of finely chopped garnish that Indian food can bring, and which unfortunately most Americans, fed by journeymen cooks who have learnt their trade through osmosis, have never had.

If you do visit the Kati Roll Company, take a few minutes to stroll down Macdougal. A few blocks away is Café Wha—the legendary nightspot that was Jimi Hendrix’ base for a while and where Bob Dylan played, among other famous names. You will notice it by the number of tourists milling around taking photographs. Your trip here will not go totally in vain.
Kati Roll Company on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 20, 2009

A short trip to London

Feb 02-04, 2009:

I have landed in London on the day of its worst snowstorm in 18 years. It is night and Heathrow airport is covered with a blanket of snow, looking numb with the weariness that cold and snow can bring. There are makeshift arrangements for passenger transit, officials operating doors as sluice gates to route foot traffic so that departing and arriving passengers do not mingle. The Heathrow Express train that I am supposed to take to Paddington is cancelled for the day, instead I mount the Heathrow Connect. We pass thru a white landscape, the quietness of my bogey punctuated by an American on his cellphone. The scattered reflectivity of the snow pushes your vision far into the landscape. Everything is in stasis: snowheaded vehicles frozen in parking lots, in the distance an occasional car taking a slow turn, its headlights illuminating a winter arc of white. The night train stops by small, empty stations, the snow a couple of inches thick, with the shoe imprints of passengers from earlier in the day. I cross Hayers and Harlington, Southall ( big poster for Akash Radio), Hanwell, West Ealing (“home of the positive internet company”). This is my first trip into London and it feels mildly unsettling. I am visiting a city that, through its history and literature, has given me a mythological familiarity--yet has remained sight unseen. America was more of a blank slate—its one generation deep familiarity never as ingrained as was England, where the linkage diffuses through generations and at various levels of Indian social stratification: the Dickens volumes in my grandmother’s house, the stories of sahibs and freedom fighters, the mofussil references to “Bilet” (corrupted from “Blighty”), the proclamatory nameplates “FRCS, Edinburgh” on the residential streets of Kolkata, the mimicry of television newsreaders, the club culture and the boxwallahs--colonialism and the British never too distant. This is a strange familiarity with a country and its unwalked city streets, known to many Indians of my generation and best articulated through the character of Arun in “A Suitable Boy”.

Checking into the Cumberland hotel in Mayfair I head to the bar late at night to grab a drink and dinner. At the bar I am flanked by an elegant Libyan and a British-Indian who informs me that once you are born, as he was, in East London, “you don’t give a shit about any other place”. It feels somewhat amusing to speak to an Indian with an exotic accent. I have the Cumberland club and I am served a sandwich whose edgings have been carefully sliced away. After several drinks, the Libyan and the Indian are looking for action--they plot their strategies for asking the barmaids out when the place closes for the night. I am tired and take my leave.

Next evening I take a long, magical walk. Strolling down the wide pavements of Oxford Street from the corner of Hyde Park, I grab a coffee and turn right onto Regent Street: the road gracefully swings into Picadilly Circus where I walk by Veeraswamy’s 1926 Indian restaurant. The half baked London of my creation dissipates -- through the open, Americanized walk-in-walk-out architectures of the ground floor shops, the globalized chain stores, the grand normalization of western cityscapes everywhere. I look for characters that could straighten out a crowbar with a sudden effort of strength, or wrestle their way out of a precipitous drop using a Japanese judo trick, but I find none.

It is bitter cold and as the night deepens there aren’t too many pedestrians. From Picadilly I cut across St. James Place, over pavements that are crusted over with ice, and then trudge onwards along the Mall to Victoria Memorial and Buckingham Palace. In this night there are still a few tourists around Buckingham. At these temperatures, the snow crunches underneath your boots as the the snow crystals--devoid of their moisture content--slide past one another unlubricated. On my right is the white wonderland of The Green Park as I move westward along Constitution Hill. The winters, I gather, were more severe a few hundred years ago when the Thames would freeze up and there were markets and “frost fairs” held across the frozen river. In 1599, at the time of Shakespeare’s rise to popularity, the Globe theatre was dismantled, transported across the frozen Thames in a “most forcible and riotous manner”, and re-erected on the opposite bank. About eighty years later, John Evelyn, a somewhat lesser known diarist than his approximate contemporary Samuel Pepys, writes about the frost fair of 1683 on the frozen Thames, "Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other stairs too and fro, as in the streets, sleds, sliding with skates, bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cooks, tippling and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water."

London appears unusually safe. At this time of night, a young woman walks by alone in the park. In the distance, on a park bench, I see a couple sitting quietly. I reach the Wellington Arch and spend a few minutes reading names on a memorial to the Commonwealth recipients of the Victoria Cross. There are Gurungs, there are Singhs, soldiers who lost their lives in the first and second world wars. There is a recent wreath left by the Indian High Commission. London is also breathtakingly cosmopolitan. At the McDonald’s where I stop by for a snack, the customer in front of me is burkha clad. The attendants across the counter are Russian and Chinese, and the manager is Indian. Most of the hotel attendants I see are from Eastern Europe. The cable TV at the hotel has channel choices in an assortment of languages, the breadth of which I have not seen in any other country. This remains the legacy of England’s history of global involvement--for not even New York can rival the sheer diversity of this city, where 45% of Britain’s non-white population resides. Of all of my routine human interactions with service personnel in the process of getting around, eating, and shopping in this city over a two day period, only two were with what I would call native Englishmen (or women)— the cabbies on my trip to and from the train station.

I make my way back to the airport via Paddington station the next morning, with the routine and orderliness restored with the passage of the storm. In the thirty five years that has passed between the time that I first saw glossy spread pictures of Buckingham Palace in a book in Guwahati, to the moment where I stood before the structure myself, there has remained one constant—its queen and the country’s devotion to royalty. As I leave, Iremember reading about Muhammed Ali’s(then Cassius Clay) first visit to England to fight the now knighted Henry Cooper. “You got a queen” he announced to the assembled reporters, “you need a king. I am king”.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Jaipore Royal India Cuisine

Jaipore Royal India Cuisine
280, Rt. 22, Brewster, NY 10509
Telephone: 845-277-3549
The name Jaipore Royal India Cuisine turns me off. I have visions of sahibs, fresh off the elephant, majestically astride dead tigers in sepia toned black and white prints, saying jaldi jaldi to the poof of the magnesium flare that lights up the photograph. It is a name that is a cliché for Indian restaurants. “Jaipore”, an anglophile version of the correct “Jaipur”, sits in a warm, converted mansion off of route 22 in Brewster. I have been going there for over a decade, generally to mark a special occasion and mostly for the lunch buffet. It is an extensive one, with a particularly good selection of chats, perfect for an afternoon meal. Yesterday, we were there for dinner. The menu is varied, with Indo-Chinese dishes such as chili lamb, South Indian dishes with endearing names such as Savitri Amma’s avial, and attempts at steering diners such as Martha Stewart’s favorite dosas. Most Americans familiar with Indian food are unfamiliar with Indo-Chinese. The genre started from the not unsubstantial presence of Chinese communities in the big Indian cities, particularly Kolkata, and the inevitable emergence of Chinese restaurants out of that nexus. It is popular in the ethnic enclaves of Jackson Heights and Queens and creeping into Westchester. Lasuni (garlic) Gobi (cauliflower) is one such dish at Jaipore. It has a Chinese sweet and sour and Indian spicy flavor to it. There is chili lamb, fit for a flame thrower, and cooked with equal opportunity representation for both chillies and lambs. Finely cut lamb with the meaty aroma of muslim restaurant food in Kolkata, this dish was one step removed from greatness, if only there had been some restraint with the chili.

I enjoy Jaipore more for its appetizers and chat than its main dishes, an assesment reinforced by each visit. Make a meal out of the appetizers. Try the crispy okra (Kurkure Bhindi)—my favorite—it has the perfect crunchiness, with a drizzle of chat masala. The masala dosas are decent, the South Indian food is not bad. The Seekh Kebabs were dry, the naans reproducibly safe as if belted out of a robotic assembly line. Jaipore has probably the finest ambiance among Indian restaurants in Westchester and in general, the one that I recommend. As you walk into this old, restored mansion half expecting the ghosts of women in long gowns and men in muttonchop sideburns, rejoice that this is an Indian restaurant in the middle of nowhere: but stay away from the vindaloos, the Rogan Josh’s and point your fingers on something else this time. And tell the chef to hold off on the chili—there is no machismo in that.

Note added May 2011:
Over the past year I have been to Jaipore a couple of times to attend a private party, catered in their room upstairs.  Unfortunately the food there does not match the quality of the dishes that I have eaten off the menus in the regular dining area.  It almosts seems as if the separately catered events are cooked to a different standard.  This is a pity.