Bukhara Grill New York Indian Restaurant
217 E 49th St
New York, NY 10017-1501
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.