4 Main Street
Irvington, NY 10533
With a few new restaurants sprouting in and around Westchester the past few years—Chillichicken in Stamford, the reincarnated Westchester Groceries in Thornwood, and now Chutney Masala—a two year old restaurant in Irvington, diners have a wonderful choice of evolving Indian food around the area. We visited Chutney Masala for the first time last night. Finding it was a bit of a struggle--Main St. heads towards the river and ends at the train station. You are then supposed to go around the overpass and head into the parking lot of the train station next to the river, in the middle of which is a brick building,housing Chutney Masala. It is a two storey restaurant that does not feel cramped. The interior walls are exposed brick, hung with black and white reprints of hunting photographs from colonial India, circa I would guess the early 20th. Century. Ask for a table on the second floor. On the winter night that we were there the shutters were drawn, but we are told that in summer the view across the Hudson can be gorgeous.
The menu at Chutney Masala has the usual suspects—chicken tikka masala and its ilk without which I am told, Indian restaurants will not survive given these dishes’ name recognition among American diners. But I would suggest ignoring such dishes, for this restaurant offers a lot more.
Chutney masala is owned by a couple with experience at two of India’s top hotels in New Delhi—The Maurya Sheration and the The Taj Palace, and their food is more novel and interesting, than standard Indian menus. We settled for Amritsari Fish and Bombay chat for appetizers. The fish finger based dish, it was tilapia that night, owes its name to the city of Amritsar, where battered fish is deep fried and sold as street food. The Bombay chat was well done, puffed rice with spices, and variety of additive, similar to the Jhal Muri at Chillichicken in intent. With two meat eating factories in tow--our teenaged sons--we settled for lamb Seekh Kebabs and Hyderabadi Biryani, a Dum dish, with goat meat. This is another “new” for Westchester—5 to 10 years ago, I would not see goat meat on the menu of Indian restaurants here. Dum cooking originates from the Mughal times of the 16th. Century, and involves food cooked with a small amount of water in a clay pot sealed off with a lid by a “gasket” of flour and water. The cooking ambient, an overpressure of steam, leaves the food moist and the meats tender. Our vegetarian friends and dining companions went for, among other things, daal and kurkure bhindi—finely cut, fried, crunchy okra. The daal was as would be made at home, simple and elegant, like a sweet purring engine with no rough edges, that does not need to rev up to make you feel good. Have it with simple white rice and perhaps a mouthful or two of the bhindi.
We sampled a couple of desserts. Gajar ka Halwa a “porridge” of grated carrots, milk, clarified butter, cardamom; and phirni, another “porridge” made with broken rice and milk. Indian desserts, as I have noted before, are an acquired taste, but if you have made this leap, then these desserts were wonderfully built, smooth and not sugary.
Chutney Masala has excelled is because of its restraint. Dishes are not overly spicy, and they are not oily. The menu is varied, there is adequate content for the adventurous, and the food is closer to the quality that you would get at restaurants in the larger Indian cities. Throw in a beautiful ambience, and you have the makings of a winning restaurant.
A subsequent visit late one night, returning from New Jersey, was not as impressive as the first. An Indian sounding salad looked hastily put together, the biryani was ho-hum. It was late at night and one hopes this was an anomaly, at a time when the kitchen was possibly winding down and the last of the customers were departing. Service remained excellent, and one of the most friendly that I have seen.