The trend in Indian cuisine in NYC has shifted towards the elevated or the reinvented, which explains the success of restaurants like Junoon or Babu Ji. But if you’re looking for a reliable traditional meal, then a dinner at Moti Mahal Delux on the UES should do the job. Why Moti Mahal vs. the countless options on Curry Hill? It helps that Moti Mahal comes with some solid credentials. The original Moti Mahal in India is famous for creating several signature Indian dishes like Tandoori chicken and butter chicken that are seen on menus throughout the country. You can’t go wrong with a restaurant that invented some of the greatest hits in Indian cuisine.
The atmosphere at Moti Mahal Delux is slightly more upscale than the one at the scrappier Curry Hill establishments, but much less formal and sceney than a Tamarind in Tribeca. It’s on 63rd and 1st Ave, after all, a quiet corner not necessarily known for its curb appeal and nightlife. On a recent Friday night, the crowd was a mix of Indian families and Westerners having a low key night.
Just because Moti Mahal has a traditional past doesn’t mean its dishes won’t surprise you. Golgappa is a common street snack in Northern India, consisting of a fried, hollow dough filled with flavored water, potatoes, chickpeas and other spices, and Moti Mahal playfully reinvents it as a shot. You could either down the pickled water first and chase it with the puffed pastry shell, or you could pour the water into the shells and eat them together. Ultimately I prefer a vodka shot to one of these, but it was a great way to prep the palate for the food to come.
Vegetables always taste better fried, which explains the appeal of palak patta chaat, another street food consisting of batter-coated spinach leaves deep fried and served with a yogurt and tamarind chutney sauce. If you prefer something grilled, an appetizer of grilled lamb chops will be up your alley.
I have to admit that my preference for Indian foods and flavors tends toward the conventional, which was why I was so excited by the arrival of the familiar spread of meat in a rich sauce and flavorful sides–the signature murgh makhani butter chicken, the garlic naan bread, the daal makhani black lentils, creamed spinach, palak paneer and the rice. I was expecting the sauce in the butter chicken to taste similar to the one in a tikka misala, but it was much more mild and muted. My favorite part of the meal was eating the lentils, specifically pairing it with the garlic naan bread and a dab of everything else. Vegetarians on an Indian diet would be very lucky.
With all the savory spices and rich sauces, we were looking forward to ending the meal with some chai tea and light desserts. The “light” part didn’t happen, as two courses of small and sinful desserts followed. The gulab jamun or cardamom-syrup soaked donuts were very sweet, so eating just a small piece of one was enough. The rice pudding in condensed milk was more refreshing, but there was no mistaking the sugar and full fat in it that made it appealing. I’m glad that a night out of dancing and bar hopping was not in order. A meal at Moti Mahal Delux is very satisfying, but clearly it’s not conductive to having to be light on your feet or carrying on conversation all throughout the night. But if the next stop is binge watching Netflix, then it’s the perfect fit.
Moti Mahal Delux
1149 1st Avenue (between 62nd and 63rd St)
New York, NY 10065