India is an extremely diverse country home to many different religions and dialects, yet the food that is represented in the States is pretty one-dimensional. You usually have some sort of heavily curried meat accompanied by rice and naan bread. But with the openings of several Indian restaurants in NYC this year, that’s changing somewhat. Paowalla, the highly anticipated new restaurant from Top Chef Master Floyd Cardoz, goes beyond the standard tikka masala and tandoori. In fact, naan might be the only familiar item on the menu, and even that is more of a crisp and elegant flatbread than the doughy, buttery crust we’ve come to expect.
Cadoz has ties to Goa, a state on the western coast of India that was a former Portuguese colony, so there is a nod to the unique flavors of the region. One regional dish on offer is the Goan shrimp curry pie, a thick, pasty-like pastry with a shrimp paste filling. It’s pretty dry–the sensation of eating one is like biting into days-old cornbread–but it’s certainly something you can’t get anywhere else.
The origins of the rawa crusted skate are a bit more ambiguous, as it didn’t fall neatly into any regional category, but it was pretty clear that this was the best dish of the night. The delicate skate wing was perfectly coated in a lightly textured and mealy semolina crust that could be plied apart to be dipped into the accompanying ambotik curry sauce.
For those seeking more mainstream Indian dishes, you can’t go wrong with the chicken tikka. The chicken is tender and has a ton of flavor, and it’s only lightly marinated, a welcome departure from the heavily sauced and creamy tikka that seems to be the norm. I found that in general the food at Paowalla is prepared with a clean and elegant restraint. Refined Indian food is still unfamiliar territory for most people, but a meal at Cardoz’s restaurant is money well spent.
195 Spring St (between Sullivan and Thompson St)
New York, NY 10012