The restaurant industry is tough. Even if you’re a famous, respected chef like Floyd Cardoz pushing the envelope on Indian food at a restaurant like Paowalla in Soho, it’s still not enough to make it. And it’s an even tougher sell when your concept is fancy Indian. Indian food hasn’t entered the mainstream dining consciousness in New York City like it has in London or elsewhere, so I’d imagine people would need to embrace regular naan bread first before going more upscale.
Cardoz seems to recognize this, which is why he has rebranded Paowalla as The Bombay Bread Bar, revising the concept as a more casual and accessible Indian restaurant focused on his acclaimed breads. Whereas Paowalla had a more subdued atmosphere, The Bombay Bread Bar is going for loud fun. There are strands of colorful Indian garland dangling from the ceiling and Pop Art hanging on the walls, along with a whimsical soundtrack playing in the background from what seemed like Wes Anderson movies.
At a recent Friends and Family event, we were able to try two refreshing cocktails, the mezcal based Durga Complex, which was subtly smokey, and the refreshing and very accessible Elephant Lime Mule. They paired great with the rosemary naan, which pivoted from the crispy flatbread rendition that was made at Paowalla to a more traditionally soft, blistered and chewy version. This change is probably the right call. The menu also offered a stuffed naan called kulcha, which reminded me of an Indian version of calzone, although the carbs were building up at this point and I would have preferred just one order of an unstuffed naan. And definitely pair it with some chutneys. Get the tomato kalonji if you’re into something savory, mango for something jammy and mint-cilantro for cool heat.
The bread is an essential starter to the meal, and then you should add 2-3 small plates and then one large plate if you’re a party of two. Our waitress made some recommendations for the small plates and her picks were pretty spot on. The dal burrata, in which a creamy ball of burrata cheese sits in a savory bed of lentils, made quite the impression, and the fried beef samosas were pretty perfect. They were a bit on the heavy side, which is why the light and leafy baby fenugreek and pea tendril salad was a good, and tasty, counterpoint.
The only dish that I would have skipped was the nana esme’s fish curry. The thick and mole-like curry sauce itself was fine, but I would have preferred a flakier white fish, as opposed to a monkfish, which was tough and hard to ply apart with a spoon. I also hope they find a way to make the unpolished red rice a little more polished, maybe burnish it with a little garlic or butter for more flavor.
We were too full to try more than one dessert and so we made do with the ice-cream like kulfi in mango and strawberry. It was an appropriate amount of sweet and a good way to end a rich and heavily seasoned meal. Our total bill including tax and tip would have been $100 a person, which prices The Bombay Bread Bar as more of a high end dining destination rather than as a fun and low-key place in the neighborhood. The pedigree and the novelty behind this restaurant will bring the crowds, and the food will hold their interest, so let’s hope The Bombay Bread Bar will be more than a pricey flavor of the month.
The Bombay Bread Bar
195 Spring St (between Sullivan and Thompson St)
New York, NY 10012