Monday, February 07, 2005

Babu arrives in Manhattan

Originally uploaded by lools.

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. We went to meet our friend Joy for dinner at Kati Roll company only to find that the owners (Payal & Anil) had recently opened a new restaurant in the basement called Babu. Payal, who owns Kati Roll, is a good friend of Joy's and is a pucca lass from Calcutta who is a very successful businesswoman in Manhattan. Her husband Anil is a fabulous creative who I know from my days at O&M in Bombay. They are a wonderful Indian couple who seem to really have the knack for the restaurant business. They kindly invited us to dinner at their newest establishment. We were asked to be critical of the food and service as they were still in the testing and refining stage of the restaurant.

Babu is the newest Indian restaurant in Manhattan that is a shrine to the cuisine of Bengal. Both Payal and Anil grew up in Cal and their love for the culture and its cuisine is evident in every aspect of Babu.

You enter through a big wooden door as though making your way into a rich businessman's home in Northern Calcutta. The main dining room is decorated sparsely and the big mirrors that are hung like paintings feel like they've been transported from his bedrooom. The restroom is so exquisite, I could easily spend an hour in there! You almost feel like royalty using the king's bathroom given the exquisite silk saree screen paintings, the old-fashioned sink and the wooden toilet seat.

The menu card, designed by Anil, is simple yet supremely elegant. The cuisine of Calcutta has been influenced by so many different cultures that I'm sure it must have been hard to decide what to serve guests. They've boiled it down to selections from Bengali, Chinese and Muslim dishes one typically finds in Calcutta.

The food is served in copper thalis. Every dish comes with luchi puris, a tangy tomato chutney with corn and a raw chopped onion relish. My aloo dum and chola dal were just divine. I topped it off with rasomalai whose tenderness was so unbelievable that I could have easily had ten!

It's really nice to see Indian restaurants speacializing in regional Indian cuisine. I think this trend will continue in 2005 and Manhattanites are finallly going to experience Indian cuisine in all its variety and richness. How wonderful it would be to have a Konkani, Chettinad or pure Iyengar restaurant open in Manhattan soon!

99 MacDougal Street
Between Bleecker and Minetta


Blogger rums said...

do you know that even though bengalis can't live without their 'maach' (fish) and 'kosha mangsho' (lamb cooked in oil and spices), bengali cuisine boasts of some of the best vegetarian dishes. my grandmom told me that because bengali widows had so many dietary restrictions, (for instance not only were they restricted from consuming non-veg but also masur dal, the logic was that since all this food is rich in protein consuming them might give rise to unwanted sexual urges!!!) that in order to make their food palatable and interesting these enterprising widows came up with some of the yummiest vegetarian recipes. if you want i can send you a book by the late minakshie 'kewpie' dasgupta on bengali cuisine where you can get some great bengali recipes. incidentally her older daughter rakhi purnima runs a bengali restaurant named 'kewpie' in cal that is very popular. rakhi had gifted me a copy of her mom's book a few years back.

4:14 AM  
Blogger Lulu said...

i know you would comment on this post. i would love to have a copy of the cookbook but not if it's your only copy. or maybe we can exchange. i need to mail you the breadwinners book anyway!
btw, loved your comment on bengali wives and their dietary restrictions - hilarious!

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Jay@cal said...

visited babu last weekend and got floored. The design and setting knocked me out. The food (I sampled kosha mangsho and chicken chap) was just top of the class. Kudos to the chef (or shall we call him "thakur"?)It brought back fond childhood memories of treats I had in "biyebaries" (marriages of aunts and uncles)in Calcutta during 80s. I wish the lighting inside is a little brighter as that would have brought out painstakingly done interiors better. Overall a short flight back home. I can see I am returing there to have Daab Chingri.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Lulu said...

thanks for sharing your experience at babu on my blog. did you read the review before you went?
i'll let payal (the owner know) that she has some loyal customers out there!

6:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do they serve any river fish?

4:22 PM  
Blogger Deepa said...

did this restaurant shutdown or something?
because i went to 99 mcdougal and there was a bar but no babu...


3:59 PM  

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