Last week Wednesday I left work at 6:45pm, pulled on my snow boots, and walked the three blocks to famed Indian restaurant Junoon. I am not sure how I had not heard of the establishment, only five minutes from my office, but better late than never! I walked through the massive front doors ready for an incredible culinary experience curated by Gilt City and MasterCard where a few members of the press and two dozen excited diners were able spend an evening with award-winning, Michelin Starred Indian Chef Vikas Khanna in a private dining room.
After stopping at the coat check in the lobby and switching my boots for heels I was escorted to the private dining room. Even though I was ten minutes early I was one of the last to arrive and as each guest arrived we were handed a glass of sparkling saffron bubbly. Promptly at seven Chef Vikas Khanna entered, greeted us all, and spoke for twenty minutes about his hometown, growing up in India, how he became a chef, and his thoughts on spices. I loved hearing a real down to earth chef who was honestly just so excited to be speaking to us about his life’s work.
He told us that in every Indian household there is a box with only five spices; cumin, turmeric, salt, chili powder and coriander that are used in all cooking and that one of the most famous exports – black pepper – is never seen. Chef Vikas told us about his love for New York City and how American Indian food differs from the food of his childhood but he loves it all the same. With this in mind he took pinches of a dozen spices located on a high table, blended them for us in a grinder, and bottled them up for each of us to take home.
After the demonstration we were then taken down to the lower level of Junoon in small groups and allowed to enter the sound-proof and temperature controlled spice room. This room had dozens of spices in glass jars of varying sizes and the chef told us about how he sources them from all around the world and how he stores them to use in the dishes served at Junoon. During our tour we spoke at length about turmeric, the yellow powder, and star anise, the spice I am holding in my hand.
As we were leaving the spice room and heading back up the stairs to the private dining room and our awaiting food Chef Vikas Khanna signed a copy of his latest cookbook, “Indian Harvest: Classic and Contemporary Vegetarian Dishes” for each of us to take home. Mine says, “Dear Kelly – With lots of love Vikas Khanna”.
After the Junoon spice room we enjoyed a three-course meal served family style with wine pairings selected by a sommelier. I had a ton of fun taking pictures of all of the plates and I will split the food photos into three sections; appetizers, entrees, and dessert.
To start we had beet papdi of roasted candystripe beet with beet chutney, dahi vada, and raita along with gilafi aloo with apple dill puree, purple potato crisp, and meyer lemon chili chutney which was closely followed by piri-piri shrimp in a goan chili sauce with butternut squash puree, and marinated salad, and murgh tikka mirza hasnu of tandoori chicken thigh, watercress, and icicle radish with turmeric lime raita. We also got a dish of eggplant chaat, which was not on the original menu, made of crispy eggplant, raita, tamarind chutney, and red onion. All the dishes are pictured below in order and from that list the shrimp were my favorite and I would definitely ordered them again!
The interlude between the appetizer and entree course was one the table found very interesting. A sobra, a traditional type of soup, was served but this was a kombucha squash shorba with roasted kobmucha squash and gunpowder. Yes, gunpowder and no, you could not taste it.
The entree round consisted of five dishes served with rice, daal, bread, and raita. Unfortunately by this time we were hungry and the dishes looked so tasty I was not able to get photos of all of the plates but we dined on mushroom curry with hen of the woods, king trumpet, poplar, fennel seed, cinnamon, yogurt along with hara paneer kofta of mustard greens, paneer dumpling, meyer lemon relish, green chili and meen manga curry with wild striped bass, roasted tomato, curry leaf, and tamarind.
Soon we did not have room on the table but the amazing dishes just kept coming! The first three entrees were joined by arhrot murgh kofta of chicken breast dumpling, walnut cream sauce, mace, and prune and the shahi lamb shank with black cumin yogurt curry, garam masala, and potato salli. From the main courses at Junoon the delicious lamb shank was my favorite and the striped bass was a close second, I was very happy that neither were too spicy!
In between the courses one of Junoon’s mixologists entertained the room with an elaborate demonstration on how to create two of the restaurant’s signature cocktails, Adraki Punch (a desi take on Moscow Mule) and Tandoori Tequila, a cocktail he actually lit on fire!
For dessert with had falooda with pistachio kulfi, rose vermicelli, vanilla pink peppercorn foam, and guaba rubri and saffron phirini made of mango cream, sesame crisp, candied almond, and pomello. I had not had either dessert before and I loved the pistachio ice cream like substance in the first!
It was a four hour evening with so much delicious food and having never had Indian food before I was excited to try over 20 dishes and really get a sense of what real the cuisine food really is! (And I am pretty sure I am now very spoiled)
Thank you Gilt City for inviting me to this magical evening!