Hello again, Plotheads, and welcome to another installment of “A Family Blog” – a Web page dedicated to the reviewing of restaurants and bars in and around the New York Area by yours truly – members of A Family Plot.
In an effort to cover as many bases as we can here for you food blog-starved Plotheads, our third review will take place on the continent of Asia. Well, not literally of course, but nonetheless, we will be sampling the tastes, and taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of Northern and Southern India – albeit from the much more convenient location of the East Village in New York City.
Banjara, located on First Avenue, is named after the Banjara people, and features both classic and contemporary Indian dishes “that use spices in a more subtle way than often found in Indian cooking,” according to the restaurant.
Banjara offers an array of starters, and an assortment of chicken, lamb, seafood and vegetable main courses – as well as ample Indian breads, and a full bar. The atmosphere is intimate, with authentic Indian décor setting the tone – including ethnic music in the background. The staff is inviting and friendly, but not at all smothering. Prices range from $9.95 for vegetarian dishes, to a pricier $20.95 for shrimp, lamb and prawn creations.
Joe: I can’t wait for my main course, the Khurus ke tukre, to arrive. Did you know that “Ke Tukre” means “what do you think” in Spanish? So when I eat it you guys can ask me what I think!
John: What do you think of the what do you think?
Waiter (still taking our order): Do you want any special rice?
Joe: No. We are very simple reviewers. We don’t want to review your rice.
You know, I’ll never forget back in the day on this Indian restaurant strip, places would be fighting for your business. They’d give you a $5 ticket and you’d eat like a king. I didn’t understand how they made any money.
Mike: When I went on one of my first dates with Sam (Mike’s wife) the first Indian restaurant I went to was right down the block.
Joe: I like those tacky places where they have the Christmas lights up.
Mike: I don’t mind the Christmas lights, I just don’t like the thin railroad style, where everybody is basically sitting on each other’s laps.
Wayne: To Joe’s point about restaurants fighting for your business: I always have said how good can an establishment really be if they have to resort to soliciting customers? If they are that good at what they do then they should get by on the quality of the food, service, and decor alone.
Mike: There’s definitely something to be said about that.
Joe (Looking around the room): I have to say, I think the décor in here is a little tacky.
(There are hundreds of oddly shaped pieces of mirror glass glued to the walls. Of the more noteworthy decorations, there are the Indian dolls/puppets that we later learned were called “Ra t/d avishna” )
Mike: The look of this place is just very dated. It’s kind of kitschy. But it’s nicer than some of the Indian places I’ve been in.
Joe: Mirrors glued to the walls (and ceilings) is very ‘80s.
John: Wayne has left the table to go wander about. He went to the other section of the restaurant.
Mike: (Out of nowhere) I was just thinking, I don’t know of any place that offers Indian breakfast!
John: That’s a very interesting point.
Wayne: What do Indians eat for breakfast?
John: (to Wayne) Look at this gavone. He’s got sauce all over his fingers! Look at this madman! Look at him.
Joe: I have a feeling they just eat the same stuff they do the rest of the day.
Mike: What do they do, just wake up and have some curry?
John: There’s other kinds of stuff – like dosas (Indian-style pancakes) – stuff like that.
Mike: I’ve never had an egg in an Indian restaurant.
Joe: I know what Indians eat for breakfast: Curry-os. A nice bowl of Curry-os.
Wayne: Joe, you are a silly, unfunny man.
Joe: I sat here for five minutes thinking of that joke.
John: Did you?
Joe: Actually, about 30 seconds.
Wayne: I’d love to ask the staff this stuff, but I certainly don’t want to seem like I’m making light of their culture.
(Incidentally, further research revealed that Indian breakfasts vary greatly depending on where you are in India. However, scrambled eggs – referred to as Akoori – are indeed part of many an Indian’s morning meal!)
John: I like this place. It’s very roomy.
Wayne: I think the ceilings are a little low.
Mike: Well, you’re eight feet tall!
(For the record, Wayne’s height was most recently recorded at 74.5 inches.)
Appetizers are served.
Poori Bhaji: fried chic peas in spices served with poori bread
Wayne: (Trying Mike’s Onion Bhaji) It’s tasty, but it’s not very crisp. I had initially hoped for more of a crunch.
Joe: (Eating his Aloor Chop) It kind of almost tastes like a very soft plantain.
John: (Trying Joe’s dish) I actually really like that. It’s delicious.
Mike: Mine is good, but it’s not as good as yours, Joe.
John: Gents, please, try some Poori Bhaji as well. … Bhaji. … I wonder what that means. Hmmm. I’m guessing it means fried?
(Bhaji is a general Indian term for a simple vegetable stir fry with Indian spices. Good guess, Johnny! )
Joe: In the past when I’ve had the Onion Bhaji, it’s been way crisper.
Wayne: That’s what I said.
John: What are you kiddin’ me? Look at all that crisp!
Mike: It is good. Not the best one I’ve had. I think pound for pound, Joe, your appetizer is the better of the two.
John: No lemon with mine. I’m very disappointed.
Joe: John’s Poori Bhaji is awesome. I love it. That gets my biggest thumbs up of the appetizers. It reminds me of an Indian version of chili. It has that nice moistness – but chic peas instead of beans.
Wayne: While I didn’t get an appetizer, I’ve had the Banjara Baingun here before (sliced eggplant with coconut and seafood stuffing with chili sauce) and it totally rocked the house. Such an interesting combination of foods and flavors. But on another note, why aren’t these waiters coming over and filling up our water glasses?
John: Who gives a flying f*ck about water?
Wayne: Just throwing this out there, but I wonder if because we are here at an off hour – between them serving lunch and dinner – maybe things aren’t moving as fast in the kitchen, and in essence the quality of the food is suffering a bit?
John: It’s possible. We’re not here at prime time. But I don’t think that should really have an impact on the food.
Mike is served his Mulligatawny soup in a giant purple bowl – nicely complementing the color of the soup. Was this a conscious decision by the Banjara staff? Hmmmm.
Mike: This is very, very good. But it’s lava hot! I also like my Mulligatawny heavy on the lemon. Now this has a good lemon taste, but I do like it when it comes with a wedge to squeeze in there.
John: (Tries the soup) That’s really delicious. They knocked it out the park with that one.
Mike: See, it’s worth dealing with the heat.
Joe: What is this made out of?
Mike: I think chic peas and lentils, predominantly.
Wayne: (Also tries the soup) Fantastic. This is the hit in my opinion.
Wayne: Can I dip my papadum in your Mulligatawny? (Papadum, resembling a cracker or flatbread, was served as an accompaniment to our meal.)
Mike: Yes, you can dig your Papa John’s in my Mulligatawny.
Joe: That might be gay. Can I dip my Papa John’s in your rigatoni?
Joe: (Sipping his Kingfisher beer) Kind of tastes like Budweiser.
Mike: It is. It’s like Indian Budweiser.
Wayne: (Tries the Kingfisher) To me it tastes better than Budweiser. It’s hoppier – and it’s got a really nice bite.
John: Tastes more like a Stella (Artois) to me.
Wayne: You think so? Well, you’re a bartender, you should know.
Joe: Every country has its own Budweiser.
Wayne: I just want to let all the people out there know that this blog was recorded on a high-quality Maxell normal bias tape. But I really hope you can hear Joe. He’s kinda mumbling over there. And look at him. He’s sittin’ way back like a grandpa outstretched on Thanksgiving!
Joe: I gotta be me.
Mike: Wayne, ask the server what Indians eat for Thanksgiving.
Wayne: After we get served. I don’t want anything undesirable ending up in our plates!
John: Well, I’m ready for our entrees.
THE MAIN COURSE
Johns order: Murg Tikka Maslam a.k.a. Chicken Tikka Masala: chunks of chicken marinated in spices and yogurt, baked in a tandoor oven, and served in a masala sauce; buttered naan bread.
Mikes order: Pasanda Lamb: lamb marinated in a yogurt-based curry sauce; Kingfisher beer.
Waynes order: Bay Goon Ka Goon: roasted, peeled eggplant, pureed with onion and tomatoes, herbs and spices.
Joe's order: Khurus ke tukre (main course): skewered strips of boneless chicken marinated in herbs ands spices and grilled in a clay oven; Kingfisher beer.
EVEN MORE BANTER
Joe: (Inspecting the unnaturally red color of his Khurus ke tukre) Is this color the natural color of the food?
Mike: No. It’s food coloring to give it a more exotic look.
Joe: Well, the eye does help you take in the food a little bit. But it’s a little disappointing that they have to go through that.
John: Wayne, how is your dish?
Wayne: My Bay Goon Ka Goon is … OK. It’s very light. It almost seems like it would be the sauce over another dish. Perhaps I should have gotten something a little more solid – some kind of meat perhaps. But the taste of the entrée is actually pretty good. I’m just not gonna walk out of here feeling full. Geez, I need more rice. I gotta fill up on something! I did it again and took one for the team and got a vegetarian dish – and I’m not even vegetarian!
Mike: Most vegetarian dishes in Indian restaurants are like that – more like purees and mashes.
Joe: John, what do you think about your dish?
John: Excellent. The Murg Tikka Maslam is their signature dish here. The flavor is very sweet and savory, there’s a lot of creaminess to it, and it goes especially well with the butter naan. I could sit here all day if you just gave me a pot of just the sauce. I’d bathe in the shit!
Mike: My lamb is very good. Very tender. Really enjoying the curry sauce it’s in. Lots of flavor. Very mild on spice, but not under seasoned.
Joe: I'm enjoying the hell outta my chicken. Not overly spicy or seasoned. I would say just right. My only issue is that toward the center the chicken gets a little dry.
Wayne: John, your Murg Tikka Maslam, the sauce that it’s in, to me it almost tastes like an Indian vodka sauce.
The Plotmen all nod in approval and verbally concur. Ironically, at that very moment, John drops his spoon, and it lands directly on his shirt, leaving a very noticeable stain of the aforementioned “Indian vodka sauce!”
John: I don’t know what’s wrong with me today!
(John tries Mike’s lamb) Wow, the lamb is delicious. It’s a little fatty, though.
While we elected to pass on dessert, we were given complimentary mango ice cream. Banjara also offers Rasmalai, Kheer, Kulfi, and Sorbet as part of its dessert menu.
Joe: This is a nice light, refreshing touch.
Wayne: It is. But can mango ice cream not be delicious? Really, have you ever had any that wasn’t?
John: This is just a little bit better than average, I think.
Wayne: It does has a sharp mango kick, and the soft creaminess contrasts with that beautifully.
Mike: It’s a little too creamy for me right now. It’s just not going well with my meal.
John: I love creamy.
Joe: I thought this was a great meal. I would come back again. Great times.
John: You know, this might be my favorite restaurant in the area.
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