Restaurant Review: Darbar Grill

By Nadia Ghattas
Nadia Ghattas
Nadia Ghattas
August 7, 2009 Updated: August 9, 2009

Chef Simon prepares delectable dosas to order at Darbar. Dosas are ubiquitous in Indian cuisine and can be prepared with a variety of side dishes. (Courtesy of Darbar Grill)
Chef Simon prepares delectable dosas to order at Darbar. Dosas are ubiquitous in Indian cuisine and can be prepared with a variety of side dishes. (Courtesy of Darbar Grill)
Darbar Grill is situated in one of the nicest and most convenient locations in Midtown Manhattan. The building is a two-story townhouse handsomely decorated with dark woods and plush carpeting. The setting is suitable for a business lunch or casual dining. There is ample space between tables and dim lighting provides privacy and intimacy for guests. The menu is a creation of chef Simon Gomes, who is known for creating a tasty menu, a rarity in Indian restaurants.

The menu is simple to read with a huge selection of eclectic and unique dishes. It also features exotic Indian spices and the subcontinent’s diverse regional cooking techniques, like the Mughlai style of the North and the use of the tandoor or the clay oven used in the North and West India. Most fascinating is the chef’s ability to bring some of the popular street foods of India to this sophisticated and lush restaurant in an elegant and refined presentation.

Chef Simon comes from a family of cooks. He worked with his father for two years. Apparently, his dad was a good teacher. He recalls how his father would tell him that he had to be calm in the kitchen and how his father emphasized presentation and, as he waved a spoon at me, Gomes also told me, his father would tell him, “It is all about the spoon.” When he began cooking in the United States, one of his biggest challenges was that he at first cooked in a typical Indian style that did not appeal to the locals. He then realized that he had to make adjustments to please his local patrons.

Vegetarians and non vegetarians can enjoy a seven-course, pre-fixed menu for only $35, or guests can select from the full menu of soups, salads, appetizers, chicken, fish, goat, lamb, beef, and vegetable entrees as well as tandoori entrees and breads. During lunch one can watch Gomes at the Dosa station in the dining room prepare the mouthwatering dosa. Darbar’s cocktail menu was very interesting, with cocktails such as Slum Dog Millionaire ($10), Sugar Madness made with fresh sugar cane juice and fresh mint leaves and a selection of foreign beers and wines by the glass ($5 to $8). From the nonalcoholic beverage menu one can have mango lassi ($5) or Tropical Delight ($6).

For starters we had Bhel ($6), consisting of puffed rice, chilies, onions, tomatoes, chickpeas with mint, and tamarind sauce. This is a very common street food of India. I thought it was fabulously deceptive. It looked condensed and heavy but, on the contrary, it was very light, crispy, and fluffy. Chef Simon told me that he added a bit of honey to this to please Western palates. The blend of spices was just perfect. Mix it with the zesty and sour tamarind sauce and you get a wonderful combination. The Okra Crunch ($10) was a first for me. The okra was almost shredded, crispy, and sautéed with mild spices. Chatt masala was made with cumin, chili pepper, and dried mango. I could not get enough of this; it was very crunchy, light, and flavorful. Chili Mushroom ($10) sautéed with ginger, garlic, and soy sauce was an interesting. Although the mushrooms were sautéed, they seemed to have kept their natural texture. All ingredients were of good quality.

Chicken Tikka Masala (Courtesy of Darbar Grill)
Chicken Tikka Masala (Courtesy of Darbar Grill)

From the main menu we had the Chicken Tikka Masala ($16). Tandoor cooked chicken simmered in tomato and onion sauce. The chicken was very tender and the sauce was not very spicy, although you have a choice of mild or hot. It takes a lot to get the perfect mix of the herbs and spices to get Indian masala.

The Palak Paneer ($12) is one of my favorites, and here at Darbar it is done superbly. It is made with homemade cottage cheese and spinach puree. One can taste the freshness of the spinach. The Lamb Bhuna ($18) is made with specially prepared herbs and spices with a touch of ginger and garlic. It was spicy without overpowering the lamb.

A wonderful complement to these dishes was Peshawari Naan ($6) stuffed with nuts and dried fruit. The bread is from the Peshawar region in India known for its nuts. I highly recommend this bread with the spicy dishes, and it is worth the extra calories.

After such a meal, you can cool your palate with ras malai, an Indian dessert made from paneer and thickened sweetened milk ($4), or kulfi, another milk-based dessert though this one is frozen and comes in various flavors ($4).

Darbar Grill
157 East 55th Street between Lexington & 3rd Ave
New York City
(212) 751-4600
Web site: darbargrill.com  

Nadia Ghattas
Nadia Ghattas