Utsav: The Heat of India in Mid-Air

BY Channaly Oum TIMEJuly 25, 2014 PRINT

Utsav is not easy to find, but its unusual location is worth seeking out. Suspended on a skyway between two buildings in Midtown, above a plaza, its dining room is flooded with natural light.

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Daytime light floods the spacious, airy dining room. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

Soft, billowing golden drapes on the ceilings add to the airy feeling, while plants and comfortable seating provide earthly anchors. Elbowroom is plentiful.

The menu features specialties from across India, with dishes made with spices ground daily. The buffet at lunchtime is popular but it takes more time than a rushed lunch to appreciate the other specialties. 

These dishes I tasted possessed layers of flavors, one giving way to another. To my mind, they were much like reticent acquaintances that grow into boisterous friends, revealed to be anything but shy. The heat, especially, tends to be only subtle at first, and then grows fuller and deeper after a few seconds, slowly reaching to the back of the throat. 

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Bhel Puri, crispy rice puffs tossed with potatoes, onions, and chutneys. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

Owner Nandita Khanna is adamant about keeping flavors authentic, and refuses to turn a normally spicy dish into a mild one. 

The heat is not overwhelming, but adds a counterbalance to dishes that are normally tamed, on a milder and sweeter scale, to suit the American palate. Still, for those whose palates are not used to heat, it doesn’t hurt to keep a cooling lassi on hand.

For example, the Butter Chicken that I’ve had at other restaurant is a lamb of a dish—utterly mild with a tinge (or heaps) of sweetness. Utsav’s version is more of a lion cub that gives a little roar—a feisty kick of heat that balances and rounds out the flavors ($20). 

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Shrimp Balchao, spicy Goan-style shrimp, served on flour crackers. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

As an appetizer, the Shrimp Balchao ($12), Goan-style, served on crackers, is a sign of good things to come. Both spicy and tangy, the dish’s origins run deep, going back to the Portuguese presence in Goa.

The pan-seared scallops ($12), on a bed of roasted red bell pepper chutney, is also a good choice.

The most popular dish, Adrak Ke Chaap ($32), is lamb chops, marinated in fresh ginger and herbs. It comes in generous portions, and also features that latent heat that burgeons only a few bites later. 

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Nalli Ka Salan, or slow braised lamb shank. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

The slow-braised lamb shanks (Nalli Ka Salan, $26) have the depth that only a slow braise can create, with a rich, dark sauce derived from the caramelized onions.

I often take the measure of Indian restaurants by the daals, or lentil soup that they serve. Often the most humble and homey dish on the menu, it’s what a multitude of Indians eat every day.

It is outstanding here. The Dal Triveni dal ($12) is made of three different types of daals, has a golden color, and is earthy and comforting, and tempered with chilies, garlic, and cumin ($12).

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Mango Mousse. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

Those with a sweet tooth will want to save some room for the desserts, such as the Mango Mousse, served in a tall glass.

1185 Avenue of the Americas
(Entrance on 46th Street, between Sixth and Seventh avenues, next to the Laura Pels Theater)
Monday–Friday noon–11 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday noon–11:30 p.m.

Channaly Oum
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