Has the time for Indian finally come? Long relegated to takeout and lunch buffets whose dish names you could predictably rattle off, Indian cuisine has been undergoing some exciting changes in New York.
You can find fast-casual concepts like Indikitch and Inday; the popular Babu Ji, where hipsters line up before opening time; and Hemant Mathur’s restaurant group, highlighting regional Indian cuisine on Curry Hill.
The newest kid on the block is Kurry Qulture, in Astoria, Queens, where restaurateur Sonny Solomon has envisioned a destination for a younger urban crowd looking for it all—good food with modern ambiance, attentive service, and accessible prices.
Opened in November, Kurry Qulture is struttingly stylish—dark and sleek yet warm, with low lighting from candles and hanging Edison bulbs. India comes alive in the details—portraits of Indian street culture, in vibrant reds, blues, and yellows, pop against the textured cream walls.
Catchy New Bollywood beats get diners moving. “When you walk in through that door and hear this music, you’re in a different zone. You’re tired when you’re standing outside the door. For a period of time, they’ll forget everything else,” said Solomon.
Sipping on a jewel-toned cocktail, like the No Fire Engine made with rosemary-infused gin, passion fruit, and Taittinger, it’s easy to envision yourself with a date or on an outing with friends. Still, this is Astoria—the waitstaff is considerate and helpful, but don’t expect formalwear. It’s hipster plaid shirts all around.
Some of the usual suspects—butter chicken and saag paneer—are on the menu, but relegated to the sides section.
Instead, the focus of the menu is the multicourse prix-fixe, which includes a selection of dishes you would not normally find at most Indian restaurants in the city. Think Turkey Keema, Manchurian Cauliflower, and Lamb Stuffed Tandoori Chicken. At $33, the menu includes soup, first and second courses, rice, naan, and dessert.
“I want guests to try different flavors, different styles of cooking,” Solomon said, “Everybody is so used to chicken tikka masala, chicken vindaloo. These are very common. You don’t have to come to Kurry Qulture for dishes that are being served at every other restaurant.”
A former front of house manager from Michelin-starred establishments such as Devi and Tulsi, Solomon has plenty of experience in fine dining, as well as the hectic vitality of restaurants like Spice Market, where he was part of the opening team.
Solomon decided to give Indian cuisine a seasonal spin—a first of its kind—and enlisted chef Hemant Mathur, who worked at Tulsi and Devi with Solomon, to conceive the menu.
In the autumn and winter, you’ll find savory dishes of pumpkin paired with coconut, turnips in goat curry, sweet potatoes turned into chaat, and apples and cranberries transformed into chutneys.
For inspiration Kurry Qulture looks to India, in all its diversity. Spanning 2,000 miles from north to south and six subtypes of climates, from alpine tundra to rainforests, the subcontinent’s cuisine varies from region to region.
On the current winter menu, for example, Solomon features Rogan Josh (curried lamb shank in tomato sauce), from the north of India. “Certain dishes are meant to be enjoyed at that time of the season. You can eat rogan josh at any time of the year, but the proper time is wintertime,” he said. Come spring, the dishes will become lighter, but for now the focus is on heartier fare.
The prix-fixe starts with a small cup of soup, as simple as green pea or tomato but with such deep flavors they command immediate attention.
Distinct, Seasonal Flavors
Indian cuisine is often a photographer’s nightmare, but here the modern presentation is colorful and gorgeous, with updated plateware like slate boards and leaf-shaped bowls. And where it seems at some Indian restaurants that a single base of onions, tomatoes, and spices is repurposed into different sauces, here the flavors of each dish are strikingly distinct.
The Ragda Chaat appetizer with potato cakes, white peas, tamarind, and mint chutney, is all at once sweet, sour, savory, and herbal, and seems to melt in your mouth, all but for the crunchy chickpea noodles that gave it a playful texture.
Or, there’s Shrimp Chettinad, a dish of fiery shrimp with smoky notes only mildly tempered by coconut, and flavored with curry leaves and mustard seeds.
For a dose of Indian-Chinese, Kurry Qulture serves the best Manchurian Cauliflower I’ve had, with an astutely delicious balance of sweet and tangy, kissed just in proper proportion with garlic. It was crunchy in places, nutty and soft in others, and served with a chili-tomato sauce. This is a kitchen that gets how a variety of textures delights the palate. Kudos to chef Ravi Bisht for his execution.
One of the most interesting Indian dishes I’ve ever encountered was the Phool Makhane Ki Sabji, consisting of puffed lotus seeds, mostly chewy with a bit of crunch, served in a coral colored makhani sauce made with ricotta and spices. Ricotta is not traditional in this Rajistani dish, as Solomon said, but it adds a smooth creaminess. Again the texture stood out: creamy and chewy meeting against the backdrop of Indian spices.
A Parsi fish dish from the state of Maharashtra is served steamed in a banana leaf, colored green from the coriander, mint, and green chili—it’s intensely herbal, with a kick, and ends on a slightly bitter finish. It’s not for everyone—but great for those who appreciate a touch of herbal bitterness.
Turkey, a very American bird, finds a spot on the menu, minced into the juicy and toothsome Turkey Keema, with spinach, tomato, and a gentle heat, reminiscent of chili con carne. You’d almost expect to see it served with cornbread, but it comes with puffy puri.
“Americans won’t expect to be served turkey in an Indian restaurant, with Indian preparation,” Solomon said.
A six-course tasting menu ($60 per person, $99 with wine and spirits pairing) will also get you a selection of little-known breads—like the Warqi Paratha, with golden flaky layers almost like a biscuit, made with flour, milk, cashews, almonds, raisins, and saffron—paired with different dishes.
Not on the prix-fixe menu but listed as a side—and absolutely fantastic—is the Creamy Black Lentils, a daal of black lentils that retain their shape. They’re earthy, sensuous, and spicy—just the thing you want to keep eating even though you might be full.
Dessert is a trio of different bites—which satisfy the sweet toothed and curious alike—and mercifully are not as high on the sweetness scale as traditional Indian sweets. The pumpkin-apple halwa in particular hits the spot—like some of the best of desserts, the apple-pumpkin combination succeeds in evoking memories of childhood.
There’s also a fresh and clean tasting mango lassi, with its gently perfumed creaminess, that perfectly caps the meal. It’s far from the saccharine concoctions you’ll find at many restaurants.
Here’s hoping Kurry Qulture can lead in setting a future direction for Indian in the city. That would certainly be a delicious future.
Julia Huang contributed to this report.
36-05 30th Ave. (between 36th & 37th streets)
Daily, 5 p.m.–10 p.m.
(Bar open until late)