Junoon – Home to the Hottest and Possibly Best Chef in NYC

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: 
I LOVE Indian food
The flavor combinations are so complex, the ingredients so foreign and the culture behind the food is fascinating to me. 
 Junoon has been highly acclaimed for its haute Indian cuisine, helmed by  Vikas Khanna, who Eater deemed the hottest chef in NYC,
Hot, shcmot…give me some great aloo gobi, then we can talk. 
 The restaurant is a mix of dark modern elegance and opulent Indian touches. The bar is more about gilded decorations and the dining room is more about muted colors where we could focus on the food. 
 As we got our drinks, we mainly focused on these gougeres – a decidedly elegant and unlikely touch for a South Asian restaurant. Puffy, crispy but not hard shells surrounded a creamy, doughy interior that tasted like Gruyere air. It was that light and rich at the same time. An excellent example of a gougere. 
Sparkling Saffron – Champagne Infused with Saffron. 
This may be my favorite champagne cocktail I have ever had. The champagne was sort of yeasty and toasty, and the saffron gave it an earthy yet heady fragrance that enveloped my nose and throat. Not unlike truffles, saffron is a powerful and deep flavor, where only a little makes a huge change in a dish. Here, it brought out the savory, wheaty notes of the champagne. 
Tandoori Broccoli.
The best broccoli I have had since Amaya, hands down. Less charred than its British counterpart, with tender but not soft stalks, it was cloaked in a ginger-y tomato and onion sauce, and served with a bracingly fresh cilantro sauce on the side. It was fresh but filling – something that can hardly be said for most vegetables. 
 Piri-Piri Shrimp with Avocado, Jicama and Myer Lemon Vinaigrette.
These plump, moist shrimp were coated in a fiery, tart, sweet sauce that was so addictive, I would bet my life there was crack cocaine in there. The flavors were well balanced – burning first at the front of my lips, then a bit sweet on the tongue, then a clear high note that had to be vinegar…I won’t pretend to know how this was made. I will just tell you that if you have any inclination towards powerful, high octane food, this is a must get. Here, even buttery avocado was an afterthought. The shrimp were so outstanding, I just wanted to eat them and them alone. 
 Star Anise Sea Scallop with Cracked White Peppercorn, Cinnamon and Roasted Yellow Pepper Chutney. The scallop had a crust that I had not seen before on fish. It was a spice crust, like one you might see on a steak. A more clumsy chef might have overseasoned the buttery shellfish, but Khanna was careful to grind the spices finely so they did not assault the tastebuds. The peppercorn, star anise and cinnamon created a biting-sweet-spicy effect that was cohesive with the scallops’ rich flavor and the tropical sweetness of the chutney. 
 Mint Paratha.
Though we usually order naan, our enthusiastic and congenial server convinced us to order this paratha instead. Fluffier and lighter than naan, it was almost like an Indian puff pastry, with layer upon layer of flaky, buttery dough that was spackled with shards of fresh, herbaceous mint. It was warm, delicate and a total departure from wheaty, hearty naan.
Starting from upper left hand corner: Lobster Tandoori, Dahe Wale Lamb Chops, Paneer Akbari, Murg Makhani Kebab.
Lobster Tandoori-Huge and succulent chunks of lobster bathed in a tangy, pungent sauce that was similar to tikka masala in its richness and its mildness. It was spicy with cumin and sweet with fennel, but there was no heat to speak of. Just the spices and tartness from lemon. 
Dahe Wale Lamb Chops-Cooked in the tandoor, like the lobster, this had an entirely different texture. Still juicy, but with a charred crust that bordered on bitter, contrasting pleasantly with the sweet grassiness of the lamb. At it’s best, lamb is has a lightly gamy, grassy taste, and that’s just what this lamb had. The yogurt marinade made the lamb soft, while cooking it on the bone retained that full on meaty flavor. Ginger, cardamom and other spices contributed to the rub that did not take away from the lamb, but rather made it taste lamb-ier
Paneer Akbari – This homemade cheese was similar to Greek halloumi cheese – firm and extremely mild, ready to take on other flavors. This fully absorbed the flavors of the sauce – the aromatic, warming garam masala, the fatty, meaty cashews, the smooth cream rounding out the sauce’s edges…it was my favorite dish of the night. Rich, spicy, creamy, hearty…it was almost good enough to make me become a vegetarian!
Murg Makhanphal Kebab-Extremely moist, with that fragrant garam masala, fresh cilantro and spicy hit of ginger. Sweet, salty, sour, bitter. It just hit all the points on my tongue.
Don’t miss the raita. Smooth, cool, creamy with the fragrance of rose and the fruitiness of pomegranate seeds, it takes the intense fire out of the dishes and adds a mild component to an otherwise aggressively flavored meal.
At this point, our awesome server (who was both knowledgeable and friendly) brought out Chef Khanna
We also had the pleasure of meeting pastry chef Angie Lee, who was sunshine to Khanna’s moon. Bubbly and direct, she shared how thrilled she was about opening up people’s minds about Indian desserts. She noted that her desserts were Indian inspired, versus strictly Indian, and was so enthusiastic that she absolutely made us order dessert – the best I have had in NYC.
 Passion Fruit Bombe with Katafai Nest and Coriander-Basil Seeds.
It was a bombe only in the explosion of flavor it delivered, because this sort of semifreddo was incredibly rich but so light it almost floated away. There was a smooth sort of shell around the mousse-like center – frozen but not firm. It was almost like liquid in suspended motion. Quite amazing, really. Incredibly creamy, but with the tartness of the passion fruit that kept it from being heavy or stodgy. The coriander-basil seeds were subtle bursts of earthiness that grounded the totally ethereal dessert and the kataifi added texture in the form of crunchy fried dough. This was everything that a good dessert is – sweet, fulfilling, rich but not heavy and well portioned. At first glance it seemed huge, but, sooner than not…the dish was cleaned. 
As we enjoyed homemade fruit gelees and dark chocolates filled with intense pistachio ganache, I reflected upon the meal. It was certainly not cheap, but was far from what I consider expensive. It was not traditional, but there is no doubting that it was an Indian creation. The flavors were all ones I have had before, but they were produced in new combinations and with different techniques. It was what I was expecting and yet…how could I expect all of this? Junoon is a thoughtful, heartfelt restaurant that has a personal touch that escapes so many hip New York establishments. The food is refined but packed with the flavors that you know and love in Indian cooking. This may be home to the hottest chef in New York, but it is also home to one of the best chefs in New York. 
And yes…okay…he is also really freakin hot. 

Comments

  1. JustinM says:

    When Elizabeth lived in Broolyn Heights, it was right above an Indian restaurant and she said it smelled so strongly all the time that she never was willing to try it. She didn't have her first Indian food until she moved to Pasadena… and now she loves it.

  2. Robert and Robert Suggest America says:

    star anise sea scallops…need some now.

  3. sophia says:

    Forget the pics, just your descriptions alone is making me DROOL SO MUCH!!!! I adore Indian food. I'm astounded by that Champagne Infused with Saffron and that Katafai nest?! Wow. And the scallops look perfect!!

  4. Fritos and Foie Gras says:

    @Justin-Okay, I do kinda see her point there…but glad she has seen the light!
    @Robert-me too!!
    @Sophia-Thank you so much! And yes, the champagne cocktail was totally fantastic!

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