Junoon – Hype or Not!!

About six months ago I was watching an episode of Eat Out NY on WNYC with Kelly Choi.  On the show she presented a segment on the newest Indian restaurant to hit the Manhattan food scene called Junoon.  It looked interesting to me but not interesting enough to try right away as I rarely go out for Indian food.  Why would I when I can make it at home or order a great meal at my mother’s with even less effort?  Besides, most so called “upscale” Indian restaurants tend to have the same formula dishes served with more gravy than food (meat or vegetables) making it hard to justify the steep prices they charge per entree that is always served a la carte.  So I put it at the back of my mind and forgot about it.

Over the past few months I have heard many of my Indian family and friends mention Junoon at dinners and parties.  Some have gone to it, others have heard good things about it, etc.  This peaked my interest once again and I put it on my list of places to try.  Last Saturday my brother-in-law asked me if I had been to Junoon and so I decided to check it out as soon as the next weekend.

Last night, after a client meeting in midtown, a co-worker/friend and I decided to beat the rush hour traffic by staying in NYC for dinner before heading home.  We started off with drinks and guacamole at a Dos Caminos while we figured out where to go for dinner – it was early yet and too cold for a discussion on the street and the margaritas were calling.  He suggested Keen’s steakhouse which was fine by me but then he mentioned he had recently been there and didn’t seem too enthused.  Suddenly I remembered that I wanted to try Junoon and made the suggestion to go there, and thus the decision was made.

We had decided that if we walked in and didn’t like the place, we had a backup at the Biergarten in Eataly which is around the corner.  From the outside, it looked promising.  We walked through the entry way and over to the host stand where we received a warm greeting.  The bar and restaurant were pretty empty but then it was 6:30pm on a Monday night.  We opted to sit at the chic looking bar and try one of their signature cocktails before sitting down to dinner.  I ordered the Ginger Rose and my friend had the Bourbon & Peche after being told that the Tandoori Tequila was not available due to a lack of kefir lime leaves.  My cocktail was ok and I expected more from the description.  But then I’m not much of a cocktail girl and prefer my liquor unbastardized by too many other flavors.

We then moved into the large dining area at the back of the building.  I must say the decor is quite warm and welcoming.  The lighting is a bit dim when you’re trying to read the small print on the menu (I’m in denial of my need for reading glasses).  We perused the extensive menu and I was put in charge of ordering for us.  The menu was quite impressive with unusual selections for an Indian restaurant such as duck and venison among others.  Many items sounded familiar and yet new & interesting.  We settled on two appetizers and two entrees which we would share.  Our selections were Piri-Piri Shrimp, Kakora Kebab (made with ground lamb), Black Bass Malvan (gravy made with coconut, cilantro & spices), and Sukhi Subzi (sauteed mixed veggies with spices). 

Before our appetizers arrived, we were served an amuse bouche.  Now this was a new one for me having never had an amuse served at an Indian restaurant before.  Their motto is never give away anything for free thus the almost always a la carte menu.  The amuse was Lotus Root served three ways – Fried, pickled and pureed.  A small yet absolutely delicious bite of food.  The shrimp accompanied by avocado & jicama slices and kebab served with red onion and cilantro relish were also very good and cooked perfectly.  I was looking forward to the entrees which we accompanied with Naan and plain rice.  We loved the Bass in Malvan gravy.  The fish was not served swimming in the gravy but rather atop just enough of it to add flavor.  The bass had been pan fried and placed on the gravy with the crispy skin facing up.  The flavors were delicious, well balanced and with the right amount of spice.  I love coconut with fish and this dish did not fail to impress us further.  The vegetables were also very good and not overcooked as they typically are.  They were not mostly potatoes (I don’t consider them a vegetable) and had broccoli, cauliflower, peas and several other kinds of vegetables.  They were well spiced and still had a slight bite to them.  We opted to drink Schneider Weiss beer with our meal instead of wine.  The slight sweetness in the beer balanced well with the spicy food.

The one negative comment I will make about Junoon is that the service could have been better.  It was not incompetent or bad, but more that it was a mix of either wait staff that was too serious and stoic or ones that were too quiet and shy and hard to hear.  Personalities are a rare find in wait staff at Indian restaurants, but with all the other positives, I cannot take away too many points.  Our meal service was executed well, so who cares if the guy wasn’t friendly and talkative.

Our stomachs were full and dessert was skipped.  We ordered espresso and coffee which came in its own French press and was a darn good cup of coffee.  With our coffee, our server brought a plate of complimentary peppercorn dark chocolate with a mint filling alongside a square of salted caramel.  Both were fantastic and a perfect end to our meal. Glad to have made Junoon our choice for the evening, we left for the subway & a cab to make our way home.

“B” would not let me take any photos of the food (which was presented beautifully by the way) so if you would like to take a look at some photos or check out their menu you can find them at:
http://www.junoonnyc.com/.  Or better yet, go visit and let me know what you think.

Happy Eating!!
Swati

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