"To eat at Awadh is to explore unknown flavors..." (New York Observer, 4 Stars)
Top 10 Indian Restaurants in NYC, 2015 (ZAGAT)
Best Indian Restaurants 2015 (TimeOut New York)
Tables for Two- Awadh
December 15, 2014
The first Nawab of Awadh, in what is now the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, was the grandson of a wealthy Persian merchant. A string of Nawabs governed from the seventeen-twenties to the mid-eighteen-hundreds, barely holding off British annexation. They were famous for their decadence, inclined to indulge in dancing girls and lavish feasts, known as dastarkhwan: tapestries of kebabs, biryanis, and curries. On Manhattan’s Upper West Side, in an area whose residents have learned to rely on Teflon standbys, Gaurav Anand (the chef-owner of Moti Mahal Delux, on the Upper East Side) has opened a paean to the prodigious cuisine of Awadh.
A disco-mirrored Buddha and eighties-era details, like dark slatted wood and glass-ball chandeliers, belie the refinement of the food. Anand travelled to Lucknow, Awadh’s capital, to learn the centuries-old technique of dum pukht, which he employs to handsome effect in the deceptively simple-looking appetizer Awadh Murgh Tikka. Steamed cubes of chicken are marinated in pomegranate powder, chickpea flour, and yogurt, then sealed in a heavy-bottomed pan and heated over a low flame, so that the meat cooks in its own juices. It’s extremely tender, and is finished on the grill for a bit of charred crunchiness on the corners. The Galouti kebab comes as creamy-crisp disks of pounded minced lamb, which arrive atop miniature paratha. Garnished with cilantro chutney, they’re like little Indian tacos.
That old favorite chicken tikka masala is nowhere in sight, but there’s a nice Tariwala chicken, swimming in a thick sauce of coconut milk, curry leaves, cardamom, star anise, and poppy seeds. (The exemplary paneer tikka masala, with house-made cheese, highlights how mellow that tomato-cream sauce can be.) One night, a shrimp curry came with three jumbo specimens in a bright coconut-milk-tomato sauce, which, in spite of being lovely, couldn’t hide the fact that the shrimp tasted like they were raised in a tank. The lobster, though, was fit for a queen—a pretty red tail shell filled with large chunks coated in cashew sauce, saffron, and jaggery, rich and sweet like a pan roast. But the biggest payoff came for those who did not fear the baby goat. Delicate, mild, and tender, the goat Dahiwala finished with a subtle, sneaking heat from green chilis and garam masala.
It’s fun to eat like a Nawab, amid the Upper West Siders complaining that the print on the Times’ Web site is too small, discussing “Breaking Bad” and “High Maintenance.” The hardworking waitstaff are quietly patient and nearly telepathic with their courtesies. At the end of such an extravagant meal, it’s hard not to feel as if one has imbibed a pound of melted butter and a quart of cream. But, as you may have heard, the medical establishment now says that butter is good for you, or, at least, not bad for you. We concur.