Vile Meal at Curry Leaf
Last night, on the advice of a trusted friend who's a good cook and a foodie, I stopped at Curry Leaf on Lex at 27th for dinner. The place was fairly crowded, which can sometimes be an indicator of a decent reputation based on past experience, so I felt fairly confident I'd get something decent to eat. The vegetable pakora were hard and dried out as if they were not prepared freshly but were sitting around. The sweet brown tamarind condiment had a rancid undertone. The saag paneer was made with the worst gloopy, viscous spinach possible, and the paneer contained a vague note of ammonia, something I've never experienced before in Indian cooking. Needless to say, it was disgusting. The very cordial and solicitous waiter (no complaints there) brought me a free mini-dessert of rice pudding. How can Indian rice pudding be bad? Well, it was. The toasted seeds that were sprinkled on top had burned and imparted an ugly, burned flavor to the dish, rendering it inedible. My friend who referred me eats meat, and maybe the vegetarian dishes suffer from being ordered less often. In any case, I won't be back.
Sadly, Curry Leaf is going downhill - and fast. I hadn't ordered from there for awhile and gave it a shot recently, with similar results. The food just isn't that good these days. Even worse, there isn't really any good non-vegetarian Indian restaurants in the neighborhood - with the exception of Copper Chimney.
The veggie pakoras are usually better than that. But after some bad experiences of my own with the saag paneer, I pretty much stick with chicken tikka masala. Unfortunately, I haven't had much luck at the other standbys like Pongal, which has declined even more precipitously, imo.
Where are the go-to places for North Indian in the neighborhood?
The previously mentioned Copper Chimney on 28th St. is about the last one left. It's certainly better than what Curry Leaf has become anyway. Northern Indian seems to be a cuisine that is on the decline everywhere. Aside from a few high-end places it has mostly declined to a sort of awful gringo slop served all over the place at kitschy 6th St. style restaurants. Part of this is, I suspect, simply a shift in immigration patterns, but I still miss the good stuff.
Yes, in fact I get lunch from there rather often, since my Manhattan office is in the Empire State Building. The quality can be a bit variable, but when they do it well it's quite good -- especially for the price. But they close so early, and since I'm also around the Curry Hill area a lot in the evening I'd really love to have a decent, inexpensive and comfortable, place to go sit down and have some reasonably good Northern Indian.
Okay, I'm actually eating Curry Leaf right now for lunch. I went two weeks ago and got the lunch special. Agreed, the Saag Paneer was awful - tasted like frozen creamed spinach. The aloo was very good, tough. And my friend's Chicken Tikka Masala was excellent. So I gave it another shot today. The chicken tikka (not masala sauce) is fabulous. Juicy, tender, well flavored. And the nan is excellent. For the lunch deal, its the best in the neighborhood IMO....