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Devi?

JungMann Oct 25, 2007 12:12 PM

I grew up watching my father mix masalas for our dinner and still remember the charred smell of his roti puffing on the stove. Since leaving home, getting good South Asian food at a price not much higher than my father's (i.e. free) has been somewhat difficult unless I make it myself. There was a certain inviting mystique around places like Devi, but I couldn't afford them...

Until now. If I were responsible, I probably wouldn't be going; but who knows when Devi might close again? Since it is such a huge chunk of change for me, I need to know before I go: is it going to be worth the hundred dollars for me to keep my reservation at Devi? I've got a serious appetite so I've shied away from tasting menus in the past, but I've heard such good things about Devi's that I wanted to try it while the prices are low. Is the food going to be Desi-good or will it be bland and Americanized? After spending a day's wages will I come out feeling pampered or paupered?

  1. JungMann Nov 21, 2007 06:45 AM

    I took the plunge. When we were seated next to the second floor marble balustrade with a full view of the silken opulence of the dining room, we knew we were in for a special evening. We started the evening with cocktails. The lady swooned over her Mango Royale, a whimsical play on a Bellini. Her husband’s soursop martini was tart and refreshing. My Mumbai margarita, made with mango, elderflower and chili, was the perfect starting note for Devi: colorful, spicy and full of flavor.

    We had hoped to try the wine pairings, but only the special Diwali menu came with wine and given the lackluster options on offer, we went with the unpaired 5-course tasting instead.

    The amuse bouche began the meal with a fumble. The seasonings in the chili-cheese bread were spot on with a surprising kick for such a tiny morsel. Sadly the center of the amuse was cold while the outside was dry and over-cooked. Not an auspicious start.

    The first course was something of a recovery. The dahi batata puris were delightfully crispy, though we found the use of whole milk yogurt a little too rich for the filling. My companion’s crispy sweet potatoes, while tart and well-seasoned were not very crispy at all, which was a great disappointment as there was little textural variety in the menu.

    The seconds more than made up for our initial misgivings. My companions’ Manchurian cauliflower was unbelievably delicious. The sweet-spicy-tart garlic tomato sauce enveloped generous portions of cauliflower. Expecting a ho-hum crunch from our cauliflower, we were taken aback by the rich creaminess of the interior. I couldn’t fathom the luxurious custard that seemed to have replaced this particular crucifer. One could spend a lifetime trying to learn how to so perfectly cook vegetables. I opted for the grilled scallops, which came with a solitary piece of cauliflower. The scallop, smoky though it was, did not stand up to the orange marmalade and could not compete with the delicious cauliflower. Still I was not altogether displeased.

    Our mains were generally strong. The lady, who had so far been enjoying her vegetarian tasting menu, was daunted by the size of ragda chaat portion. The dish, however, was a success from start to finish: perfectly portioned, intricately seasoned and delicately presented. Her husband’s tandoori halibut left him also ecstatically praising the chef. Biting into the forgettable naan, I hoped my dish would bring the same epiphanic expression to my face. The masala fried chicken, which I ordered upon recommendation of the waiter, did not live up to expectation. The spicy, almost angry halal fried chicken I remember from too many Amer-Desi houseparties in the 90s was a completely different breed from this insipid and grease-soaked imitation which gave me heartburn for the rest of the night. The only thing on the plate worth mentioning was the spicy slaw, which brilliantly combined mint, peanuts and cabbage, though the strong flavors might put off some and the chef was a little heavy on the salt.

    The fourth course was slow coming. My friend and I ordered the lamb chops. Both of ours were slightly overcooked, and my serving was all fat. While the spice rub was good, it was unremarkable until one tried the lamb with its accompanying apple compote. Individually, each was a solitary note, but together they made a symphony of flavor. The lady’s eggplant was again perfectly portioned. The spices were fantastic with just enough heat, though I would say that the chef added a bit too much sugar to make up for dull November tomatoes.

    Dessert was not my cup of tea. The emperor’s morsel did not live up to all the praise I read on these boards. Saffron bread pudding is still bread pudding, which I find bitter and unpleasant.

    Overall verdict? Portions were perfect and left you always wanting a little more while leaving you perfectly satisfied at the end of the night, though I wouldn’t have minded binging on the Manchurian cauliflower. On the whole, spices were spot on, though the food could have used a little more attention. Proteins (other than fish) had been sitting too long and otherwise been overcooked. Fine if I’m paying the discounted price. Not fine for the whole shebang. Still this is easily the best Indian restaurant I’ve ever been to with cooking far better than the homemade meals of my youth. The personalized cocktail service was a great touch, indeed service in general was perfect. I might not be rushing back any time soon, but I am certainly glad to have tried it.

    2 Replies
    1. re: JungMann
      r
      RGR Nov 21, 2007 09:33 PM

      JungMann,

      Since I had urged you to try Devi, I was pleased to read your excellent, rich in detail report. Even more so because we just had the 5-course tasting menu. Obviously, you grew up eating Indian food, and you cook it yourself, so you came to Devi with a perspective that is not possible for someone like me, a relative Indian cuisine novice; ergo, you can be more critical in a way that I cannot. Frankly, for me, as with all the meals we've had there, this one was perfection from the first bite of our amuse (a crunchy mushroom) to the last spoonful of dessert, so reading your views was very interesting.

      The one thing that jumped out at me was your comments about your lamb. This is a signature dish which I've had a few times before, so I was really surprised to read about your chop being "all fat." The ones served to me and to others at our table had little or no fat, were expertly grilled to medium rare, and filled with flavor. The accompaniments have been changed since the last time I had it. While I liked the potatoes, it was the sensational chutney -- btw, it's pear, not apple -- that really made this dish sing. Your description of a "symphony of flavor" is spot on! In fact, that's how I would describe every dish I had! :-) I'm sorry you did not care for the emperor's morsel, which I still find seriously delicious!

      The 20% discount certainly made the tasting menu a fabulous bargain. But even without that, I think the 3-course prix-fixe for $45 is a really good deal.

      .

      1. re: RGR
        JungMann Nov 22, 2007 05:17 AM

        My companion's lamb chop was rather lean, only mine was run through with fat. Perhaps they served it that way because I was Asian and we prefer our meat with more fat, but I doubt that the kitchen was that together. My major worry coming to the restaurant was whether the kitchen would dumb down the spices for an American palate. I found, however, the seasonings perfect (except for the terrible fried chicken). The chef exercised a lot more restraint than most home cooks, which I think actually allowed the spices to speak in a more delicate and effective way. Clean-tasting is the best way to put it. Personally I think I learnt quite a bit about how to make a proper masala from eating at Devi.

    2. oolah Nov 11, 2007 08:22 PM

      I totally don't get the fuss about Devi. While I enjoyed the appetizers (which were more fusion-y than traditional Indian), I thought the entrees were boring and the sauces tasted like they came out of a jar. The room is indeed pretty, but just don't think their food is very special.

      Now Spicy Mina in Queens...*that's* good food.

      1. s
        shivohum Nov 11, 2007 08:17 PM

        I had the vegetarian tasting menu before they closed and reopened, and I was disappointed. It was decent but not great, and certainly not worth the price. Definitely on the bland and Americanized side.

        I would definitely go with Dimple at 30th and 5th for Gujurati food, or Banjara on 6th st. for the standard North Indian fare, or, if you want South Indian and are willing to take a serious drop in decor, Tiffin Wallah near Lex and 28th. If you want something "high cuisine" and different, try the main Tabla restaurant (it's not authentic, but it is good).

        1. w
          waic Nov 4, 2007 07:05 PM

          I hope you haven't gone yet. I went to Devi last week, and was very disappointed. I had the giant prawns and they were very salty. I've never had the fried okra before, but I don't think they were properly prepared. They looked like dried shavings that were cold and shriveled up. Many of the dishes or elements of dishes on the menu are redundant. (Appetizers that are similar to entrees, sauces and chutneys that are the same from dish to another, etc.) Also, the menus themselves were printed on office card stock and had typos. On the positive side, the noise level was low, and you could have a decent conversation. Also, the halibut was nicely cooked and flavored. All in all, a real disappointment.

          1. u
            UES Mayor Nov 2, 2007 04:40 AM

            The giant prawns were so good!!!!!!!!!!!! It is a MUST if you go.

            1. c
              clembeauchamp Oct 29, 2007 12:33 PM

              So has anyone been to the reopened Devi???

              3 Replies
              1. re: clembeauchamp
                w
                wysiwyg Nov 11, 2007 08:07 PM

                I went to Devi on a sunday night with four of my friends. The discount is still in place. I would say overall the food was ok and the service poor. I found the flavors very extreme and unbalanced. The food was fresh tasting though. The servers are terrible, particularly the runners. They forgot to fill the water glass for one of my friends, couldn't remember who ordered what dishes, placed forks on right/knives on left, and didn't understand english very well so instead of getting the waiter, simply said things like steak knives and sugar were not available. At the end, they brought two desserts and it took another 7 minutes to bring the other one. I may give them another chance as perhaps they haven't worked the kinks out yet.

                1. re: wysiwyg
                  j
                  jasmurph Nov 22, 2007 02:57 AM

                  My experience at Devi matched yours: so-so food and really incompetent service. After each course I found the captain's face about 6 inches from mine asking "How are you enjoying the flavors?" What I wanted to say was "Spiced with all the delicacy of a crowbar," but instead opted for a wan "fine." I suspect this new Devi is not long for this world. Some have mentioned the difficulty of running a restaurant profitably without selling a lot of booze, but it's seemed typical of the overall amateurishness of the place that they seemed to have put no thought into the wine list at all.

                  1. re: jasmurph
                    r
                    RGR Nov 22, 2007 04:51 AM

                    I'm a huge fan of Devi. As I noted in my post below, we were just there again, and I thought the food was better than ever -- subtly spiced and totally delicious.

                    If there were kinks that needed to be worked out after the re-opening, it would appear they have been addressed because our service was excellent. Although Suvir was out of town, the foh staff was on their toes. Plus, Hemant was in and out of the kitchen, making sure that everything was running smoothly.

                    As for selling alcohol, I don't drink, but a few in our party had pre-dinner drinks, JungMann in his post indicated that there are interesting and delicious mixed drinks available, and my husband was told that the wine list is in the process of being re-built though he was quite pleased with the pairings he had with the tasting menu.

                    On the mid-week evening we were there, every table was filled, and I've heard from reliable sources that on weekends, the place has been jammed. While some may have been there because of the discount, I'd venture to say others, like our party, were there because we admire the cuisine.

                    Overall, I think slapping a "Deathwatch" on Devi as you have done is entirely without merit.

              2. t
                Tay Oct 25, 2007 12:38 PM

                I'm with RGR on this one. I didn't even know about the reduced prices. That makes it beyond a bargain, so thanks for the head's up...

                5 Replies
                1. re: Tay
                  t
                  toum Oct 25, 2007 12:52 PM

                  RGR: Are you sure about the tasting menu? My understanding was that the 5-course tasting menu that used to be offered is not being offered right now. All that is available is a 3-course prix fixe for 45 (not 40).

                  AIso, I hadn't heard about the 20% discount. Did you find about this upon visiting the restaurant?

                  1. re: toum
                    r
                    RGR Oct 25, 2007 02:52 PM

                    toum,

                    I read about the 20% discount in the "NY Times" Wed. food section. On another food forum someone posted that the tasting menu would now be $40. But maybe that person was confusing it with the prix-fixe you mention. There was no such prix-fixe previously at dinner. Only a la carte and the two tasting menus. At lunch, the prix-fixe was $24.07.

                    1. re: RGR
                      t
                      toum Oct 25, 2007 02:54 PM

                      Thanks. In any case, this is all good news. Sounds great.

                      1. re: RGR
                        s
                        Snaps Nov 1, 2007 04:17 PM

                        Does anyone know of any current hour restrictions on the tasting menu? I went before they closed this summer, we had a 9pm reservation, and when we were seated we were told that we were too late for the tasting menu. We were bummed, but we tried to sample a good selection of the food and loved it all. If the tasting menu is currently 40 dollars, I'd love try again, but I don't want to show up at the wrong time!

                        1. re: Snaps
                          r
                          RGR Nov 1, 2007 10:35 PM

                          Devi's website is now up again. It's $45 for the 3-course prix-fixe and $65 for Chef's Tasting Menu. They are discounting 20% until the middle of November.

                          If you want to do the tasting and are concerned about timing your reservation, you're best off calling the restaurant and checking with them.

                  2. r
                    RGR Oct 25, 2007 12:23 PM

                    While I have not yet had a chance to visit the re-opened Devi, there is no doubt in my mind that the cuisine will be as superb as it ever was. After all, the delicious recipes are still Suvir's while the very talented Hemant is still running the kitchen and manning the tandoor. Seems to me $40 for the tasting (reduced from $60) is an unreal bargain. Plus, until the middle of November, they are offering a 20% discount!! The way I see it, you'd be nuts to pass up this opportunity.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: RGR
                      JungMann Oct 25, 2007 01:36 PM

                      Tasting menu will come back next week. I made my reservation for mid-November (need to save up!). Menupages said that the tasting is $80. With 20% off I think that equals $64 (not $60), which is more than I spend for groceries in a week!

                      1. re: JungMann
                        r
                        RGR Oct 25, 2007 02:45 PM

                        JungMann,

                        I've had the tasting menu at Devi, and it was $60. Wine pairiings were an additional $40. You need to look again at Menupages because it clearly shows $60. In any event, that's the old menu. I've read that Suvir and Hemant have substantially reduced prices in order to make their cuisine more accessible to people like you who have are more limited financially.

                        1. re: RGR
                          JungMann Oct 26, 2007 06:54 AM

                          How embarassing...and relieving! I can definitely afford $40 (though I thought I'd also get a deal on wine pairings!). But to be more specific, I have heard others complain that the food was bland and Americanized. I don't mind fusion, but as a Desi, would I do well to ask them to spice my food like a Desi? And others have complained about still being hungry after the tastingg. Should that be a concern? I'm still going to go, I just need to figure out if my friends will be cross with me after shelling out money for a meal that barely feeds them.

                          1. re: JungMann
                            a
                            anil Nov 1, 2007 03:48 PM

                            I doubt they would alter spicing as in "masala" for you, but who knows... AS for the quantity of food, it depends on one's appetite.

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