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Sangam (New G. Village Indian)- Review

Nick F. Feb 19, 2008 07:22 PM

Man. Awesome.

Forgive me. I'm a college student. Thus my first reaction to my dinner at Sangam was neither textured nor articulate, rather it was merely the aforementioned expression of culinary delight.

Let me explain.

As a West Villager, I have been very lucky with certain types of foods. Two of the best sliceries (why not a word?), Joe's and Bleecker Street are both affordable and in walking distance. There's great middle eastern from Mamoun's to Moustache to Taim to Yummy Schwarmy, each with it's own cultural/country bias. There's even a surprising surfeit of good Mexican food (amazing for New York). We may have only "decent" Chinese, but it's essentially a chowish nabe and a great place to grow up.

However, the one food group, my most beloved food group, that I always lacked in the area was Indian.

By the time I had started to take food seriously in high school, Mitali West, the local "good" place had already started to struggle and decrease their food quality to the point of inedibility. Ghandi Cafe was decent but a poor substitute. Indian Taj was overpriced with small portions and Baluchi's was and always has been (in my food lifetime) pathetic. Even Surya was hit or miss and a little too "haute" for me.

All of them were also far too expensive for a consistent meal.

Even when Kati Roll Company and Indian Bread Co. came to the neighborhood, they were strange subsections of Indian food tasting nothing like the curries I had come to love (although Kati Roll made it in to my rounds as a good pseudo-burrito joint for late screenwriting nights).

I despaired. I went far and wide. Found good places in Queens, in the East Village, in Gramercy, in Times Square. But nothing accessible, and if accessible, always expensive.

It was to my surprise then, three weeks ago, when I saw a weird little hole in the wall on the journey back to my apartment named "Sangam". It was around 11 that night and I had already had dinner, but I stopped to take a look at the menu of some place that advertised itself as "Authentic Indian Cuisine".

To my bizarre shock, I saw that they only offered two entrees: Chicken Biryani and Vegetable Biryani. In my mind, Biryani had always been the red-headed stepchild of the Indian restaurant menu. The Indian answer to the "Chinese" Chicken Fried Rice, it always offered less food and less interest then say, a Chicken Tikka Masala or a Vindaloo. It was always always ten dollars, where as Chicken Fried Rice at a downscale Chinese joint would run you 4 or 5.

Here however, this was the only offering, costed at 7 and 6 dollars respectively. I was shocked at the mere existence of what appeared to be the only known chicken-fried-rice joint I had ever seen. I went in and talked a bit to the owner and told him that, while I had had dinner already, I'd be back for Lunch tomorrow.

To my chagrin, when I returned at noon-thirty the next day, the place was closed, shuttered. Annoyed, I called the number on the menu and got the answering machine, but didn't leave a message. Once again, I was amazed when later that day I got a call from the owner, saying he had seen my number on Caller ID and apologizing for the late open asking if I would come back, so I did for dinner, dragging along a companion who, incidentally had been seeking to eat Chinese fried rice that evening.

We both got the main dish of the place, Chicken Biryani, which was a flat 7 dollars, no tax. We were served, to stay, a large container each of aromatic fried rice, tossed with what seemed to be chicken tikka and topped with large, spicy fried onions. We were also given a large hockey puck of raita (cucumber yogurt sauce) on the side to place on our rice as we wished.

It was... unreal. All throughout my college experience, throughout my experience living in the West Village I had sought an Indian place that ascribed to my standard of value per cost over quality. What I was served was delicious, far better than any Biryani I had ever had, including the one I had at the fancy Indian joint (also excellent) Tamarind. What's more though, was that it was 7 dollars and enough to fill me completely without a shadow of a doubt.

My friend confided in me that this was, indeed, better than the pork fried rice he had once sought that evening.

What's more the food tasted good, tasted fresh. I met the chef/proprietress who had cooked our food for us and who was very happy to talk to me, as it was only her behind the counter and the short order cook she was training. She told me that this is what she cooked at home, that she uses her own spice mix, that she was trying to teach the chef that this was the quality she wanted.

What can I say? Maybe I'm a sucker. Maybe I'm easily taken in. Maybe it's only because I found a good Indian place I can eat at on the budget of a college student in my neighborhood. But I was taken it by this quirky chicken-fried-rice joint. With all the Chipotles and Subways and falafel joints down the block along with the less qualified pizzerias, here was a restaurant trying to do one thing well, one thing they claimed to know how to do from home, from experience and it tasted good. And it was filling.

So, what can I say? I saw my beloved 99 Miles to Philly tumble and fall out of my neighborhood, despite its quality, despite its aesthetic. Thank God they still had their other location. But now that I've discovered what is certainly the most interesting new place I've been to this year, I feel like I had to say something, that I had to inform other hounds, that maybe they'd like it and the once cursed location of "Pop's Pierogis" could be purified by Hound buzz.

Maybe I'm a sucker, but I loved it. I loved the food, loved the atmosphere, loved having a place I could eat it at that would fill me, that would give me something new and underappreciated, something I couldn't really get anywhere else. Not the same.

But you, Chowers, you are discerning. Thus I hope you try Sangam and forget my words and have your own experience with it flavored by your own food history. For then we can have a discussion and what is better on this hallowed board than a sharing of Chowhound experience?

  1. jakew8 Feb 19, 2008 07:52 PM

    Great write-up! Where is this place (apart from "on the journey back to [your] apartment"--haha)? I could use a new cheap eats destination in the Village now that Roll-n-Dough closed.

    3 Replies
    1. re: jakew8
      Nick F. Feb 19, 2008 08:00 PM

      Oops! My bad :) Bleecker between 6th and Macdougal. And I mourn Roll and Dough as well, that place was super-awesome-value.

      1. re: Nick F.
        l
        Lau Feb 19, 2008 08:15 PM

        sounds awesome...biryani is amazing when made correctly

        need to try, in my neighborhood as well

        1. re: Nick F.
          b
          bob192 Feb 20, 2008 06:29 AM

          It replaced the god-awful Mexican joint that lasted all of 3-4 months (how can you mess up rice and beans? Just hire a "short-order cook in training" who neither knows nor cares how to follow a tasty recipe, even if he was from Mexico) and maybe is owned by the same couple who own Indian Bread Co. a few doors down. Let's hope this cook cares - myself, I'll try to make it in while the missus is still manning the stove.

      2. sing me a bar Feb 20, 2008 12:53 PM

        I am so there it's scary! Maybe I can charm a vindaloo out of the guy. I will GIVE places like this all my money as a gift rather than spend it at upscale poseur Indian or other "should be cheap, but we gotta pay the insane lease " type joints. When I hear "fusion" or "nouveau" Thai or Indian, I run the other way.

        1. r
          racer x Feb 20, 2008 04:38 PM

          You've certainly grabbed my attention. Can't wait to try the place out.
          Restaurants that just do one or two dishes usually have to do them very, very well (or sell them at a ridiculously low price) to stay in business. It sure works in the food courts in Singapore, where each little stall specializes in just a handful of dishes (a place just selling turtle soup, or just congee, or just satay, for instance).

          Btw, mustn't neglect to mention the glorious Mainland India, which briefly occupied that accursed corner which had previously been the site of Mitali West (196 Bleecker). The food at Mainland India wasn't inexpensive, but it was worth the cost IMHO.

          1. f
            Forio Feb 21, 2008 01:16 PM

            Yes, this place is amazing. I went there with the reviewer to eat. The food filled me up, it was cheap, and it tasted amazing. Good for people on a budget in the city craving Indian food.

            A heads up though, when I went there they only accept cash, so bring $7 or more if you're going to get a drink or a somosa with your Biryani. There is an ATM at the deli across the street with a $1.90 processing fee (Not that bad.)

            1. r
              racer x Feb 25, 2008 08:47 AM

              I visited the other day. Had a samosa and biryani. The samosa was a lot thinner than what you'll find at most other places, and it was covered by a thin coating of cooking oil. But it was perfectly seasoned. Absolutely delicious.
              The chicken biryani (emphasis on biryani - not many bits of chicken there) was good, fine for a cheap snack if you're in the neighborhood, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it. Friendly staff.

              There was a copy of the chowhound review out front. How surreal.

              5 Replies
              1. re: racer x
                b
                bob192 Feb 26, 2008 06:50 AM

                Passed by the evening after Nick's review, and the place was packed with an obvious Chowhound crowd - (how could he tell, you ask? Good question, but had you seen them you'd have said exactly the same!) Perhaps the location's curse has been lifted?

                1. re: bob192
                  sing me a bar Feb 26, 2008 07:24 AM

                  I feel we have to support little places like this. The food is good, the staff is very nice and their lease is probably a bajillion dollars. I'm still begging them to do a vindaloo someday!

                  1. re: sing me a bar
                    Nick F. Feb 27, 2008 04:35 AM

                    I'm glad that most of ya guys like em, but I hope I hear back from more peeps so I can find out if I'm just crushing or if it really is that good. Lemme know when you try, bob.

                    1. re: Nick F.
                      b
                      bob192 Mar 14, 2008 07:55 AM

                      Got a take-out order last night, Thursday, of the house salad, chopped carrots and cukes, with bits of lettuce and celery in a light dressing, very fresh and refreshing, a good value, and the chicken biryani, no onions on top that I could see, but a nice sized dish, decent amount of chicken, well prepared rice, nicely balanced, but for me, not spicy enough - had to add good dollop of sambal oelek to get it up to speed, but all in all, a pretty decent take-out meal for $10.00. If you're not quite a big-spice fan, it might suit you just fine as is.

                      1. re: bob192
                        Nick F. Mar 16, 2008 11:00 PM

                        Bob- They don't make it so spicy unless you ask. Onions might be on request as well. Next time, tell them how you like it and I'm sure they'll make it that way.

                        -NF

              2. s
                saszs Mar 2, 2008 05:35 PM

                The concept is simple: keep the menu small, but the quality large. You must try the biryani, as it is a main dish, however the kabab roll has a truly unique taste and texture so should not be passed up.

                1. m
                  mnm310 Mar 3, 2008 05:53 AM

                  OMG!

                  I was so excited when Sangam opened up! I love this place and agree with you that its great, authentic food, Nick! I'm Pakistani and quite familiar with home-cooked 'desi' (as we South Asians refer to it) food. The Biryani definitely brings up memories of my mom's cooking and surpasses anything I've tried in NYC and even Jackson Heights.

                  The Nargisi Qeema rolls, a specialty type of ground beef roll originally served w/ egg (but you can get w/o) are quite tasty as well. The one thing I don't like about the rolls is the 'bread' or paraatha they use. Its one of the pre-made types, which you can buy in Indian/Pakistani grocery stores; I'd prefer if the home-cooked claim continued to all items on the menu.

                  Btw, the chai (tea) is okay, they use a cool espresso machine, but it doesn't measure up.

                  Now if only I can get the owners to add some BBQ items to the menu....

                  - M

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: mnm310
                    m
                    madeleine1 Apr 2, 2008 10:54 PM

                    Went there tonight and it was truly wonderful. We had two vegetable biryani which were excellent. Delicately fried onions, tender vegetables, and perfectly spiced rice. We had the nice side salad (its only $3 and compliments the rice) Nargisi roll, and chai. The owner stayed open late for us, and let us try an amazing dessert for free. I dont remember the name off hand, but it was a light and tasty rice pudding. He also showed us another homemade apricot dessert that looked enticing. Whats wonderful about this place is unlike its relative neighbors (Kati Roll , etc. ) you get a delicious fresh meal and a welcoming warm staff. I enjoy that the menu is kept to a few items , with many vegetarian options. I cant wait to try the samosa...

                  2. s
                    shivohum Apr 3, 2008 03:57 PM

                    Hrm. I'm going to have to give a somewhat contrarian opinion. I had the vegetarian Biryani a couple of weeks ago, and came away underwhelmed. It was fine, but it did not stand out to me. It seemed kind of bland (and I'm not talking about the spice level -- though I did ask for it to be hot). Though everyone was quite friendly.

                    1. Buddha Belly Apr 8, 2008 02:33 PM

                      AWFUL!! Avoid this place... If you want to spend 8 bucks for 3 ounces of chicken and a ton of rice..then go But really,I want them to succeed but the Birayni is oh so ordinary
                      ...essentially you pay 8 bucks for rice. The dish is 95% rice and 5% chicken. They say they dont use commercial spices (i.e they make their own) but I noticed nothing special.

                      The somosas were tasty yes, but much too greasy..Bring a cardiologist And DO NOT BELIVEVE THE HYPE It's ordinary at best, but I salute the good intentions

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Buddha Belly
                        d
                        daniellaczar Apr 16, 2008 10:38 AM

                        i think it's a very welcome addition to the neighborhood and is a much better value (and taste) than the indian bread co. next door!
                        i got the veg. biryani and the veg samosas and tea. the veg biryani is a good size, nicely spiced and fresh tasting....i think it's a great deal for this neighborhood and i like the simple menu. too many places have so much stuff and can't get anything right.
                        the samosa filling was excellent (better than mina's i think), a little greasy on the outside but they're samosas and that's kind of expected.
                        for the price the biryani was very good. the staff was very friendly as well. i was in a rush and ordered, got my food and ate in about 10 minutes.
                        i work in the area and it's perfect for a tasty, well-priced lunch that fixes my indian cravings that really cannot be met in this neighborhood as far as i've seen.
                        the tea wasn't so great, whenever they make it w/ those machines it has a weird taste, like the milk gets too hot...khushie does that too and it's simlarly bad. it would be great if they had better spiced tea b/c it's soooo good.
                        btw, i like this better than khushie, which unfortunately has really gone down hill in my opinion.

                      2. a
                        aymbereye May 21, 2008 06:11 AM

                        Fantastically disappointed by this place. Went last night, for the second time, and, although the service is solicitous, the samosas tasted and looked microwaved (with dribbles of oil spilling out when we picked them up) and probably the worst version of lamb biryani I've ever tasted. They actually took an item off our bill because it was all bones. The rice itself is relatively tasty and spicy..but not the 'special lamb biryani" we'd paid $9 for. I really wanted to like this place...I'm not sure they'll get a third visit from me.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: aymbereye
                          b
                          bob192 May 24, 2008 07:48 AM

                          I'm wondering if it makes a difference if the owner is in the house - I see him (an older, well-dressed gent, about 5'4" - 5'6" or so) several times a week, but have yet to try a dish when he's there. Did you happen to notice him?

                        2. o
                          owhosane Jul 8, 2008 11:08 PM

                          Nick F. - - Good lord, biryani isn't comparable to Chinese fried rice. Biryani isn't fried, it's baked, and has totally different flavors than Chinese fried rice. A typical biryani has flavors of cardamom, cinnamon, roasted chilis and fried onions, among others. An authentic one will have coconut and peanuts/cashews. You need to get yourself some good Hyderabadi biryani. Eat with raita. I think there's a place in Edison NJ that specializes in Hyderabadi biryani. Seem to remember it receiving a very good review from the Village Voice's Robert Sietsema.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: owhosane
                            bigjeff Jun 25, 2009 06:39 AM

                            i'm sure he just meant that it was a rice-based dish, versus a protein-based entree.

                          2. a
                            antinaan Sep 21, 2008 11:51 AM

                            After the first few morsels of their biryani went into my mouth, I developed this uncanny feeling that there was no trained Mexican chef in their kitchen, rather it was somebody who probably looked like my grandma who had cooked up this biryani. I mean, I could have been sitting down for the ramadan dinner at her ancestral house, a 100 miles away from Hyderabad on our own little remote corner of the world, and the biryani would have tasted no different from the one I was eating in NYC!! I now know from reading someone else's reply that my intuition was indeed right. In conclusion, I will eat here again,... and again...and again, and every time I travel to NYC. Usually, these kind of really authentic places dont last long (in downtown Chicago at least). I hope this one breaks that curse, or maybe things are different in NYC.

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