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Jun 30, 2008 03:01 PM

devi (2008)

I like *very* good Indian food. But, I have to admit, I don’t know that much about Indian food. It’s one of those world cuisines that I’m constantly striving to learn more about.

What I do know, from reading quite a bit about Suvir Saran and Hemant Mathur, the co-executive chefs at dévi are extremely talented and offer one of the best modern Indian dining experiences in New York, if not the United States. I was excited to finally check out the hype.

My friends and I agreed to have the five-course “Chef’s Tasting Menu.” Although each course offers choices, we were informed that the chef would like to cook the last two courses for us and send out desserts. We would only need to decide on which of the first two courses we wanted.

There were only two choices for each of the first two courses. So, our party of four divided the plates so that we’d get to try both.

Here is what our party had:

First Course
Dahi Batata Puri
Wheat hollows, potato-chickpea salad, tamarind and mint chutneys, yogurt, chickpea noodles

Shakarkandi Ki Chaat
Crispy sweet potatoes, toasted cumin, lemon juice, chaat masala

Second Course
Grilled Scallops
Roasted red pepper chutney, Manchurian cauliflower, spicy bitter-orange marmalade

Manchurian Cauliflower
Spicy garlic-infused tomato sauce, scallions

Third Course
Veal Brain and Liver Toasts
Veal brain with quail eggs and cilantro, liver with onion-tomato sauce and cinnamon

Fourth Course
Tandoori Prawns
Pomegranate marinade, crispy okra salad

Spinach Goat Cheese Paratha

Fifth Course
Tandoor-Grilled Lamb Chops
Sweet & sour pear chutney, spiced potatoes

Yogurt-Peppermint Sorbet

Sixth Course
Emperor’s Morsel (Shahi Tukra)
crispy saffron bread pudding, cardamom cream, candied almonds

Mango Kulfi
Indian ice cream, mango passion fruit sauce, fleur de sel, black peppercorn

Lemon Trio
Lemon cake, lemon-lemongrass sorbet, lemon curd

Mango Cheesecake
Rosewater-almond cookie crust, mango paté de fruit, mango crisp[/center]

We let the wine director choose two bottles for us. He started us off with Marcel Deiss Riesling and switched over to La Crema Pinot Noir (2006, Anderson Valley) somewhere between the third and fourth courses. I thought both paired quite well with our food. Surprisingly, I favored the pinot noir, a varietal whose domestic growth I tend not to like.

While the Shakarkandi Ki Chaat is not the most attractive creation, it probably the most unforgettable eating experience of the evening. The cake of diced sweet potatoes were at once soft and crispy. It’s as if they were first deep-fried and then lightly tossed with sauce and plated - the texture of tempura the nano-second after the dashi dunk. The flavor was no less dynamic than the Dahi Batata Puri. This was redolent with smoky cumin and laced with bracing, bright lemon tartness. Although milder than the other first course, this one was not shy on heat, either.

The one dish that everyone raves about is the Manchurian Cauliflower. I had no idea what to expect, given that this was a Chinese-named dish being served at an Indian restaurant. I’ll sum it up in four words: sweet and sour cauliflower. These large florets appeared to be lightly battered, fried and then coated in a sticky sauce reminiscent to that which is used with chicken or pork at Chinese restaurants.

Chef Hemant sent out an extra Tandoori Prawn for each of us. Beautifully-cooked, each prawn was the size of a small house pet, and brimming with bounce. Marinated in pomegranate juice and rubbed with spices, it offered a world of flavors: sweet, sour, savory, smoky and spicy. The crispy okra salad, an item on the a la carte menu that I had wanted to try, came with the prawn. It was a pile of shaved and desiccated (fried) okra with fresh onions, tomatoes and spices.

With the prawns, the chef sent out an order of the Spinach Goat Cheese Paratha, which was something like a paratha and palak paneer quesadilla. The warm, fluffy wedges came with a loose yogurt sauce on the side. If I were to loose all sense of decency and restraint, I'm sure I could handily down a couple basketfuls of these parathas without blinking.

Less impressive was the Grilled Scallop, which, though perfectly-cooked, was rather forgettable. Sauced with a red pepper chutney, the scallop was accompanied by single Manchurian cauliflower floret.

The two offal-topped toasts were good, but not the exciting find that I was anticipating. The brains were exceedingly creamy and perhaps purposely served slightly cold. I've never had slightly cold brains. I'm not sure I like them slightly cold. But, I did like the flavor of the brains, especially with cilantro, which helped freshen them up a bit.

If for nothing else, I appreciated the liver toast for the interesting combination of tomato and cinnamon, which helped temper the otherwise strong liver flavor.

Sadly, service handicapped what was an otherwise rather successful dinner. First, they repeatedly served me things I was allergic to. I admit that I failed to notify them of my allergies (mango, eggplant and kiwi) at first. I was reminded that I needed to do so when the amuse bouche arrived. It was a folded phyllo cup filled with a mango salad of some sort.

They graciously (and quickly) exchanged it for a Seafood and Crab Croquette with pickled green chile mayonnaise (it's on their regular menu). The molten-hot ball of minced seafood had a thick, crunchy, dark-golden crust. It was the first hit of appreciable heat of the evening for me; it made me glad I was allergic to mango.

Later, our tandoori prawns showed up on a bed of eggplant stew. I looked at it for a second. My friends were just about to say something when another server whisked the plate away, apologizing for the mistake. My prawn returned with a slightly sweet tomato chutney.

The kitchen sent out four different desserts. Given that they knew I was allergic to mango, I'm boggled as to why they would choose three mango desserts when there were more than three non-mango desserts on their regular menu. (I have no reason to doubt our server, but, I'm doubtful that there was actually a mango tuile on the "Lemon Trio.")

The only dessert (out of the four) that I could eat - the restaurant's signature "Emperor's Morsel" - wasn't even given to me. Of course we traded plates. Of course, I didn't need to try four desserts (although my friends were able to sample every one). (I really shouldn't be complaining since there are only two choices on the Chef's Tasting Menu.) But, it would have been nice to see some level of forethought and care, if not coordination among the staff.

The Emperor's Morsel is described as a saffron "bread pudding." I'd liken the texture to spongey fried dough. There was a faint hint of saffron, but cardamon took a more aggressive roll. Although it sent the dessert sailing into the "too-sweet" territory, I loved the pistachio brittle bits scattered on the plate for crunchy texture.

There were a few other rocky moments in service, like when our lamb showed up immediately after our shrimp. The captain shooed the servers away, cleared our plates, and served us a refreshing intermezzo of (half-melted) yogurt and mint sorbet before recalling the chops to our table.

I must admit that my expections of dévi were coloured by its Michelin one star rating. I know that many (especially local New York fine diners) put little, if any stock in the Michelin Guide Rouge New York. And, for the same reason, it may be unbelievable (or beside the point) to some that I found dévi a couple of shades more casual than I had been expecting.

Yes, I was anticipated (although not necessarily hoping for) something a little more refined. (This observation sparked a rather lively discussion: [url="], subsequently.


However, even though service at our table verged on amateurish at times, I can't say that dévi was too casual to bear. It was refreshing to enjoy wonderfully-executed food in a relaxed setting. I suppose there's something special and wholly unique about eating shakarkandi ki chaat and sipping German Riesling with the sultry, smoky stylings of Nora Jones playing in the background.

The restaurant's colourful schema is quite lovely. Next time, I'm going to request one of the gauze-lined banquette tables in the back of the ground level room. The bar is more pathetic and useless than the bar at Adour at the St. Regis. It's as if a Tiki hut from Waikiki Beach landed at some random Indian restaurant near Union Square.

Overall, dévi's food was very good, some of it was great. Given time, I'm sure I'll return with adjusted expectations and will eagerly try many of the other items on the menu.

You can read the entire review at the ulterior epicure: [url="].

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  1. I went there on a recent NYC trip and enjoyed it. I had a lot of the same dishes that you had. I left there feeling that it was very good but I wasn't totally wowed and I would go back but I wouldn't feel compelled to. To me the service was overbearing, the staff was constantly hovering and refilling water glasses anytime someone took a sip. I felt like telling them to go away for a while.

    4 Replies
    1. re: tofuburrito

      I went there last night on the RW menu. Mostly the food was very good.

      The amuse was mediocre, and it was cold, which certain suprised, if not amused, my mouth.

      The lamb-stuffed tandoori chicken starter was good; it tasted pretty much as one would expect given the description. My friends' scallops starter were great too - two or three huge scallops on each plate.

      The lamb chops main were especially good and reminded me of a similar dish I have had in Tamarind in London.

      Puddings were merely okay, but then I never find Indian puds the best.

      I did not find any of the food particularly spicy; it really is US/UK-Indian, rather than anything approching proper Indian (which is absolutely fine by me - I know how my body reacts to food in India!)

      The service, however, was pretty poor. We were only seated half an hour after our booking time. Six of us were squeezed onto two tables for two pushed together. In contrast to tofuburrito's point above, the staff only refilled our water once during the whole meal, and then again just as we were paying the check.

      All in all, a good meal in terms of food, but the service was not that hot. Still - guess that is what RW is all about!

      1. re: sticham

        I disagree regarding Devi's spicing. I like my food "Desi spicy," and don't feel like I've eaten until I've had my chilies, especially when it comes to eating Asian. But Devi is going for a more delicate masala that balances out the flavors. It tries to go beyond the pools of spicy tarka and flatfooted masalas dictated by tradition. In that high-end interpretation, I think it works. The flavors are all there, all in balance, and the weight of oil and heavy seasoning is gone.

        Dessert is a miss for me, though. I would much rather they tried to stick a little closer to tradition with an improved ladoo or delicate play on gulab jamun, but the rest of the food I think can be revelatory.

        1. re: JungMann

          We also had the tasting menu at Devi and were not very impressed. The service was slow and the A/C was weak. Tabla does the same genre of Indian in a much better manner. For more traditional Indian Tamarind is good.

          1. re: meinNYC

            I ate there on Friday for restaurant week, and service was just fine, especially considering it was packed. All the food came out quickly and our server was being pretty nice.

            Manchurian cauliflower (like you said) was just sweet and sour cauliflower. It was tasty but I'm not sure if it was as good as everyone claims it is. I did however fall in love with the lamb chops. I think I'd go back for the lamb chops alone.

    2. I had another excellent RW dinner last night. Here's the relevant portion of what I wrote on my blog:

      Once again, the Restaurant Week menu barred no significant holds from the regular tasting menus. Two of us shared appetizers and mains. Now some Indian food purists might find Devi's menu too "nouvelle" or "fusiony," but I find that most of the innovations work and that the food remains Indian at the core. In addition to the two appetizers we ordered, the waiter brought us an additional appetizer "compliments of the chef."...One of our appetizers was the Goan shrimp balchao bruschetta--fresh, tender medium-large shrimp served on toast with a savory onion and tomato-based sauce that, though not specified on the menu, is flavored with a bit of shrimp paste. Balchao is a Portuguese colonial specialty sauce that is also popular in Malaysian cuisine as belacan. The other appetizer we chose was grilled scallops with roasted red pepper chutney, Manchurian cauliflower, and spicy bitter-orange marmalade. Two perfectly cooked jumbo sea scallops sat atop the pepper chutney which was actually more a coulis. On one side of the plate was the marmalade, and on the other a small amount of the Manchurian cauliflower, or gobi Manchurian, crispy cauliflower with a mildly spicy, sweet and sour tomato glaze, a dish borrowed from Indian-Chinese cuisine. Our bonus appetizer was a full order of the gobi Manchurian, one of the restaurant's more popular vegetable dishes.

      One of the main courses was a no-brainer, Hemant Mathur's amazing tandoor-grilled lamb chops coated with a complex spice paste, and served with two wonderful sides: sweet and sour pear chutney and a spiced potato preparation that is potato heaven. Our other entree was the masala fried quail. This is one of Suvir Saran's specialties. A similar fried chicken recipe is in his American Masala book. The poultry is breaded with a buttermilk batter with Indian spices. The result is a marriage of North India and the American South, dare I say a Mississippi Masala? Thankfully, it's not saccharine like Mira Nair's films. The quail's accompaniments of a warm mustard-oil potato salad and a spicy slaw with peanuts that reminded me of something Thai were fabulous. In addition to these two entrees we were comped with an excellent vegetable side dish, crispy okra salad. The fried slivers of okra lose all of the okra sliminess that turns many people off to that vegetable. Breads are not included in the prix-fixe, so we ordered the garlic naan. But when the bread arrived we were also presented with an additional basket of bread, one of the restaurant's signature creations, goat cheese & spinach kulcha served with a yogurt sauce, also "compliments of the chef." My dessert, a mango kulfi, was good if unspectacular, but pleasantly lighter than most kulfis, like a cross between a kulfi and a sorbet.