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Jan 8, 2013 01:01 PM

Chote Nawab - in Curry Hill

I’m getting old. We went to Chote Nawab the week before Christmas and I’m only getting around to writing about it now. In the two whole weeks since then I’d forgotten why I went. Finally I remembered.

It was Sietesema. He wrote a pleasantly complimentary review in the Voice back in November and it piqued my interest enough to give the place a try. We’ve been going to Dhaba for our Indian fix for quite awhile and had been on the lookout for something new.

It turns out we weren’t diversifying quite as much as we had thought. Chote Nawab is owned by Shiva Natarajan who also owns Dhaba and Chola on the same block. Mr. Natarajan is a regular Indian Danny Meyer. A little Googling uncovered a short NY Times article from last June which revealed that he’s opened 12 restaurants in the NY metro area over the years. He is not new at this.

Based on the Times article it appears that Chote Nawab opened sometime last summer. In terms of décor Indian restaurants sometimes seem like they’re stuck in a 1980s loop. Natarajan’s places break that mold – they have a pleasant gloss to them

We arrived relatively early on a Saturday night to find the place about 30% full. By the time we left at 9:00 it was 80% occupied with more people coming in.

Time to talk about the food.

Garlic nan.

Because we find it impossible not to order it. Very good.

Tunde Ka Kabob

Sietsema had touted this in a way I found irresistible.

"About the size of a half-pound burger, the macerated lamb patty sizzles in a cast-iron skillet on a bed of purple onions, charred on both sides and crowned with cilantro. It has the damp slipperiness of a tartare, and a heavenly smell rises up as the app is delivered to the table. You'll never taste anything more tender."

It *was* very good but to us, not quite as magical as he made it seem. I found the flavor a bit milder than I’d prefer. If you’re going to visit the place three times I’d definitely order it at least once, just not on all three visits.

Chicken 65

This won’t be a revelation if you’ve ordered Indo Chinese dishes in the past but this was as good as I’ve had anywhere. Fully flavored, medium spicy, and juicy. Now this is something I might order three times in a row.

Murgh Zafrani / Chicken Tikka Masala

Because we lack imagination, two saucy chicken dishes. In our defense the tastes were distinctly different. The Zafrani was served in a almond based sauce that added richness and a bit of nutty flavor. It was a dish that was new to me and very good.

The tikka masala, OTOH, is an old friend. This was a very good rendition, a bit creamier and richer than most. Sometimes you regret ordering familiar dishes – not this time.

We ordered a dry prosecco to go along with the food and it worked well. It was the same wine we’ve had a dozen times at Chote Nawab’s sister restaurant Dhaba. Somehow in traveling across the street the price has increased by $4.00. The Mystery of the East.

Service was seamless and attentive. Couldn’t have been better. And at the end of the meal they comped us some rice pudding.

What can I say? I liked the place and I look forward to working my way through the menu looking for unfamiliar dishes to discover. Good neighborhood places like this are rife in London but all too rare in New York. I wish there were more of them.

Chote Nawab
115 Lexington Avenue (28th St.
)(212) 679-4603

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    1. re: knucklesandwich

      I've been to Dhaba about 3 times since September and had good meals every time. I'm just looking to expand my horizons a bit.

    2. What a fantastic meal this was. I'm not sure I've had better Indian in NYC including some of the higher end spots

      Waiter was delighted with my first ordering choice of the Tunde Ke kebab ("Very good choice sir") as an app but then things went south in a hurry as he got annoyed when we asked for 2 main veggy dishes to bring with the first course as well. The kebab was interesting but after a few bites I felt the need to have something else with it like the veggies or some sauce

      The Bindi Sasuralwali - it says on the menu "okra you would eat at your in laws house" - Not my in laws I'll tell you that. I'm not even sure they know what Okra is. But the dish was good and so was the eggplant with peanut masala (Baghara Baigan Mirchi)

      Shrimp Pappas was another sauce dish. Not one of my favorites but enjoyable nonetheless. Its cooked with Kokum, an Indian fruit and came with one dried Kokum which didnt taste that great but the dish overall worked well.

      Lamb Biryani was one of the better Biryanis I've had. Comes with 2 sauces but I didnt feel the need for any. The only thing I wished I had ordered the goat instead. Loved the bread covering it - nice touch. BTW, the garlic naan is very good here

      The highlight for me was the Chicken Kori Gassi - Packed with flavorful. Couldnt stop eating it. The chicken was super tender and very tasty. A decent amount of heat as with most of the dishes we got

      Overall, lets just say I took my time before I washed my hands later that day. Thoroughly enjoyed this

      3 Replies
      1. re: Ziggy41

        This definitely sounds like a place I should go to. But why did the waiter turn surly when you ordered vegetable dishes?

        1. re: Pan

          Because they were listed as mains on the menu. I wanted to try quite a few dishes (it was 4 of us) which consisted of mains pretty much and I didn't want to get all of them at once. He even mentioned that we ordered too many dishes.

          But don't get me wrong, I actually prefer waiters who speak their mind. We then proceeded to have a nice chat

          1. re: Ziggy41

            I understand. Yeah, I appreciate a waiter who warns me that I'm ordering too much food.

      2. We’ve been back to Chote Nawab 3 times since my initial post. I meant to write about, I really did, but sheer lack of discipline prevented me. The restaurant deserves better than that – all our meals have been outstanding.

        In order to write a proper review you should make notes during the meal or at worst, the following day. I didn’t do that. All I have are some reasonably good pictures and my GF’s and my memories that everything was very good indeed.

        Kozhi Dry Roast - chicken sauteed w. onions, peppercorns and fennel seeds.

        Murgh Malai Tikka - grilled chicken in a creamy marinade. Aside from those long pieces of onion looking like the claws on Wolverine this was a perfect balance between a traditional saucy curry and one of their dry dishes. Great stuff.

        A bit of Lamb Vindaloo with onion nan.

        Aloo Paneer Bharwan - potatoes stuffed with spiced paneer cheese. I thought this was good without being wonderful. I think the issue wasn’t the preparation, it was the fact that I wouldn’t love the dish anywhere.

        Tunde Ka Kabab - lamb patties from Lucknow. I’ve warmed up to this dish. Initially I liked it fine but the second time around I really thought this was terrific. Fully flavored and juicy without being overly intense. A nice sized portion too.

        I had minor epiphany at the end of our last visit. It was around 9:00PM on a Saturday night and I noticed that the crowd in the restaurant was 80% Caucasian. Here they were, eating uncompromising versions of classic Indian dishes. Not Disney versions. Not fusiony takes where the spice levels are cut by two thirds. No, this was the real stuff. In fact, that was why the crowd was here.

        In New York Indian food is about to go mainstream.

        11 Replies
        1. re: Bob Martinez

          Tried it tonight for the first time. Had chicken 65, Tunde Ka Kebab (loved that), Goa fish curry, Murgh Zafrani, Punjabi goat curry, and Palak paneer. The menu was somewhat different from what is on the website. They don't have lemon rice, the beer list is limited, and it is very noisy. While we enjoyed everything, we like Malai Marke better, it's quieter, beer selection far more interesting, mellower atmosphere.

          1. re: rrems

            What did you think of the Goa fish curry? I had it a few days ago, and while there was nothing really wrong with it, it tasted mostly of coconut and had very little heat and no sourness. I looked up a few recipes online when I got home, and all of them included chiles and tamarind. What I ate at Chote Nawab was anemic in comparison.

            The rest of my party all ordered different lamb dishes (I didn't taste them); "pretty good" was the general consensus. We also had the baigan dahiwala, which I liked alright, but like the fish, it didn't do much to distinguish itself. In general, the food is better the slop I used to eat on 6th St. back in the day, but nothing made me want to rush back.

            1. re: small h

              We felt the same way about the fish curry.

              1. re: rrems

                Thanks. Now I need to find myself a better Goa fish curry somewhere else.

          2. re: Bob Martinez

            "In New York Indian food is about to go mainstream."


            Anyway, Chote Nawab stands out for freshness, and even though they're probably not using proper ghee, they do use a heavy hand of cream which adds to rich flavors. Where a lot of Indian food can taste like it's coming from a giant pot, only a step up from a buffet table, Chote Nawab are making many dishes to order. That's both good and bad.

            1. re: sugartoof


              Perhaps you'd like to expand on that if you can.

              1. re: Bob Martinez

                Indian food isn't mainstream in NY? Say what?

                We have entire streets filled with Indian establishments.
                We've had trendy restaurants co-owned by Danny Meyer exploiting Indian cuisine.
                New York had an Indian restaurant overlooking Central Park for goodness sakes.

                1. re: sugartoof

                  I think you misunderstand what I was talking about when I said "mainstream."

                  I was talking about the type of penetration that Sichuan has gained in NYC over the last 10 years. Sure, 30 years ago we had Sichuan places in Flushing and Manhattan's Chinatown but they've expanded far beyond that. Two things have fueled the growth. The number of young affluent Chinese diners has grown enormously along with the number of Anglo diners eager to eat this cuisine. The market responded.

                  In 1990 the Indian population of NY was 96,000. By 2000 it was up to 206,000. By 2007 - 315,000. The NY metro area now has 526,000 people from the Indian subcontinent.

                  That kind of growth, coupled with rising income levels, means a huge jump in potential customers. Based on what I'm seeing in Indian restaurants plenty of Anglos have joined in. (This has been the case in the U.K. for over 30 years.)

                  More restaurants, better restaurants. That's what I meant by mainstream.

                  In case you're wondering where I got my numbers -




                  The Sichuan explosion is a done deal. Even the NY Times has figured it out. The Indian expansion is just beginning to happen but I think it's inevitable.

                  1. re: Bob Martinez

                    Puzzling how Chinese food or Indian food can still be perceived as exotic, fringe ethnic cuisines, challenging mainstream eating habits. Every supermarket serves frozen versions of them. Chote Nawab is serving accessible pan-Indian dishes.

                    Szechuan is a type of Chinese food. You would have to be speaking of something like regional Southern Indian for the comparison to make sense.

                    What does the Indian population in 1990 have to do with anything? Is that the first time you had Indian food? There were popular Indian restaurants in NY by the 20's, and Sixth Street and Lexington were well established long before 1990. The clientele at Chote Nawab shows the Indian population isn't driving the popularity for Indian foods - it's already crossed over in a way Szechuan owners dream of.

                    1. re: sugartoof

                      "Szechuan is a type of Chinese food. "

                      Slow down. You're going too fast for me.

                    2. re: Bob Martinez

                      The success of the kati roll places could be foreshadowing.....
                      (not discussing their authenticity, just how crazy popular they are)

            2. any recommendations for Indian nearer to Vandam street/ or SOHO?

              6 Replies
              1. re: the_witz

                Just go to Malai Marke in the East Village. You are not too far

                1. re: Ziggy41

                  Yep. Malai Marke is a great choice.

                  1. re: Bob Martinez

                    between the two (CN and MM) if location was not important, do you have a preference? the menus seem to overlap some but having been to neither it would be helpful to have a side-by-side comparison from someone who has.

                    1. re: tex.s.toast

                      I like them both a lot so I don't have a preference.

                      People often declare a place "the best" because they do a great job on their 5 favorite dishes. Which is great if you happen to like those 5. Of course, you might prefer 5 other dishes and find that another place makes superior versions. Which is "best?" It depends on what you like.

                      In this case the menus are broad enough so you'll be able to find plenty of things that should be appealing. I'd pick the place that's more convenient.

                      1. re: Bob Martinez

                        Can you characterize broadly what you like about each, relative to each other? (not requiring an itemization of your top 5 favorites at each, but just a little help figuring out which will be best for us). if they were easily categorizable (a northern/kebab place vs dosa spot or something) that would be one thing but both feature (somewhat similar) diverse menus - im less concerned with finding "the best" and more interested in picking the one that will work the best for us.

                        1. re: tex.s.toast

                          The menus at both are somewhat pan-Indian - they really don't heavily specialize in a region. In the main I think both restaurants lean toward the north more than the south but there are exceptions. For example both places feature Chinese Indian dishes like chili chicken and chicken 65. Anglo Indian dishes are also on the menu. At MM they've got northern kabob dishes but they also have southern Chettinad dishes. One of my favorite dishes at MM, Chicken Xacuti, is a Goan specialty.

                          Some people could view that as a weakness - understandably so. You can't be an expert in everything. OTOH I've visited each place 5 or 6 times and had very good meals at both places.

                          I think I'm letting you down and I apologize. That said, if I were you I'd just pick the most appealing things on the menu and trust the kitchen to do a good job.

              2. Hi, does anybody have an opinion of CHOTE NAWAB vs BHATTI?

                I'm interested in a food and value-for-food comparison but I need to add a couple of details:

                I'm putting together a dinner for some disparate groups of my friends while I am in town. So it needs to be a place that can accomodate 8-13, either via a reservation or high turn over and general flexibility/capacity ... we're also aiming for 8ish on a Sat night [11/16].

                This, along with not going to a major sticker shock place [let's say under $40 per person] I understand will necessitate some compromises, but this dinner really has friends-before-food as a priority ... obviously a BYO place buys us a bit of a cushion for food spending, and that would be fine.

                For comparison, on my last Site Visit, more or less the same group went to CAFE NARGIS, an UZBEK place near Brighton Beach/South BK. Everyone was delighted with the dinner ther [the desserts werent great but the main apps and main dishes were good and the logistics we also good].

                Default plan now is BHATTI, as some of my in-town friends have been there and like it.

                I'd be happy to hear other suggestions ... most of the attendees are in Central BK and some coming down from Central Park West area, so Flushing, BX, NJ are not the best options.

                I probably should have forked a different thread for this. Also I can report back ... I know it can be annoying when advice is taken but feedback is not given. If it makes a diff, about half the group are Indians/Bengalis.


                2 Replies
                1. re: psb

                  Chote Nawab is leagues better than Bhatti for food.

                  We could give opinions, but I wouldn't assume either are options until you call both.

                  Neither are going to be ideal for that size group during a prime Saturday seating. My wild guess is Bhatti is more likely to have room for you. It largely survives from the spill over from the others getting busy. Both Chote Nawab and Bhatti are often empty on any given night. Bhatti's seating will be easier to combine.

                  1. re: sugartoof

                    Hi, thanks for you input.

                    It looks like our bandwidth for complicated logistics is limited so we just pulled the trigger for party of 10 at BHATTI ... they were able to give us a reservation, they are ok with BYO, probably some flexibility for last minute expansion etc.

                    I am quite interested in analyzing the TUNDE KA KABOB at C. NAWAB and maybe the PHALL at MALAI MARKE, so I appreciate those suggestions.