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Feb 10, 2013 02:33 PM

Malai Marke - a new Indian on (gasp!) 6th St.

Another month, another good new Indian restaurant. Last month I wrote about Chote Nawab, an Indian restaurant which opened last summer.

In researching the place I learned that the owner, Shiva Naratjan, had just opened yet another restaurant on 6th St., Malai Marke.

Yes, 6th St.

This strip of Indian restaurants has been there since the late 1970s. The food was never stellar but most of us eating there didn’t know any better. They were our introduction to Indian cuisine.

As time went on a lot of us gradually outgrew them. In my case frequent trips to London opened up whole new vistas of Indian dining. With occasional exceptions most of the 6th St. places were barely acceptable. They were also very much alike – the long standing joke was that they shared a common kitchen. Over time the center of gravity for Indian restaurants moved north to Curry Hill. The old strip seemed like it was caught in a time warp; mediocre food served in a fusty atmosphere.

But sometimes things change. We’ve liked Dhaba and Chote Nawab, Naratjan’s other places, so we figured we’d give Malai Marke a try. It worked out nicely.

Like Naratjan’s other restaurants MM has a nice contemporary glossiness about it.

The menu had plenty of familiar things on it as well of plenty of dishes that were new to us. We mixed and matched and ordered too much food because, well, that’s what we do.

Patiala Lamb Kabab spiced - pan grilled lamb patties. This was new to us. Not overwhelmingly lamby but certainly more assertive than a chicken patty. Juicy and nicely spiced. Dishes like this are why I go to Indian restaurants.

Ragara Patties - spiced potato patties with chickpeas, yogurt and chutnies. This was served at room temperature. A classic side dish, relatively mild and made for offsetting the spicier options on the menu. It would have been nice if the menu had mentioned the temperature. I still would have ordered it but my mouth was expecting a hot dish.

Chicken Achari. We’ve had this before but I can’t remember a better version. This was suitably moist with mid range heat. Very good indeed.

Garlic nan, because we always order it. Greasy in a very good way.

Seekh Kabab - skewered lamb rolls. The best version I’ve ever had of this dish was served at the Delhi Brasserie in London’s Soho, a 10 out of 10. I try not to think about it too often because I’ve been disappointed by versions served in New York. Malai Marke’s version was really pretty good, juicier than others. I marked it down a bit because the spicing wasn’t as complex as renditions I’ve had in London but really, their’s is very good.

Chicken Tikka Masala. A perennial favorite of my GF’s. MM’s iteration was very good indeed, rich in a good way. I’ve never had a better version.

We later learned that Malai Marke had only opened the previous week. Had we known we would have held off our visit for at least 3 or 4 weeks in order to give the kitchen a chance to settle down and to let the serving staff find their stride. I attribute the unusual smoothness of our meal to Naratjan’s professionalism. He’s been in this business for awhile and he knows how to open a restaurant that hits on all cylinders from the start. I also suspect that owning multiple restaurants is an advantage. He probably switches seasoned staff around to avoid staffing a new restaurant with people who’ve never worked with each other.

All of that worked in our favor. Our meal was first rate and we look forward to getting back and working our way through the menu.

You know who the only people around who probably aren’t very happy about Malai Marke? The owners of those tired and mediocre places on 6th St. They’re going to have to get better fast or have their business take a real hit. MM has raised the bar.

Malai Marke
318 E 6th St
(between 1st Ave & 2nd Ave
)Manhattan, NY 10003

(212) 777-7729

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  1. Thanks for the review (and great photos). How would you compare the quality to Dhaba?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Dave Feldman

      It's premature to compare Malai Marke with Dhaba since I've only had one meal. At least for that one, however, the quality was comparable. I was planning on going back the past weekend but the snow crossed up my plans. I'll post about my next meal.

      FWIW I've eaten twice at Chote Nawab, Natarajan's other NY restaurant (besides Chola), and the food quality there was certainly comparable with Dhaba's.

    2. Thanks for the good and surprising news. I'll be sure to check the place out.

      1. We went to Malai Marke on a recent Saturday night. We had an excellent meal.

        Plainly the restaurant has been "discovered." We did not have a reservation and at a little before 9 p.m. we waited about 15 mins for a table in the "main" room. As we waited quite a number of other folks showed up; some with reservations, some without. There did seem to be an issue as to whether reservations were properly taken down. Some diners showed up claiming a reservation and none was there. We were told that by ten p.m. you can walk right in. I would call in advance. Lunch is much calmer.

        In any event, we had generally good service. The kitchen is open as you walk in to the back of the restaurant and you can see the chefs are flying and, to my eye (I cook a bunch of Indian at home) were well on their game. They have a number of wine and beer options. The bengali sixpoint was good, and I have not much seen it in other spots.

        We had an excellent spicy sauteed paneer appetizer. With onions, a few peppers. Perhaps a bit like a chicken 65 sauce. Spicy. Really very very good. Addictive; we enjoyed it very much. The much talked about okra was also very good. Both our chicken and lamb dishes were excellent. The lamb spicier than the chicken. Very good lemon rice and an outstanding garlic naan. We did watch the chef make a very interesting looking shrimp dish as we were waiting, in a light coriander sauce; it looked great. We will try it next time. Currently, it is our favorite Indian in NYC and prefer it over Dhaba and Mohti Mahal. Cheers.

        2 Replies
          1. re: comiendosiempre

            ComiedoS, thanks for the report. I'm glad you liked it.

            Malai Marke is on OpenTable. I just checked and as of now, Friday at 7:45AM, they have tables for two available at 8:00PM on Saturday.

            OpenTable is the way to go.

          2. I went three times in the first month it was open and was disappointed because not only wasn't it as good as Dhaba, it wasn't better than any other average Indian place in town. None of the food had much depth of spice or flavor and tomato seemed to be over-used. But I trust your taste - it must have gotten better.

            20 Replies
            1. re: Peter Cuce

              Wow. I'm sorry about that. I've been to MM 3 times and it was good to very good each time.

              Based on my rec. a number of people from another food board went there in the first 6 weeks. Some of them are huge PITAs (in a good way, of course) and they all liked it. Believe me, these folks wouldn't be shy in voicing their disappointment.

              Maybe there's a difference in what we ordered? I didn't have anything that contained tomato. Do you remember what you had?

              Dhaba's been our benchmark for years. We've also had a couple of good meals at Chote Nawab, Dhaba's sister restaurant. I've thought MM was comparable although a bit different. These places aren't chains - their menus overlap a bit but they have their own personalities.

              Anyway, I'm sorry for your bad meals. That happens to me occasionally at other restaurants and I take that type of thing personally.

              1. re: Bob Martinez

                Didn't take any particular note of food eaten due to aforementioned disenchantment, but what I was trying to indicate was that shortcut a lot of Indian restaurants take when creating dishes. They're not hewing necessarily to the recipe but instead making some generic base and using it for many dishes. Anyway, I'm in the area every Thursday so will try to hit it next week. If it's good I am happy about it - I never want to have bad meals of course.

                1. re: Peter Cuce

                  You're a brave guy. I don't know if I'd give them another chance after 3 bad meals.

                  On my last trip I had a dish which I liked a lot - Chicken Xacuti. If you're feeling lucky give it a try.

                  1. re: Peter Cuce

                    Peter, did you ever make it back? trying to decide on a visit here but would love an additional data point.

                    1. re: tex.s.toast

                      We have been back to MM a few times, and have always had a good meal. We think its one of the best options for Indian in the city right now. Their spicy sauted paneer starter, with onions and chili, is excellent. We ask for it very spicy and usually it arrives that way.

                      1. re: comiendosiempre

                        I've ordered delivery from them twice now (chicken tikka masala and lamb biryani) and it's been very, very good. Their lunch special is a large portion served with a lot of naan, cabbage, and a very good dal. Like Bob said, the tikka masala is extremely rich. Best when sopped up with a lot of rice and naan.

                      2. re: tex.s.toast

                        Sorry for the late reply - hit a real busy streak. I made it there two weeks ago for lunch and found it to be up with best Indian food I've had in NYC. Got the dry lamb curry. It was so much better than my first visits. I've tried Kokum since then and thought it was solid-good, but Malai Marke I'd return to any time.

                        1. re: Peter Cuce

                          I had lunch there today and it was, in a word, TERRIBLE. I had the Allepy Red Curry which tasted like it was made with Rao's Marinara sauce with a couple of Curry Leaves and a few pieces of nondescript fish tossed in. The cabbage was bland and the Nan was surely left overs from the night before.

                          1. re: hoi lai

                            Most likely a misstep: l ate there with my family last night, and everything was as good as ever, most especially the chicken tikka and mattar paneer.

                            1. re: howdini

                              I ate there tonight. It was very good.

                              Hoi La, could you list some of your favorite Indian restaurants in New York? Good suggestions are always welcome.

                              1. re: Bob Martinez

                                I have not eaten at the high end expensive Indian Restaurants in New York so I can't comment on them. I really liked Southern Spice and went often before they left Flushing and Spicy Minas which was hit or miss but had some delicious meals there.
                                There was an Indian place on the East Side that got a lot of publicity last year in the 60's ( Lex or 3rd Ave? ) that I meant to try. Do you know the place I'm thinking of?

                                1. re: hoi lai

                                  There are quite a few Indian restaurants on 58th Street between 3rd and Lex, Yuva, Chola, Dawat. I prefer Yuva out of the three after a bad ras malai incident at Chola. That being said, I like Nirvana better than all three.

                                  Southern Spice was really one of my favorite Indian restaurants in NYC, though the quality of their meat was deplorable during lunch. The flavor of their chicken 65 and biryanis was exceptional.

                                  Malai Marke does an excellent rendition of lamb madras, if you like lamb, I would give it a try. Their chicken tikka is also very good, albeit very sweet. Their lamb is closest in flavor to something you would get at Southern Spice, and the meat at Malai Marke is better quality.

                                  1. re: Pookipichu

                           found the regular chicken tikka sweet? l do find their tikka masala sweet, but not the plain tikka.

                                    l'll definitely try that lamb madras next time.

                                    1. re: howdini

                                      I did not try the chicken tikka. Sorry, I should have clarified (I'm used to people shortening chicken tikka masala to chicken tikka and I know that causes unnecessary confusion and is not accurate). The sauce for the chicken tikka masala is really sweet.

                                    2. re: Pookipichu

                                      Thanks, I'll follow your suggestion and try the Lamb Madras.

                                    3. re: hoi lai

                                      <There was an Indian place on the East Side that got a lot of publicity last year in the 60's ( Lex or 3rd Ave? ) that I meant to try. Do you know the place I'm thinking of??>

                                      Moti Mahal Delux on 1st at 63rd, probably. It got reviewed in the NYT, so it was all of a sudden on everyone's radar.


                                      1. re: small h

                                        Yes, that is the place. Thank you.
                                        Have you been there?

                                        1. re: hoi lai

                                          No. I intend to go and check it out for lunch one day soon.

                                        2. re: small h

                                          It's very good, but I like Malai Marke slightly more. Definitely try it and see how it compares for you.

                                          1. re: rrems

                                            I should get over to Malai Marke, because I just reviewed my - and your - posts on Indian food, and I see that you like Malai Marke more than Chote Nawab, a restaurant I thought was just okay. I have never been thrilled by Indian food in Manhattan, except for one scallop dish at Tamarind a million years ago (and I was much younger and less discerning then). I hate to think that my one trip to India ruined me forever, so I keep trying, but not that often.

                      3. Loved the intro to your review. I (we) lived on 6th St. in the early to mid '70's, when there were only three Indian places--Shah Bagh was our go-to joint, probably because we could get out for about 50 cents less than the other places. Once we left the nabe for Brooklyn, we returned to the block a few times, but eventually the Jackson Diner stole our affections. They relocated and went downhill about the same time we moved to Jersey. We now live just a short drive from Oak Tree Road in Edison, where our general impression is overpriced food that can be OK, but not good enough to get us back. This sentiment seems to be borne out by posts on CH's New Jersey board, where no single place has garnered a critical mass of favorable comments, and the consensus seems to be that downhill slides are so predictable, no review is valid more than six months after it is published.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: albinoni

                          Aah, the Shah Bagh days. Thanks for reminding me of my mis-spent youth.