All across New York City are Indian restaurants. Some of these explore the very high end of the spectrum like Tamarind and Junoon, and others could best be described as lower end, casual dining establishments with the same dishes done pretty much the same way. MasalaWala falls under a different category. Roni Mazumdar, owner/ceo describes his restaurant as being in the middle range — not fancy, but not one of your average curry joints. MasalaWala offers street foods from all over the Indian subcontinent, including some dishes that I have only seen in other countries (London, UK). The restaurant is modern in it’s feel, small, but feels large with the high ceilings and everyone is friendly, especially Roni’s father, who you will assuredly meet if you dine-in.
I was fortunate enough to drop in and get a chance to try lots of the MasalaWala offerings. Here is a breakdown:
Street-Side Bites (appetizers)
Dahi Puri started us off. This is a one-bite (do it, or it will be messy) semolina puff with spiced potatoes, chickpeas, mint and yogurt chutney. I could have eaten the whole plate of these. This is something I’ve never seen/had before. Next was kolkata gobi manchurian, which is cauliflower florets tossed in ginger, garlic and Indo-Chinese spices. This was one of my favorite dishes of the meal. This was almost like an Indian version of General Tso’s chicken, but with cauliflower. It was delicious.
Next up was samosa chaat, a veggie samosa topped with spiced chickpeas and several kinds of chutney as well as lamb kakori kebab which was triple ground lamb, soaked in spices and herbs. The Lamb was about as tender as humanly possible and had a nice spicy kick. I’d never seen samosa’s topped in this way, but it was a really nice flavor and texture combination.
If this wasn’t already a feast, we were in for more, much more. One of the dishes that was going to come out was daal tadka (yellow lentils), but after professing my love for daal makhani (black lentils), we received that instead. While I’m sure the yellow were great, the black daal was so so good. Along with the daal came the best biryani I have ever had. It can often be greasy and oily, but the chicken was tender and the rice and spice blend was superb. The Lamb shahi korma was rich and fork tender and the chicken jalfrezi was flavorful and of the better versions I have had. We also tasted a baingan bharta (tandoor roasted eggplant) and paneer saagwala (creamed spinach with indian cottage cheese). This type of spinach dish can often feel heavy and overly creamy, but this rendition was as light as creamed spinach can be.
I rarely, if even order dessert with Indian food, so I had probably only had Indian ice-cream (kulfi) once or twice. Of the two, the mango and pistachio, the pistachio was the clear winner, but both were a refreshing way to end the meal. The gulab juman (sweet khoya dumpling) was also light and perfect. Finally, we finished with Masala Chai, which is the first time I have every enjoyed chai tea. I usually don’t like milk and tea, but this was the one exception.
MasalaWala presents many classic Indian dishes with a new spin or a more interesting flavor profile, along with numerous dishes and creations that are missing from other Indian restaurants. If you’re a resident of the lower east side, a tourist, or just like Indian food, you will be sure to enjoy MasalaWala.