27 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10010
(212) 490-2100

Indian cuisine and barbecue have precious little in common. But something that they share is that there are very few upscale restaurants that serve either. In my mind, when I think about Indian restaurants here in the city, I think of Jackson Heights or Sixth Street between First and Second Avenue, I think of guys standing on the sidewalk all but pulling you physically inside to eat, rather that risk your choosing a competitor down the block, I think of buffet troughs and food warmed by a gel burner, I think of casual dress. I do not think of Michelin stars, signature cocktails, and amuse bouche appetizers. It was, therefore, a welcome change to try the highly regarded Junoon in the Flatiron District.

I arrived a wee bit earlier than The Rents, and took a seat at the bar. Behind me was a veritable Oriental lounge. Modern opulence meets a Raja's dining room. Before choosing my pre-dinner snack, I was greeted with a free cucumber mocktail. It was Junoon's way of apologizing for the broken air-conditioner. Junoon, on this particularly hot and particularly humid day, was appropriately tropical inside. When at last Dudeman and Shrink arrived, we were politely led from this lounge space to our table, past tall sculptures, beyond heavy curtains, beside the open kitchen. For the record, we were among the first diners and the restaurant did not stay as empty as the photo implies for very long.

Drinks were ordered, menus were scanned. There needs to be a new word in English to differentiate spicy food that's heavily spiced from spicy food that's spicy hot. My parents have always loved Indian food and Indian spices, but always hated spicy food. Luckily for them, there wasn't much on the Junoon menu that was spicy hot. And it should be mentioned that Junoon, being Indian, expects you to share your food. The dishes are not placed in front of the person who orders them, but in the center of the table. This means rather large tables. Of course, my family hates having to raise our voices in conversation - not that we don't yell at each other. We do. We yell at each other all the time - so I requested a smaller one. The space became noticeably constrained.

The very first appetizer that I tried, which was eaten by me alone at the bar, was the Lahsooni Gobi, a dish of fried cauliflower with a tomato-garlic chili chutney. To give you a better idea of what that really means, it's vegetarian buffalo wings. Seriously, I challenge you to tell the sauces apart. Following that, at the table, I ordered the Beet Mosaic. Beet greens, candied walnuts, radish, and a mustard seed tadka sauce. Good, but not great. It was a light and pleasant dish, and enjoyable in the hot environs of the dining room, but I didn't feel that anything popped, so to speak. I've had beet salads that have had me hanging my head in shame at having shunned beets for the first 30 years of my existence, but this was not one of them. My parents went for the Noorani Kebab. It wasn't a kebab meat-on-a-stick kebab like I'm sure you're envisioning - though I'm certain that it was cooked that way. It was instead a layering of lamb and chicken served over a cabbage relish and pomegranate reduction. This choice, I absolutely recommend. It was delicious. 

I ordered, as a main course, the Tellicherry Duck, a pan-roasted duck breast in a tellicherry peppercorn glaze. Tellicherry is not a type of cherry, by the way, it's a type of pepper. This was incredibly delicious. The duck melted on your tongue and the sauce, thick and rich (an no, not spicy), was like heaven. Dudeman chose the Goat Biryani, a roasted goat and rice dish with almonds, cashews, and saffrom. Fantastic. We don't eat much goat in the US and that's a shame. It's a unique meat. It's not beef, not lamb, certainly not chicken. Adding a new flavor to our collective palates should be added to our national goals. I'm not saying that eating goat is as important as wiping out Isis or improving the economy or reversing climate change. But it's up there. Finally, Shrink went for the Shahi Lamb Shank in a black cumin rose curry sauce. The meat itself was so tender you could cut it from the bone with a spoon, and the curry sauce was rich but light and was delicious. The downside, which is the downside with all lamb shanks, is that so much of it is bone. Sadly, much as you may want to, picking it up with your hands and gnawing it clean is not as acceptable in a restaurant as it is in my kitchen. 

It goes without saying that we supplemented these dishes with rice and warm naan bread. Our bread was the  herbal Junoon Spice Naan. Not as sweet as the standard naan one usually gets, but it had more gravitas, if that makes sense. The Red Bhutanese Rice was something that the Rents didn't care for. Unlike the basmati rice that is synonymous with Indian cuisine, this was more like a quinoa grain. Round, more firm, smoky. Initially, I was disappointed, but it grew on me and eventually, I preferred it. It is vastly more complex than basmati.  

With everything up to this point being so good, I was dismayed that dessert was so weak. The options were few and they weren't terribly wowing, both in terms of how they looked when they were on the plate, and how they tasted when they were off the plate. We tried the Chocolate Masala Cake, which was served with a cranberry compote and cumin marshmallows, and the Coconut Rice Pudding, which a piece of candied almond brittle and a scooplet of ginger ice cream. The chocolate cake, which refused to be photographed in any way that didn't make it look like poop on a plate, was mostly bitter and just not very exciting. I know that Junoon wouldn't hire a pastry chef who isn't good at his job, so I'll blame myself for this one. I just don't appreciate chocolate cake enough. That said, more effort into making it look less like poop would be a wise move. The pudding was ok, but again, I just didn't care. It was bland, not whored up with almond liqueur or something with pizzazz. And no, the ginger ice cream didn't make up for it.  

In the end, three appetizers, three mains, a dessert, and a couple of rounds of drink came to $250 before tax and tip. I'm glad I went, I'd go back, and I'd enjoy myself. I'd get dessert elsewhere, though.

Junoon on Urbanspoon

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