Dhamaka Brings Outrageously Good “Indian Village Food” To LES

Chef Chintan Pandya and his business partner Roni Mazumdar, who already run the stellar Adda in Long Island City, and the equally excellent Rahi in the West Village, gave us another ‘unmistakably Indian’ big winner. The place is called Dhamaka, it’s located on Delancey in the Essex Street Market, and based on an amazing feast I recently enjoyed there, it can instantly be considered one of the great New York restaurants.

Dhamaka is Chef Pandya’s loving exploration of provincial Indian cuisine, what he calls “village food”, with a range of simple dishes with explosive flavors that, even in India itself, are rarely found on menus. restaurants. As Mazumdar told me the other night, “we have Indians here who have to google some of these things because they’ve never heard of it”.

To take just one example, Pandya’s Doh Khleh, a pork snout and pig’s head snack popular in remote Meghalaya state in northeast India. Mazumdar himself admitted that when he first tried it he thought to himself, “Wait, is this Indian food? It’s a glorious dish, one of many menu staples, the mound of incredibly tender pieces of meat – the fat almost melts in your mouth – and garnished with lemon, onion, ginger and fiery little peppers. . Can’t wait to eat this again.

Other superb entrees include Beguni, from the hometown of Mazumdar in eastern India, a bunch of two-bite eggplant nuggets that have been marinated in ginger, garlic and turmeric, twice breaded, fried and served with kasundi, a mustard dip that’s as sinus cleanser as a big shot of wasabi. Paplet Fry, one of Pandya’s favorite bar snacks since her days in Mumbai, is a whole fish, breaded and fried until crisp, which you tear with your hands and dip in a green chutney. . Messy as hell and totally delicious.

Definitely get the Gurda Kapoora, a wonderfully funky street food stew made with goat’s testicles and kidneys in a thick, terribly spicy red sauce that you lay on a few chewy butter buns known as pao. There are half a dozen “grills” available, which arrive in a nice little drum, and although the twice-grilled Tabak Maaz (or lamb chops) from Kashmir was fantastic, as were the sweet and savory Lasooni prawns. garlic and cedar-wrapped goat cheese Belly Seekh, my favorite surprise in this section was the Bharela Marcha – a trio of cute little roasted red peppers stuffed with peanuts and a cilantro-infused paste. They are intensely sweet, spicy and earthy.

The bigger dishes are all served in the pans they were cooked in, and the three I ate were spectacular. There’s only a limited number of Champaran Meat available each night, so if it’s still available when you sit down, be sure to pounce. Based on a dish from Bihar, Pandya prepares her Champaran with Arizona mutton (good mutton is not found anywhere on the East Coast, apparently), marinated for 36 hours before being cooked. cook in a clay pot, and include a whole head of garlic that your server will mash for you after the big reveal.

The Murgh Kofta, featuring heavily seasoned minced chicken, arrives looking like a huge meatball in a pool of sauce, then your server cuts the thing in half and inside is a whole egg (so … who came first?). And while I’m running out of superlatives at this point, it’s important that you understand how good the Pandya Pulao pressure cooker is, the chopped and bone-in bird cooked to perfection, the basmati rice flavored with garam masala. . Both contain a lot of heat (like most of Pandya’s dishes), so it’s a good idea to have Chapati flatbread and maybe a bowl of refreshing Raita to accompany.

Pandya and Mazumdar started planning for Dhamaka in the pre-COVID era, and were actually ready to go last fall, but decided not to push any further and wait and see what the season brings. When December arrived, the mandatory stopping of meals indoors delayed them again (there is no take out or delivery here; Pandya is convinced that these meals should be eaten right away).

But now Dhamaka is finally up and running and man, it was worth the wait. The interior is beautiful, the outdoor patio should be ready by this weekend (the luxury residential building above the restaurant has finally approved sidewalk seating), beer and cocktails are flowing, and the music blasts Indian pop bangers from wall to wall, Pandya’s favorite soundtrack while he cooks. It’s FUN here, like a party I’m excited to attend, which is a feeling I haven’t had in a very long time. Go there soon though; this place goes to a tough table once the news gets out and the city comes back to life.

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Christina A. Kroll