The past decade has been good to Indian restaurants in the city; I remember when the best we could hope for was some fried pakora with a plate of saffron rice in dingy, cramped Lower East Side joints. These days, Indian food specialists have stepped up to the plate, and there are quite a few excellent places to get authentic Indian food in distinctly more upscale settings. A favorite example of mine is Tamarind. Tamarind, on East 22nd St., is one of the best Indian restaurants in New York City.
This aforementioned setting isn’t what veteran Indian restaurant connoisseurs may expect: Rather than the deep red and gold tones that often mark the interior design of these spots, Tamarind is markedly underdecorated, crisp and formal, with a full view of the kitchen. A sense of privacy can be had, for romantic meals, by requesting a side table. These have some hanging cloth that at least visually separates guests from the rest of the dining area. Despite this, the austere setting is quite notable. There is also an affiliated tea shop and take-out spot next door.
I admit to a failing here. I love chicken tikka masala, a standard bearer and relatively unchallenging Indian meal. At any Indian restaurant, from low-end to very upscale – of which Tamarind is definitely the latter – I’m always tempted to get the same meal. It’s hard for me not to get chicken tikka masala with a side of naan and a samosa (this may reflect poorly on my supposed willingness to challenge my palate at Indian restaurants, but so be it). Tamarind offers this as murgh, and much, much more. The vegetarian options are incredible. The tandoor oven is operated by some pros here; tandoori chicken, tandoori shrimp, and other entrees come out perfectly. Our table also had lamb chops (fantastic) and spicy grilled shrimp (yowza) along with plenty of vegetarian sides. There wasn’t one false note in the bunch.
One issue I have with Tamarind, however, is the service. This is a pricey restaurant as Indian food goes, and the meals really are creative and well-done. However, a rude or inattentive waiter can really put a pall on the evening. Our waiter never brought the paratha we’d ordered, but since we ordered other Indian breads, we let it go. We were billed for it, though, and when we pointed this out to him, he told us we had gotten it, and we somehow must have forgotten. Look, our memories may not be the best, but they’re not that bad!
This may have been an aberration, of course. Tamarind is a popular, busy restaurant, and the waiter could have been having a bad day. With the curry dishes as good as they are, I’ll return to Tamarind regardless of the service. It is, after all, still one of the best Indian restaurants in New York City.
41 E. 22nd St.