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Chaiwali, an Indian Restaurant in Harlem, “Feels Like Home,” Says Pete Wells

 

A photo posted by Chaiwali (@chaiwaliharlem) on

If you live near Chaiwali in Harlem, you probably know about it. Otherwise, you probably don’t, but maybe you should. The restaurant opened last year on the ground and second floors of chef/owner/decorator Anita Trehan‘s house and this week, Pete Wells reviewed it for the New York Times.

According to Wells, everything about the restaurant rings genuine. It seems like the type of place she opened because of “the desire to serve something [she herself wants] to eat and drink,” which is “one of the best” reasons to open a restaurant.

The fact that lots of people outside Harlem don’t know the restaurant doesn’t mean it’s not crowded. On Friday (and presumably Saturday) nights, the place is busy. When Wells got there on his visit, there were only two tables available. The one he chose was in a small corner, and was probably too small, but Trehan didn’t seem to mind. She chose it because she liked it, and she liked the way it looked.

The menu feels as personal as the decor.

It reminds me of the relaxed, light-handed, modern food that Americans with roots in India, like Ms. Trehan, may cook at home. Her recipes probably aren’t her grandmother’s, but she pays attention to the quality and balance of saffron, fenugreek, ginger and coriander. What comes out of her kitchen looks attractive, but it hasn’t been whipped into stiff peaks of fine-dining artiness.

Order samosas. The wrappers are “thin and greaseless,” which is hard to find in New York City. In the winter, carrot soup is “silky,” and “intensely flavored with saffron and a few fried curry leaves that float on the surface” During summer, Goa shrimp ceviche is “sweetened with little cubes of mango; the host would tell everybody to dump the little saucer of puffed rice and fried threads of chickpea flour over the top for crunch.” Vindaloo lambchops are another standout; they come with potatoes roasted with mustard seeds, a recipe Wells wants to “steal.” The veggie burger was also a winner.

Though there are a lot of highlights, there are some dishes that aren’t quite so good. The chicken in the black pepper chicken was “dry” on two occasions, and as good as the okra fries sounded, in practice, their crust was going soggy one night, and while it was quite crisp and hot on another, some of the long green pods, cut lengthwise, were a little stringy.” Stay away from the Desi pasta.

Desserts were mostly good, striking a “happy medium between too basic and too complicated.” The best art of the menu were the curry cumin cookies. “These little ginger-spiked bites, crumbly like shortbreads, are refreshing and bright, with a black pepper finish that took [him] by surprise in the best way.”

Servers, he said, are “genial but may forget dishes, and when it’s time to clear the table, they may disappear into the vapor.”

Overall? One star.

[image via Instagram]

Related:

Pete Wells is Kind of Over The Spotted Pig

Pete Wells on Lilia: The Pasta is “A Direct Route to Happiness”

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