Located a few blocks from Madison Square Park and Flatiron, at the intersection of 6th Ave and West 24th St, a huge entrance with the customary Nazar Battu- a charm consisting of one lemon and a few green chillis, said to ward off evil spirits (you can read more about it here) lead you to the famed Indian restaurant Junoon.
It being restaurant week, Junoon offered pre fixed lunch and dinner menus for a steal (namely 25 and 38 USD respectively). The last Sunday of Restaurant Week seemed like a good day to introduce our friends to high end Indian dining, and we found ourselves seated at the bar at 1 pm.
The stately interiors, remind you of palaces and dining rooms back home, the fun bartender with his anecdotes and fresh cocktails was where the pleasurable experience seemed to draw to a close.
On the arrival of our friends, we were led to our seats, which unfortunately were not in the cocktail lounge and bar area.
We ordered drinks, while us girls opted to pair the food with the wine tasting- great idea now I know what to eat with fish or with oysters! (Skip the wine tastings- I don’t fancy pinot noir even if it does go with fish).
The menu was limited to four choices each for the appetizers and the entrees (with a choice of naan or rice) and two for dessert. These choices included vegetarian fare of baby eggplant with coconut, peanut, tamarind and curry leaves for the entree and the appetizer menu offered two vegetarian choices, namely the eggplant chaat (reviewed below) and a melon chaat which constituted a melon rind pickle, a cheese called chenna made out of goat milk, nasturtium and crisp pistachio. Being hardcore meat eaters, most of us opted for the chicken and oyster appetizers followed by the non vegetarian entrees.
Given the limited menu, we looked forward to every dish that would surely be painstakingly created to excite our palates- but unfortunately we were in for a not so great surprise.
The Oyster Pakora was drenched in oil and a big disappointment. However the bigger disappointment was the Chettinad Pepper Lamb with fennel, black pepper and curry leaves- you really can’t go wrong with this dish. Though the gravy was well spiced, the lamb lacked intrinsic flavor- the marinade if any- didn’t hold (We didn’t bother taking pictures of the lamb). One individual in our party ordered the Eggplant Chaat as an appetizer,which was basically crispy eggplant, tamarind chutney, raita and red onion- where the eggplant wasn’t crispy as the menu suggested. The chicken kofta which consisted of chicken breast dumplings in a walnut cream sauce with mace and prune was strictly okay- it just did not appeal to my tastebuds. The tawa porgy (porgy meaning a carnivorous fish belonging to the bream family) served with white asparagus salad (some shaved white asparagus) was surprisingly good though not greatly spiced, and went well with the creamy asparagus coconut curry. The chicken tikka, was succulent and the star of the afternoon, seasoned to perfection. Just biting into it delighted our senses.
I am a dessert person, so perhaps the biggest disappointment of the afternoon was the masala chocolate which comprised of Guanaja ganache, milk chocolate bisquit, cumin marshmallow, blackberry and fenugreek ice cream. Having said that, I understand one has to develop a taste for it. The accompanying ice cream though just a spoonful would’ve been perfect, had it not melted by the time we managed to get to it. Our desserts was on the table for more than 5 minutes, with no dessert spoons and we couldn’t catch the eye of any staff. It was almost sweet chilled soup by the time we finally managed to get hold of some cutlery. Blame it on a hot summer’s day! Not being a yoghurt person, I can certify that the Yoghurt Chamomile made up for the dessert fiasco- beautifully plated yogurt mousse, chamomile cake, strawberry gel and roasted strawberry. Every bite felt like you were transported to a strawberry field, gazing up at the sky, and reminiscing over this melange of flavors that come together to create this unique dessert.
To be fair, our server comped us with a lovely desert wine, which almost made up for the ice cream melt. He of course refused to look at my face or smile, after I unintentionally was very upset about the lack of dessert spoons.
However, Junoon which is supposedly passionate about and prides itself on its food, and world class service, should probably ensure that its staff is not only well trained but also all smiles, before putting them out of the floor. It ruined the experience for us.The food could really have been better! One thing I’m sure of- trying Junoon back in Dubai will be a much better experience- simply because everyone is so hospitable there.