Junoon--the Fancy and the Beige

Decent cooking but little spirit at an upscale Flatiron Indian restaurant

Some people must actually enjoy the anonymity of airport and hotel restaurants, or there wouldn't be so many of them. Ryan Bingham, George Clooney's character in Up in the Air, comes to mind. Guys like Bingham put up with bland décor and unrealistic prices as a marker of their high-flying lives. If the food's OK, so much the better. But that's hardly the point.

Bingham would probably have a ball at Junoon, a new, upscale Indian restaurant in the Flatiron District, which has about as much character as an executive lounge in the New Delhi airport.

"Junoon" means "passion" or "obsession" in Hindi, and attention to detail certainly comes through in the service. If only so much enthusiasm had gone into the monochromatic beige décor. Yes, there's the "Junoon walk," a 50-foot passage anchored by a reflecting pool (which has since been filled with rocks, perhaps because the scum atop the water was unseemly). But couldn't the management have at least situated the unique glass-encased "spice room" in the spacious dining room? Instead, the chamber containing all the restaurant's seasonings and spice blends is located next to the restrooms downstairs. Skimp on the drinking and you might miss it completely.

The food at Junoon, though, is deftly executed by Punjab-born chef and cookbook author Vikas Khanna. But instead of spanning India's regional cuisines, the menu highlights five distinct Indian cooking methods: the tandoor (clay oven), sigri (open fire pit), handi (curry), tawa (cast-iron preparations), and patthar (stone cooking). Rustic food, however, still comes at a pretty price—about $80 a person, excluding wine.

Spending that kind of money, you don't get merely one waiter for the table. There's one for every diner. Maybe it's us, but it felt awkward to have a throng of servers around exchanging glances before simultaneously setting plates on the table. It's infantilizing to have someone spoon rice onto plate after plate. So is being told that Indian food might be a bit spicy. Really? Indian food can be spicy?

In fact, very few dishes at Junoon are spicy, save for the Junoon yellow daal tadka ($12), which is as good as lentils can get. Certainly not the $14 piri-piri shrimp, which I was warned about, though they were well-cooked and accompanied by a chunky avocado salsa. Murg tikka mirza hasnu ($12), succulent cubes of chicken flavored with garam masala, wasn't hot either, but it's a good bang for your buck—unlike the $10 "tree of life" fried cauliflower, consumed in five bites, or the $11 palak patte ki chaat, a toddler-size handful of flavorless deep-fried spinach leaves. The menu also features some totally unique dishes, like the $12 kele aur matar ki goli: Plantains and shell peas are puréed into little orbs and rest in a fried taro nest like miniature Easter eggs.

Khanna's saucework is impressive, clearly distinguishing the food from that of the local curry joint (if the prices weren't an immediate tip-off). Halibut moily ($32) balances creamy coconut with curry leaves and mustard seeds, while $17 Punjabi kadi, squishy vegetable patties, arrive in a creamy asafetida-flavored sauce. They are a better option than the nadru kofte ($17), three lonely, dense lotus-root dumplings hiding under a veil of creamy tomato and cardamom.

There could have been more pronounced lobster flavor in the $33 tandoori, as the two tails were cloaked under cumin and spice. But the patthar-cooked lamb shoulder ($28) flavored with papaya juice and garam masala was very tender and offers a reason to return to the cooking methods of yesterday. Desserts aren't to be missed, either. A delicious kulfi trio ($12) embraced cardamom, fig, and paan leaf, while a passion-fruit bombe ($12) was enlivened by gelatinous basil seeds subtly flavored with coriander.

Junoon is located directly across Madison Square Park from Tabla, Danny Meyer and Floyd Cardoz's recently shuttered upscale Indian restaurant. Comparisons between the two are inevitable. While Tabla was full of joie de vivre, Junoon always left me wanting more. It's too high-reaching and too pretentious. Its priorities, and its soul, are lost somewhere up in the air.

More photos here: Inside Junoon: Upscale Indian in the Flatiron District

lshockey@villagevoice.com

 
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10 comments
Rkb361
Rkb361

Went to Junoon after a long time with a few guests and we all enjoyed the ambience, relished the food, and just loved the entire experience.Guess what? Saw a Michelin star there. Well deservedly so.

Michael S
Michael S

I've been twice to Junoon - once to entertain clients and the next time on a whim to see whether the awful experience I had the first time was a fluke. Afraid not. Repulsive service coupled with hefty prices that don't justify the mediocre food. Funny enough, this glorious review from "Rkb361" seems to be from a partner/owner of Junoon. Junoon is far, far from being a Michelin type restaurant. Rather, it's more fitting for The Virgin Clubhouse in Heathrow.

Rkb361
Rkb361

I think the resturant has done a great service in changing the indian resturant scene in nyc. Thank god for that. About time we get Michellin Star earner indian resturants in nyc. I don't know what this chap is referring to about " akin to those in london". I am from london and can tell you in all candour that this is better than any Indian resturant in the UK. Maybe people misunderstand the meaning of "fine dining". Like they say "can't get curry-house food in a fine dinining, and can't get fine dining food in a curry house. So don't mix the two when you go out to eat. Outstanding food Junoon. You guys hacked it. Kudos.

Sahil Verma
Sahil Verma

Horrible restaurant. Honestly the owners should have given more thought into opening such a ritzy restaurant without having good food as its backbone.. Overall, this place was at best a 4/10. Real shame. Wish NYC had Indian restaurants akin to those in London.

Foodguy Ny
Foodguy Ny

I agree This place is a scam of the first order, there were so many waiters milling round and still service was no where near even average. The prices are a killer, did not deliver quality product from any angle. NOT GOING BACK

Duran1978
Duran1978

Please save your money and dont go here. They will tear your wallet. The whole this looks like a scam. We were way overcharged and no one would listen to us. The menu is extremely misguiding. Walk 2 blocks and you can have 3 (great) dinners at Tamarind, instead of just 1 (HORRIBLE) one at Junoon.

Ritamathur1976
Ritamathur1976

I was there today and it was really busy, Food was amazing, I totally agree on descent cooking (acutally very good), but the service had some issues. The order taker just disappeared, but we loved the space: And yes its very expensive.

guest
guest

I totally agree with the review; it's not somewhere I'm looking to go back to (and way too many waiters!)

BjoyaK
BjoyaK

I think its a matter of taste and preference. I personally think this restaurant is gorgeous and a very welcome change from the garish colors one usually sees in the indian restaurants.

Sue20011
Sue20011

I ate at Junoon over the weekend....the food was very good..albeit very overpriced and expensive no doubt..My husband and I spent a great evening there...

 
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