Every now and then, even the most misanthropic, bookish types need a little excitement in their lives — more spice, if you will — than looking at framed pictures of their cats between sips of Earl Grey. Exotic food, in particular, helps us, er, those other people, get out of their comfort zones — without the awkwardness of dancing!
Vindaloo, said to be among the hottest of India’s curries, presents a particular challenge to would-be and routine epicure explorers. The peppery, saucy dish comes from a blending of traditions: Portuguese tradesmen supposedly brought a garlicky meat stew to the subcontinent, where Goa’s traditional seasonings got added to the mix. The plate indeed balances heat and accent for a robust, full taste, and some versions include potatoes. As with any cuisine, though, there can be flavorless vindaloo-sers, too. Below, check out a sampling throughout New York City.
Curry & Curry
Characterized by calm, simplicity, and takeout-restaurant decor, Murray Hill’s Curry & Curry serves up a respectable vindaloo. The soft, juicy chicken chunks — both white and dark meat — have been stewed sufficiently, and the sensation of spice gradually builds through the meal. Served with a side of steamed, saffron-accented rice, the gravy powerfully blends tomato, vinegar, and chili pepper. For $7.95, this makes for a solid lunch pick. 153 East 33rd Street, 212-779-4953
Curry in a Hurry
Curry in a Hurry offers exactly what its name suggests. Brought out in a gravy boat, the Murray Hill hot spot’s $12.99 order deceives and disappoints: You assume the gravy, replete with verdant chilies, will pop with flavor. But one bite in, you find yourself navigating a maze of fatty, bony chicken meat. Sure, a slight kick warms the tongue, but the sauce comes across somewhat liquidy, like something prepared from a powdered mix. 119 Lexington Avenue, 212-683-0900
Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant
Taj Mahal’s recipe thankfully doesn’t neglect gentler herbs and spices. At this Bay Ridge restaurant, cilantro, bay leaf, and cumin add a fresh, green nuttiness to the crisp pepper and heavy tomato tones. About as piquant as a Thai curry, Taj’s take won’t faze heat-seeking diners. Still, the tiny, hearty side of stewed lentils and hot, fluffy rice that comes with it certainly make the $8.95 order worthwhile. 7315 Third Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-836-1512
Brick Lane Curry House
Don’t let Brick Lane’s decor — dog-eared copies of London subway maps on the walls — deter you from eating an impressive vindaloo. At this East Village restaurant, the sweat-inducing dish abounds with cardamom, chilies, and sautéed onion. At $17, Brick Lane’s item falls on the pricey side, but hefty helpings of buttery naan bread — pita-like on the outside and biscuit-like on the interior — and pea-and-carrot-topped rice almost make up for that. Almost. 306 East 6th Street, 212-979-2900
Taj’s take excels in terms of the poultry: The meat is tender, moist, and plentiful. At this East Village spot, soft and equally juicy potato slices come into play in a thick gravy. Yeah, Taj’s $10.95 approach packs picante, but nothing showstopping. Another plus: Depending on the night, musicians rock sitars and Casio keyboards at the front of this basement hangout. 310 East 6th Street, 212-505-8056
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