Behind an L-shaped slab of Calacatta marble, the bartender winks before setting scotch on fire for a blue blazer cocktail, adroitly pouring the burning liquor between two metal mugs. It’s midnight at Indian Accent, Rohit Khattar and chef Manish Mehrotra’s ambitious midtown hotel restaurant with Delhi roots, and when the hot toddies arrive, I’m discussing the intricacies of Indian marriage with a betrothed thirtysomething doctor. “It’s going to cost my parents close to $100,000 and I’ll be celebrating with hundreds of people I’ll probably never see again,” she says, laughing, before downing the incendiary half-pour in one gulp.
A glance at the dining room reveals a similarly jovial scene. New Yorkers are no strangers to high-end Desi dining (the easiest parallel would be Vikas Khanna’s Michelin-starred Junoon), but this place has justifiably struck a chord. Indian Accent opened at the end of February in a deep-set, sophisticated space adjacent to the Parker Meridien hotel. It’s the first stateside venture for the 42-year-old Mehrotra, who grew up in the city of Patna and gravitated toward East and Southeast Asian cooking early in his career before exploring the regional cuisines of his birthplace. As at the New Delhi original, which gained international acclaim after opening in 2009, the New York outpost employs a modernist, pan-Indian menu shaped by those nouveau buzzwords: locality and seasonality.
That translates to plates of sautéed ramps covering soft, fresh paneer cheese, which takes the kitchen two days to produce and is paired with crisp, puffed quinoa. Massive morel mushrooms, which grow wild in Kashmir, are fried until the result achieves a brittle golden-brown shell. And in a serendipitous nod to their new surroundings, Mehrotra and executive chef Vivek Rana fill buttery naan with chopped pastrami coated in spicy mustard butter for their take on kulcha bread: It’s a tasty innovation on an East Coast classic that belongs among the ranks of our finest smoked-meat dishes.
Other kulchas, filled with bacon, or rich stews like saag paneer and butter chicken, are also worth exploring; order them à la carte at the bar or outside on the newly opened front patio. In the main room, you’re restricted to $75 three-course and $90 four-course prix-fixe options, as well as a tailorable seven-course tasting for $110.
Meals kick off with an amuse-bouche duo, like shots of shorba (coconut, on our visits) and mini kulchas stuffed with blue cheese — a heady mix of creamy and sharp flavors. The first two sections comprise appetizers served cold or hot, many of them smart riffs on street food. Discs of raw kohlrabi lighten a pyramid of diced sweet potato and crispy okra, while fried pakora fritters made of shiso leaves are accompanied by yogurt, tamarind, and mint sauces.
The translations rarely feel forced. Nihari, a bone marrow stew, is turned into a fiery sauce for beef kebabs. Shredded Chettinad-style duck is layered between idli, semolina cakes commonly found at breakfast. A pat of seared foie gras tops the birdwich, its richness cut with sweet onion chutney. Mehrotra pan-sears flaky sea bass in tart tamarind sauce and serves it in a Kerala-inspired moilee curry; salmon roe adds a briny kick. The kitchen also knows its way around lamb: A crisp pile of it floats in a five-lentil dal stew, and a shareable, gingery roasted shank is paired with roti pancakes. The latter is “inspired by the classic kathi kebab rolls,” Mehrotra relays to the Voice, though its grand presentation, featuring an array of chutneys and vegetable salads, evokes Peking duck. Desserts, meanwhile, experiment with textures, with saffron-inflected makhan malai, an airy milk foam, getting welcome crunch from jaggery brittle.
Service has the polished sheen of the Eleven Madison Park vet in charge, and although the kitchen closes at 10:30 p.m., the bar often stays open past midnight — fortunate, given that beverage director Daniel Beedle works infusion magic, imbuing tequila with finger chiles to mix with green Chartreuse, and pisco with cardamom for a chamomile-yogurt-frothed sour. That palpable zeal for blending spices and style, coupled with the kitchen’s estimable prowess, has Indian Accent firing on all cylinders.
123 West 56th Street