The first thing that strikes you is the scent: spices, earthy cumin, sweet onions…like a deep, tomato-y steam facial, soaking into a mound of shimmering, salty fries.
This is Poutine, Desi Galli (101 Lexington Avenue; 212-683-2292) style.
“I’m Indian by background, but I was born and raised in Montreal, and I grew up eating a lot of poutine. It’s such an integral part of the food culture there,” says PriaVanda Chouhan, owner of Curry Hill favorite Desi Galli, which opened an East Village outpost (172 Avenue B; 212-475-3374) just over a month ago.
“The great thing about the East Village is how open people are to new ideas. Fusion is one of those controversial food trends, but it can really bring traditional dishes to life, especially when you’re saying something about your own history and culture,” Chouhan explains to the Voice.” That’s what we hoped to do with the Tikka Masala Poutine. I guess you could say it was a recipe looking for the right home.”
Chouhan’s take on the classic French-Canadian dish brings a hefty dose of spice to the party. “I wanted it to be like chicken tikka masala — but vegetarian,” she says. “I went back and forth with the recipe a lot, trying to get the same depth of flavor that you get with meat, and the same thick, creamy texture with the sauce.”
So let’s talk about that sauce: an admittedly unglamorous red-brown gravy, with a velvety texture, and just enough heat to keep things interesting.
“The dish starts with onions and spices,” says Chouhan. “Chili, cumin, of course, salt and pepper, turmeric…I love cooking with turmeric for the color and the flavor, and also because its anti-inflammatory. I like to sneak it in wherever I can. The base is cooked down with tomato paste, then we add cream, and crumble in paneer — which thickens the sauce and makes it really rich and delicious.”
This gleaming gravy is poured over freshly made french fries, “hand cut,” Chouhan notes, a simple, salty foundation for this steaming sauce. Instead of the more traditional cheese topping, a sprinkling of sev — small fragments of noodle made from chickpea flour — adds crunch and texture.
“So far, people seem to be enjoying it,” says Chouhan. “We’ve had fellow Montreal-ers who live in the neighborhood come back for seconds, so that’s a real badge of honor.”
For all your post-beer poutine needs, Desi Galli is open late (until 3 a.m.) on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.