Clean decor matches cleaned up take on Indian food, mild but tasty
Two young Indian-Americans bring healthy to Indian quick food
Fine tea, Naked smoothies belie full soda cabinetOne of the funkiest neighborhoods in Manhattan is Hell’s Kitchen, the fantasy stage for Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. Nowadays its main drag, 52nd Street, is home to dozens of little hole in the wall bars and restaurants, some like Totto Ramen with crowds outside in the early evening.
A notable, more mainstream addition is Chutney Kitchen, on the East side of Eighth Avenue at 51/52nd Street, which opened seven weeks ago to help expand a tiny niche – Indian fast food, upgraded from oily to healthy, clean, nutritious and mildly spiced, to suit less adventurous tastes.Here two young friends from New Jersey, hedge fund alumnus Silu Sao, and her long time friend from sixth grade, Pankaj Amin, have upgraded economical Indian food to suit the current New York taste for healthy ingredients, but have retained a number of spicy sauces to add the Indian flavor without simmering the beef, chicken or pork in an oily sauce. The result is a fast food option worth ordering take out or sitting down for if you are in the neighborhood, or going to the theater district nearby.
Amid decor that is all bright light and hard surface plastic those in line can choose from ten kitchen specials or put together their own “base” and “fill”, and add their choice of flavored sauces, chutney and salad dressings from the wall menus.Good ingredients with a touch of spicy sauce, such as “date” or “cilantro”, result in fast food worth eating, two continents away from burgers and submarines, or the sandwiches of Pret A Manger or worse, those found at Starbucks, where only the egg salad is bearable. For those with an experienced palate who seek the strong kick of intense Vindaloo, there is a bottle of that to have flourished over your basics too. All these sauces, from mild Coconut cashew to yogurt and spicy mirchi chutneys to lemon cumin and spicy mango salad dressings, are mixed by the slim hands of co-founder Silu. The array of small stainless receptacles in front of the counter from which the ingredients of your chosen mix are spooned may seem too reminiscent of tired buffets in delis, and the plastic squeeze bottles containing the sauces may seem too industrial, but the bowl full of rice, flatbread roti or naan filled with shredded pork or steak or cubed chicken or lentils flavored with turmeric, cumin, ginger, garlic, chilies, onions and streaked with one or two of ten different toppings will score high in taste and nutrition, according to our sampling last night. For those holdouts who may miss that eternal standby of fast food in Manhattan, French fries, there are fries dusted with Masala. However, there is no goat and lamb, too heavy to fit into Silu’s modern approach. Also, you may have to speak up when ordering over the big glass plate partition protecting the serving containers. The clean, hard surface decor creates a din when the place is even half full. There is scarlet Iced Rose Hibiscus Tea and Iced Honey Green tea as well as Naked Mango Smoothie to make up for the fact that the huge refrigerated cabinet is full of sodas, which Silu Sao says are still demanded by “the market” she is trying to tempt into the milder and healthier Indian food she is offering.
Open daily 11 am to 10 pm. Prices from $7.95 (Pan seared potatoes) to 9.95 (shredded steak) for main “fills” or kitchen specials, teas and drinks $2.75 to $3.50. Fries $2.50 Naan $2.50. 856 8th Ave, New York, NY 10019 (212) 247-6200 Wheelchair Friendly, Accepts Credit Cards