Yikes...went to Junoon tonight for a light meal at the bar...
i’ve disliked almost all Indian food i’ve had in Manhattan (with the exception of taxi stand thali that i’ve taken home, refried w/ extra garam masala and hot sauce, and topped w/ fried eggs)...(the reason i say “almost all” is because my trip to Indus Valley on the far UWS years ago was good -- but not quite worth a 200 block roundtrip from/to my home in Union Square)...
I had low expectations for Junoon, given the mixed reviews i’d read here, and personally i would have been satified forever just eating Indian food via my doctored-taxi-takeout method or homecooked by me or on trips to cities i go to that have better Indian food like London and Bangkok (or Queens)...
But i have need of an Indian restaurant pretty soon, because i’ve recently become friendly w/ two lovely vegetarian European supermodels whose fav food is Indian, and while they also like Japanese food, wine bars, cooking at home, etc, i aim to please...so figured i’d scout Junoon for when i take them on our next my-version-of-a-double-date (i.e. me and two girls).
I actually stopped in at Devi first: i stood at the front for five minutes minimum...there were a good 15 to 20 customers in the place...but no one came over to see what i wanted, despite the fact that i was well-dressed and waiting politely while reading the takeout menu...there was no bartender at the bar...no host in sight...few staff of any kind...it was a bit like The Shining -- were the customers ghosts?...when i saw a few 30+ dollar seafood entrees on the takeout menu and a weak assortment of veggie options, i walked out, totally unnoticed as a (former) potential customer...(should i try Devi again another night?)...
Strolled up to Junoon...the hostess and the coatcheck girl were supernice...i got a seat at the bar...from there, it was mostly downhill...the bar staff are among the most clueless i’ve ever met in an upscale restaurant...zero knowledge of wine...zero recognition of a customer needing a refill...zero observation that the customer ate only some of his food and obviously disliked it...i've read here that Junoon has a good sommelier: someone needs to introduce him to the bartenders.
Borderline comic incompetence:
Me: I’ll have a glass of the Quincy.
Bartender: The what? The Indian wine?
Me: No, the Quincy.
Bartender: The Indian wine is really good.
Me: Sure, i’ll try a sip. (i gamely try a sip -- it’s foul). Thanks, but i’ll have the Quincy.
Bartender: The what?
Me: The Quincy.
Bartender: Ohhh, the Quincy! (mispronouncing the wine as the name of the tv Medical Examiner played by Jack Klugman)
Later on, after trying to signal the bartender that i’d like another glass, i flagged down a different bartender (note: there were maybe four customers total at the bar and 2 or 3 bartenders).
Me: I’ll have a glass of the Garnacha please.
2nd Bartender: The what?
Me: The Garnacha, rose.
(2nd Bartender brings the Indian white wine and starts to pour it).
Me: No, no, the Garnacha, the rose.
The 2nd Bartender looks baffled. Brings over the two roses they have. I point to the Garnacha. Meanwhile the first Bartender is sort of aimlessly loitering and not working at all.
Food. I just had two dishes, so maybe other things on the menu are much better, but they are 0 for 2 in my book.
-- Saag and cauliflower...not sure they even brought me the correct dish here, as i ordered the entree one that supposedly came w/ spinach and this had none...it was tender-but-ultra-sugary cauliflower w/ a crispy glaze which i saw another chowhound described as like General Tso’s and that’s pretty much spot on...couldn’t finish it as it was just too dessert-sweet...
-- Piri-Piri shrimp appetizer...this came w/ a 3 or 4 bites of jicama/avocado salad that was far and away the best thing they served me -- crisp, lightly-dressed, delicious...the shrimp themselves (3, for 14 bucks) were large, fresh, and nicely cooked, but so salty that i only ate two of the three...i can’t remember ever wasting a giant shrimp before, no matter how salty)...i also requested this dish to be extra-spicy and it was pretty mild and sugary (like Sweet and Sour sauce w/ a drop or two of Tabasco).
At no time did the lame bar staff bother to ask about my food or notice that i left a third of it uneaten.
As fate would have it, one of the managers started eating his own late supper at the bar as i was nearing the end of my meal...i chatted w/ him for a while: he was extremely nice, and when he asked how my food was i gave him a polite mutedly critical review of the two dishes i had, and we pleasantly chatted about India, etc...he discreetly comped my cauliflower dish, even though i had praised the tenderness of the veggie itself and said that the sweetness was possibly appealing to other people...he was so nice that i wish i could be writing a better review of the place...
On my way out i checked out the main dining room, just in case my new Indian-food-craving friends ever need curry so desperately that i’d be tempted to give Junoon another chance...and, wow, i think the design of this restaurant is awful...it feels like a converted lobby, similar to the way Le Bernardin used to be, but in a much shabbier way...just not a comfy space...like an upscale restaurant at an airport...the bar/lounge area is also very cold and airport-like: a real fail design-wise.
Highly unlikely to ever return...i think the supermodels will have to settle for my taxi-stand-Indian-refry -- but at least my home is comfier and better art-directed than Junoon, and, unlike the staff there, i know how to refill wine glasses...
155 W. 51st St., New York, NY 10019
2636 Broadway, New York, NY 10025
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