After a really good performance at the opera (Sat matinee), we decided that we wanted to eat Indian. So we sauntered over to our favorite Bukhara Grill on 49th and 3rd (next to Wollenski's Grill (on 49th).
Although I have been eating there since the restaurant opened, I have not really posted a detailed account of my experiences there. Bukhara warrants a detailed post because of three reasons.
One, the food is consistently really good. So much so that this is the only Indian restaurant we will go to regularly although I live in Connecticut (hint to the Bukhara management - you could own Fairfield County's Indian food clientele if you opened here). This is also the only Indian restaurant I know of where the chef is a partner (that I am sure contributes to the quality and consistency).
Two, the service is superlative (on par with the best 5-star experiences in NYC - that is saying something). What they lack in refinement and ultra expensive decor, they make up for in enthusiasm.
Three, this is as close to haute cuisine experience as I have gotten with Indian food. I have had out of body 10 course meal experiences there when I have let one of the two owners (Raja and Vicky) orchestrate the meal You could just as easily be satisfied with a quick meal from their lunch buffet but here is my recipe for the truly gluttonous out there. My typical eat till I drop meal at Bukhara goes something like this. Let one of the owners know that you are there for a grand meal and give him some general preferences and be ready for a superb 6-8 course meal that is satisfying in every way.
It is customary to let them decide what ever is fresh made for the day - usually "chat" or "aloo tikki". These are their versions of the amuse bioche. Tantalizing tit bits of potatoes fried with chick peas and crisp wafers with tamarind and cilantro chutney.
Let the procession of appetizers begin. they do roasted/grilled items in tandoor really well. Their versions of "Malai Kabab" with succulent marinated cubes of chicken is delicious when tried with raw onions and greens for texture. The marination is perfect and the spices actually let the taste of the meat out. "Burra kabab" is marinated roasted pieces of goat that uses only certain parts (I forget which) that are really flavorful. If overcooked (as I have had in other places) this dish WILL closely approximate the texture of tire rubber quite well. Eat immediately while still hot. These two dishes keep the hope alive that Indian cooking is not just about killing the natural flavor of the meats by overspicing and overcooking in some broth or the other.
"Paneer tikka" - giant cubes of home made cheese marinated and roasted in a tandoor - a must have. Whole roasted potatoes stuffed with spices and god knows what else. Whole mushrooms grilled and finally, "veggie seekh kabobs" that are made by chopping/grinding vegetables that are shaped around giant skewers and roasted in a tandoor. This has not worked for me anywhere else.
I would urge you to taste a bunch of main dishes -"Daal Bukhara" (lentils), "Chana Peshawri" (chick peas cooked in spices in authentic frontier style, some eggplant dishes that occasionally crop up with/without yoghurt based sauces that are eye opening, "paneer bhurji" cheese scrambled with spices and some chopped veggies. The new item on the menu Kurkuri Bhindi is a home run - Okra sliced and spiced and cooked to a crip. (Note to Indian scotch drinkers: This could be an addictive munchy to accompany your drinks) "Roghun Josh" or whatever they call their classic goat dish slow cooked in brown sauce is amazing. I tend to dislike chicken in sauce combinations so can not comment on those.
They make their desserts from scratch in house and I would taste at least two - "kheer" with chopped almonds and ground pistachios is my favorite (not too sweet and brimming with flavor). I also had fresh "gulabjamuns" (balls of dough in syrup - usually is gross in most places but excellent when done well as at Bukhara).
You need to top off the meal with their "masala tea" that is perfect at settling you down after a long and heavy meal. Cognac will be forced upon you (usually on the house) unless explicitly denied.
What happens after you have tasted 7 or 8 dishes all done consistently very well, topped off with light desserts. Aaaaah! I would not put it in the same league with the best Japanese, Italian or French meals I have had (a la Nobu, Babbo etc) with regards to creativity or refinement. But (and this is a huge but) I would rather head to Bukhara than drop $200+ at Jean Georges for an uninspired tasting menu the likes of which NYC is full of.
Is this kind of meal heavy? Undeniably. Too much spices? No. Full of flavor? Yes. My advice is to go with a bunch of friends so you can taste a lot of different things (as outlined above) without stuffing yourself silly. Four works well. Six is perfect.