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Babu Ji from Manhattan opened recently to much PR hype on Valencia St. Three of us shared a meal last night and it met my expectations which were not high.
General Cho Cauliflower was deep battered fried with a generic US mall-Indian spicy tomato sauce. Not terrible.
Naan pizza. Awful.
Selection of chutneys with a basket of papadums for $10 (! often a papadums and a couple of chutneys are comped at mid level Indian restaurants in US shopping malls). Chutneys were basic. Nothing special.
Tandoori Chicken. Ghastly. No tandoori flavors or coloring. Dried out. Didn't seem to be cooked in a tandoor, but probably was since their Naans must have been and were good.
Duck leg curry. Stewed duck legs in another generic curry you could find at Pakwan.
Seafood coconut curry. Not bad, flavorful and might be worth returning for if Pauline's Pizza next door has a long wait list.
Mixed naans (plain, garlic and chive, and sesame) were good and fresh.
You can get far better food, particularly tandoori chicken, at Pakwan and the like for a quarter the price. There was no sophistication in the cooking. Curries were generic one dimensional, sometimes spicy, but not with the complexity of spicing one should expect from a restaurant at this price point ($70 per person with tip/tax). Even the easy stuff was missing: no saffron, no cardamom. I am afraid one still has to go to Dubai to get high end, really interesting Indian cooking.
Babu Ji seems to me to be to authentic Indian cooking what Mission Chinese is to authentic "spicy" Chinese. It disingenuously sells dumbed down fusion twists that are calibrated to uninformed American tastes as a great kitchen's creations and something worth paying for. I have to admit that Mission Chinese can be better at what it does and is considerably cheaper. We lost on this trade - Mission Chinese which went to NYC from San Francisco is better than Babu Ji which came the other way.