The Art of Dining

| September 14, 2012

Shortly after its inception, I breached the threshold of Junoon Restaurant and my life was forever changed. Born from the mind of Restaurateur Rajesh Bhardwaj and with the steady hand of famed Chef Vikas Khanna, Junoon (meaning passion) has emerged as a world class restaurant by any standard. A recent recipient of the coveted Michelin Star, they are certainly off to a splendid start.

Located on 27 West 24th Street and living up to its’ moniker, the passion present in the creation of this restaurant is apparent in every single detail. More than simply a dining spot, this is an experience that showcases the glory of centuries of Indian culture, culinary excellence and is a stellar example of what a top restaurant should be.

Architect and designer Tarik Currimbhoy has effectively combined Old World Indian artistry and modern elegance. Greeted by a front façade composed of an undulating “basket weave” sculpture, carved from blocks of black limestone, your senses are immediately heightened. Upon entering, the first stop is a gorgeous, yet relaxed 50-seat lounge that is enhanced by two antique Indian swings (Jhoolas) made of hand-carved Burma teak. As you continue on to the dining room, you stroll alongside the “Junoon Walk”, a 50-foot long walkway highlighted by a Corten steel rock garden crafted by sculptor Michael Tong.  Containing a sequence of eight-foot tall “Tree of Life” sculptures, the walk divides the space separating two distinct dining rooms. To the right, framed by 200 year-old, hand carved wooden arches from a palace in western India, is a 45-seat private dining area and to the left, is the 100-seat main room, which houses the pristine open-air kitchen.

We started off our evening with some cocktails developed by the in-house mixologist. The Sparkling Saffron (Prosecco, saffron and orange bitters) and the Agave Thyme (Reposado Tequila, muddled pomegranate, thyme, egg white and peppercorn) were both exquisite and set rather high expectations for what was to come.

After being edified by Master Sommelier Scott Carney (there are six sommeliers on staff), we decided to explore the fruits of the wine menu alongside the treats that Chef Khanna had in store for us—so with a little guidance, we had a customized pairing menu designed.

Following a tantalizing amuse bouche, we dove into the appetizer portion of the menu with the Tree of Life Cauliflower (crispy cauliflower, house garam masala crust and garlic tomato chutney) and the Palak Patte Ki Chaat (baby spinach, sonth chutney, spiced yogurt and tandoori pineapple). Paired with a 2009 Grüner Veltliner Stadt Krems, this was an extraordinary start.

As we ventured on to the fish section of the menu, we were presented with Monkfish Tikki Sigri (hung yogurt, Serrano chilies and mustard seed) and Halibut Moily (coconut milk, turmeric, curry leaves and mustard seed). Teamed with a Qupé Bien Nacido, we were certainly on a roll and well on our way to experiencing a live performance of significant proportions.

Next up was with the Lamb Chops Masaledar (hung yogurt, white pepper, green cardamom and fresh ginger) and the Kakori Kebab (finely minced lamb, cardamom, green papaya and spiced yogurt). Accompanied by a South African Glenelly Cabernet Sauvignon this course brought the dining experience to new altitudes.

The team at Junoon is extraordinarily committed to locally sourcing vegetables, meat and fish whenever possible. In fact, they have claimed an acre of private farmland in New Jersey for use by the chef exclusively for their menu. This articulates a commitment to excellence that is hard to come by. Additionally, the unique spice blending room located on the lower level of the restaurant, which is dramatized by a large glass window, is a lot more than a conversation piece. This workspace, visible to patrons, is used by the chefs for the development of some of their signature spice blends, as well as the daily grinding of spices to keep the flavors of the dishes fresh and exciting—and fresh and exciting is exactly what was delivered with the next course.

For the final entrée we explored the chicken section of the menu with the Murg Wajid Ali (Chicken roulade, ginger, cashew nuts and pandanus flower extract) and the Curry Patta Chicken (marinated in a curry yogurt with garlic and black pepper). Paired with the Bourgeuil Cabernet Franc, this was nothing short of spectacular and a fitting end to the savory part of the meal.

After an intermezzo of tamarind ice cream with candied sesame seeds, we put the exclamation mark on a superlative experience by sharing the Spiced Chocolate Cake (chocolate crunch, cocoa nibs and spiced chai cream) and the Passion Fruit Bomb (passion fruit ice cream served in a katafi nest with basil seeds). Married with a Maculan Dindarello dessert wine, this was a phenomenal ending to a culinary experience that will never be forgotten.

With a plethora of exciting plans for the future, Junoon is defined by impeccable service in a setting that is so extraordinary that it must be experienced to be appreciated.  Rajesh Bhardwaj has brought together a team that shares his vision of bringing the very best in Indian hospitality and cuisine to the world.