The night started with one of the most despised words in a New Yorker’s lexicon: “train transfer.” Two transfers, in fact, to get to Roasted Masala in Upper West Harlem from my Gramercy apartment. In the rain! But, I would do it again, a thousand times more, because that food was cooked with love, creativity and devotion. And you could taste it with every savory bite. While Indian food is not on my list of top cuisines (I’m not a spice gal), this meal will remain on my list of top 5 favorite meals in New York.
So on that cold and rainy Tuesday, I shuddered into a brilliant gold-lit room with a head full of frizzy hair and an emotionally unavailable stomach. I took my third and final transfer into the land of Indian fusion through the different home-cooked flavors inside this harmoniously decorated place; a visual conversation between the classic minimalist lines of New York and the dazzling vibrant colors and textures representing all of the different faces of India, from north to south, and sea to shining bay.
Even the bathroom was gorgeous.
A Subject Matter Expert
I brought with me one of my closest friends, Vikram, a 6’ 5” Indian man and the human fashion equivalent of vibrant graffiti. His animated facial expressions do not exaggerate his reflection on an experience. Experiential marketing is his trade, and he is both an expert and an enthusiast of his craft. “It’s a pretty good crowd for a Tuesday,” he said to me. He is not a man you can impress easily, and to add to the many layers of discernment he brings, he also has the ability to compare this food to the Indian home cooking he grew up with. The heat is on, Roasted Masala!
The night began with a velvety mango yogurt drink that I simply could not find the inner strength to pace myself with before Vikram had to slap my wrist and remind me sternly that we had a myriad of courses on their way that I should save room for. “Besides,” he said with a raised eyebrow formed with equal parts wisdom and contempt, “you need to save some to counterbalance the spicy food. It’s part of the experience.” Fine. I’ll exercise some self-discipline. Begrudgingly.
Butternut Squash Soup
“I know you can be overwhelmed, and I know you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be ‘whelmed’?” Chastity once asked in the 90s classic, Ten Things I Hate About You. The answer is, yes, yes you can. Our starter, the Butternut Squash Soup was the first and only course with which we were just “whelmed” Not terrible, but not terribly creative compared to the transcendent courses to come.
As the first meat dish came out still sizzling, the two of us rubbed our hands together with excitement. The rub of spices on this lamb skewer was so thick that, when combined with the sizzling lamb, it concocted a kicky paste with nothing to hide. Spice with a purpose, and no sweet needed to ease the blow. As our mouths danced with these flavors, our underdog dish, the Spinach Chaat, cut in to steal a slow dance with our taste buds.
As our mouths shared an elegant waltz of delicately fried spinach leaves, we had some questions. Mostly, though, how did the leaves maintain their structure? It is easier to have your cake and eat it too than it is to have lightly fried spinach that isn’t wilted and soggy. This dish was truly an incredible feat of art and science. Typically, for fried spinach to be structured and crispy, a heavier batter is used to maintain the form. But not this spinach. This one was light, whispy and crispy, and used a delicate touch with sauces so that it remained sprightly. They were careful to sprinkle and not to overload it with chutney that would sink it into soggy mush. That gave it just enough flavor to give it that nostalgic “comfort food” taste without the baggage to weigh it down.
Parantha & Naan
This bread was anything but a naan-event. It was buttery and warm. And the restaurant had many creative options from the warm, soft, layered Parantha dough bread to the buttery doughy Naan – some with melted cottage cheese, others with garlic. And many more options we had to pass on with a sigh because, on this day, we didn’t have the room to try. This slice of heaven came just in time to wrap the chicken tikka masala that made its grand entrance shortly thereafter.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Vik’s spoon serenaded the creamy orange sauce with a light stir, and we started to dig into the one dish of the evening that I had tried many times before: Chicken Tikka Masala (AKA the basic white girl Indian dish). “This,” exclaimed Vikram, “is what Chicken Tikka Masala is supposed to taste like.” Not too heavy, not too separated, not too thick, not too creamy, not too many spices, this dish was juuuuust riiiight. It’s the one we’ve been searching for all our lives.
Baigan Bharta and Vegetable Curry with Methi
The Baigan Bharta eggplant dish was one of those “mmmmm” bowls of lovely mush that transported my mind to snowy days, with a wool blanket wrapped around my shoulders as I hunch over a smoky campfire. The Vegetable Curry had the unusual herb, Methi, cooked in, which took ordinary steamed veggies and gave them a new twist that resembled the notes of a remix between celery and maple syrup.
I started to develop a little bit of anxiety with the analysis paralysis of which direction to take my spoon. After some time the two of us found our assembly line rhythm and alternated with even, turn-taking distribution between the three dishes. And with each of us favoring our top 2, mine being the Tikka Masala and Vegetable Curry, Vikram the Tikka Masala and Baigan Bharta.
Mustard Shrimp Dosa with Sambar and Coconut Chutney
As our meal took its final curtain call for the Mustard Shrimp Dosa with Sambar and Coconut Chutney, we didn’t think we had the room to fit more. That is until we saw this showstopper come out. One whiff of the hot shrimp and coconut chutney wafting our way as our waiter cut it in half, and we immediately forgot we had eaten anything in our lives before this moment. You could smell each of the fresh ingredients. It invited us in for dinner, and without hesitation, we RSVPd hell yes. I’m not proud of the rapid rate of consumption that ensued following this moment. I almost blacked my frontal lobe out, my gut-reaction was so primal. I have no regrets.
It Gets Even Better
At this point, we are wrapping up our dosas and thinking about what we’ve just done to our overly full stomachs. All while reflecting on the meal we had just had. Something important to note is that Roasted Masala does not yet serve alcohol. I don’t really view this as a downside. In fact, I think it is an advantage. This means you can BYOB, which makes a beautiful meal even more affordable. Do you know what else made this meal affordable? The very affordable prices of the food. You can easily make it out of here for less than $30 per person. With multiple courses!!! Everything about this restaurant had been thought through in full detail. Every accent in balance. Every decoration in good taste. And every dish an art.
And We Weren’t The Only Ones
As we were getting ready to leave, a culturally tone-deaf family pulled the manager over to their table to ask them how and why the word had not gotten out about this place yet. And if he could give them some advice on how to market it. While I don’t believe this restaurant needed any advice, there was something poetic about hearing the table next to the food reviewer raving about how unbelievably good the food is. And the food reviewer wholeheartedly agrees, by the way. This place could not have scripted a better experience. That is what made it so special and so authentic. None of it was scripted. It was a craft, perfected.
Visit Roasted Masala
For all the information on Roasted Masala and where to find them, see below.
Address: 914 Columbus Ave, New York, NY 10025
Call: +1 917 388 3586
Written by Rachel Vass
Article Date: December 2019
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All information correct at time of publication. We do not accept any liability caused by errors, including, but not limited to, changes in price, menu, opening times, address, or other contact details.
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