If you’re looking for great vegetarian food in New York, then Indian restaurants are probably on your short list. Devi — the only Indian restaurant in the U.S. to earn a Michelin star (correction) — has to be at the top of any lists of Indian restaurants. This Union Square eatery is a cut above the usual heavy, uninspired, and generally unhealthy fare found at most Indian restaurants, and is well worth a visit.
Our amuse-bouche was a corn salad in phyllo dough. I thought it was okay, but nothing particularly special. The phyllo had a good consistency (crunchy, but not brittle) and the cilantro was a nice touch, but the corn itself was sort of tasteless. My bouche was not amused.
Things picked up with our second course, spinach-goat cheese samosas. As I’ve mentioned in my philosophy on rating “ethnic” restaurants, I generally won’t blog about a place unless it differs from the run of the mill in some way. This, I thought, was noteworthy about Devi: four smaller samosas, rather than one or two large ones; an interesting filling (although they did have the traditional potato); not oily or heavy. On the minus side, I thought the samosas were insufficiently spiced, and they tasted rather similar to spanikopita. The samosas came off like a repurposed Greek dish, rather than a unique and interesting Indian dish.
My main course was “Pav Bhaji”, described on the menu as an “Indian Sloppy Joe”. Basically, the dish consists of vegetables, spiced and mashed together, served with toasted pieces of bread. This dish really hit the spot. The vegetables were nicely spiced and hearty. The bread was toasted and had a nice (buttery) crunch to it. The accompanying lime really freshened the dish up when spritzed on top. All in all, I was impressed.
I also ordered the onion-parmigiano kulcha, just to see what it would be like. The idea was interesting, and the execution was pretty good too. This tasted essentially like the naan you would get at a typical Indian restaurant, with a sprinkling of parmigiano. That gave it a bit of a salty undertone, which went nicely with the spicy pav bhaji.
All in all, I was pretty impressed with Devi. It’s hard to do Indian food in a way that’s different and interesting and harder still to get an interesting selection of food executed properly (by which I mean, not everything that looks good on the menu winds up actually tasting good!). Devi succeeded on both counts. If you’re looking for great vegetarian food in New York, or if you’re looking for excellent Indian food, Devi should be on your list. Three stars.
Two notes: first, where possible, I’m going to try to upload pdfs of menus instead of pictures. Although this menu says it’s from 2010, this was the menu we had in late 2011. Dinner Menu
Second, sorry about the pictures; I didn’t have good lighting and I had no flash!
UPDATE: As of 4/1/2012, Devi is now closed.
UPDATE #2: As of May 2012, Devi is open again, with the same menu but a new chef.
My earlier statement was incorrect. Devi was, at one time, the only Indian restaurant to earn a Michelin star, but for 2012, Junoon, Tulsi and Tamarind Tribeca have all earned a Michelin star. (Return to the body of the post.)