Cuisine: Indian , Wine Bars
Menu: View the Menu
Not too long ago, I lived in an itsy bitsy studio apartment with a kitchen about the size of a treadmill. My stove had four miniature burners that were too small for normal sized pots (this caused anything I was cooking on the stovetop to wobble), and an oven that could not fit a standard roasting pan with the door shut. I had a sink, a small fridge, and not one inch of counter space. Cooking was a challenge, but it was done on occasion with pots and pans inevitably finding their way into the living room (aka the rest of the apartment). I spent the last 10 years of my life pretty confident that I lived in one of the smallest spaces in New York City. Then I paid a visit to Graffiti, Jehangir Mehtaís iPhone-sized restaurant on East 10th Street and I thought, ďIíve been living in a palace.ĒReview By: Andrea Strong
Graffiti, a restaurant that shows off this former haute pastry chefís talent for savory cooking, is alarmingly small. The fact that he manages to fit four tables in the space (all of which are communal and outfitted with mix and match stools and vintage chairs) is honestly nothing short of a square footage miracle. Jehangirís vision for his restaurant was to create a space that would feel like someoneís living room, where friends would gather for drinks and dinner and then to have tea and chat until the small hours of the morning. And heís done a great job bringing his vision to life. His tiny storefront is lit with the soft glow of antique crystal chandeliers and flickering candlelight and decorated like an Indian flea market with walls hung with ornate wood carvings, tapestries, mirrors, and knick knacks. Itís a warm and inviting space thatís so small itís impossible to leave without making a new friend and getting closer to existing ones.
Indeed, unless you are a party of four or six, youíll be seated communally with other diners (read: strangers!), so if itís an intimate private dinner for two you are looking for, this is not the place to do it. But if youíre open to sharing conversation and meeting new friends, come on down. Jehangir has even developed a tradition that celebrates the blossoming of new tableside friendships. When couples or groups of friends seated communally start to chat and merge conversations, he sends the table a round of champagne on the house. Itís a small touch that makes you feel welcome and if nothing else itís quite a nice incentive to be friendly.
To be sure, Graffitiís dining room is not the only thing about this restaurant that is small. His kitchen, which is all of 60 square feet, was recently profiled in Time Out. Letís put it this way: there may be street vendors with more surface area to deal with than he and his cooks have. But Jehangir has once again pulled off a square footage miracle, using all of his vertical space for storage and keeping everything in its place so that the workspace is optimized. You can check it out for yourself on your way to the bathroom, which is located at the ďfarĒ end of the kitchen. If you are waiting on line, youíll have the chance to get some cooking tips from the source.
The fact that food this good is coming out of a kitchen that small (and without gas, but from induction hot plates, a rice cooker and an electric oven) is pretty astonishing. To be sure, this is not high-minded, seriously composed three-star cooking weíre talking about here, but more homey, comfort foodóburgers, dumplings, buns, salads, pizzasósized in sharable plate form and crafted from a palate of exotic and aromatic Indian and Persian spices and ingredients that reflect Jehangirís background.
For instance, you can start out with a big bowl of chili pork dumplings ($12) to share. Youíll get six glossy steamed pouches filled up with spicy minced pork and dressed in tart and fresh grapefruit confit with a shower of semolina noodles over the top for crunchiness. Iíd also recommend you go for the cumin eggplant wrap ($15). While itís called a ďwrapĒ it more accurately really resembles a quesadilla with fenugreek parathas (think thin pancakes) standing in for tortillas. Itís filled up with rich cumin-spiced eggplant (instead of cheese and beans and the like) and served with a small pot of lentil mustard soup for dipping or sipping.
Follow up with a refreshing salad of watermelon, feta and mint sorbet ($12) as a sort of summery palate cleanser, and then youíll be ready for the braised pork buns ($15). The pork filling is prepared like a Persian stew cooked with onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, fresh green chiles and scented with cinnamon and star anise. This rock star braise becomes the filling for soft steaming Chinese buns, served with a sticky side of traditional Persian apricot chutney. David Changís steamed pork buns at Momofuku and Ssam Bar are exceptional, indeed, but these are something special too and they deserve a run for the money. Iíd love to put them head-to-head in a taste test.
Jehangirís Indian riff on a pizza is a flatbread swiped with coriander and mint chutney and topped with slices of tender chicken cooked in a Tandoor Masala mixture of yogurt, red chiles, cumin, fenugreek, and coriander. Heís also making one of this cityís best and most under the radar burgers ($15), fashioned from beef but treated like a kebab in terms of its seasoning (cumin, chiles, onions, ginger) and served in slider form (there are two per order), topped with onions and lettuce with your choice of tomato ketchup or homemade chipotle mayo and a few garlic-roasted fingerling potatoes instead of fries.
Jehangir is a chef known for his desserts. Heís been the pastry chef most recently at Aix, but also at Virot, Compass, and Jean-Georges. Heís also recently published a beautiful dessert cookbook, out last month, called Mantra (Harper Collins). Surprisingly this restaurant is not really about dessert, itís more a showcase for his savory side. That said, thereís a very good hazelnut chocolate caviar cupcake thatís soft and moist almost like a baba. Thereís also a halva mascarpone and date cream and a crumble made with cranberries and apples, and thatís it. This may be a disappointment to some, and perhaps it will inspire Mehta to open a shop for his desserts, but in the meantime, heís serving really exciting savory plates at Graffiti and making a strong case for follow up book with these recipes.
While the food is really good, and the place is a lot of fun, I will emphasize that Graffiti is not for everyone. Itís not for people who canít sit on a chair without a back (aka a stool), nor is it for people who want privacy or a lot of room to move around while eating. Itís a tight space and while itís also charming to some, it may be highly uncomfortable to others. Iíd say this is not the place to bring parents or grandparents, or anyone who is particularly high maintenance. But if youíre looking for a place to kick back, have some delicious, homey Indian-inspired eats, and spend an evening with friends and possibly new ones, this is your place. Itís also really good for the real estate ego, as it will also make you feel like the little patch of space youíre living in is the Taj Mahal.
Neighborhood: East Village
Hours: tue & sun 5:30pm - 11;45 pm
wed to sat 5:30pm - 10:30pm
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