Living and Eating in Curry Hill
123 Lexington Ave.
The famous Kalustyan's is known for its never ending walls of spices, beans, imported items and the like. I love living a stone's throw from it and always take friends visiting from other countries as well as other sections of Manhattan to see it for themselves. It's also a place of many firsts. My first Kaffir Lime Leaves, my first golden almonds, my first red colour for tandoori chicken, my first garam masala and the list goes on.
My home cooking has been completely altered by the offerings and inspirations that come out of that store.
And on the second floor is a small sandwich shop. After hearing about it from a few 'hounds, I made my way up there to try the famed mujadarra sandwich, a blend of lentils, soft bits of onion and rice in a pita-like bread. Remarkably filling and satisfying, I highly recommend giving it a shot.
99 Lexington Avenue
My family never went out for Chinese food when I was growing up. They would only order take out from Cathay (the name of the local place) and it would be the same thing every time: Spareribs, fried rice, wonton soup, chicken with snowpeas or chicken and cashews.
I'm not sure if the dizzying gold-leaf images in the red wallpaper was to blame or if it was the possibility of a lack of communication between father/mother and waitress-with-accent that steered my parents away from dining out or if it was simply that Chinese food = watch TV while you eat food, but I did get to go once with our neighbors. And the feeling of eating in a place that is actually quite family-oriented and easy-going was new and wonderful but I confess it felt wierd without a TV on. Dining out used to mean we were going to the country club or a place in the city where you dressed up or to the Turnpike Tavern, a delightful divey pub in Waldwick down the street from our house that served the quintessential Amercanized chicken parmigian that I can still taste in my mind to this day. The tavern, sadly, has finally shut its doors for good but Cathay is still alive and kicking.
What I'm getting at is that Curry Leaf is the Chinese Restaurant that I never go to sit down at but always order take out from. Just like Cathay was for my dad. And I always get the same thing. Chicken Makhani or Chicken Tikka Masala, Naan for me (there's a joke in there somewhere I'm sure) and Poori for Danna.
It's not that the place isn't warm and inviting, but I think, like my dad, that this quality of food - the homestyle version of Indian (or Chinese), means eating it at home.
97 Lexington Ave. (27th St.)
A newcomer to the neighborhood, this place serves rolls of Indian cuisine. Similar to uncut rolls of sushi, these flat-grilled bread rolls are filled with a protein, lettuce, onions, egg, spices, lemon and tomatoes are a wonderful, modern and mobile way of eating Indian cuisine. Several of these types of places have popped up in the city, and a competitor has recently opened up shop on Lexington Ave. I've eaten pretty much everything on the limited menu: Chicken Tikka Roll, Bihari Kabob Roll (spicy chicken, not to be confused with...), Reshmi Kabob roll (spiced chicken), Seekh Kabob Roll (spiced lamb), Aloo Roll (grilled potato balls with mild sauce), Paneer Tikka Roll (homemade cheese) and Chana Pakora Roll (chickpea flour fritters) and have enjoyed pretty much all of them.
The staff are dressed in whites and are an interesting group (usually 4 or 5 guys) to watch as they work in the tiny open kitchen with little room between them.