I went to an Indian restaurant this evening called Junoon where Vikas Khanna is the Executive Chef. Having reviewed Purnima a few years back, I got word that Vikas would be heading this one. Rajesh Bhardwaj is the owner who told me that he gave up ownership of others for this one. The restaurant has a great atmosphere of being spacious and a more subtle East Indian decor. Junoon is located in Manhattan at 27 W. 24th Street. My friends Deveka and Ernie Leibovitz went with me to sample some of the menu.
I say, "some of the menu" because there are so many items to choose from there would have been no way for me to taste even a quarter of the offerings.
I'm calling this a preview because I want to comment on what made this place so special aside from the food itself. You know how one describes the service as being "impeccable"? Junoon absolutely defines the dictionary meaning of the word.
When seated, the chair was pulled out for me and assistance was given to help push it back to the table. The first person to come over had hot wet towels to cleanse your hands before eating and later came over after the dinner with hot wet towels. Great for both a cold night and not having to wash up before dinner.
There was one waiter who not only took the drink orders but was able to assist Ernie on which Cognac to choose and what to expect with the Japanese rice beer. He also made it a point to have our water glasses filled at all times.
Our waiter, Michael, was not only able to describe the contents and cooking methods of each item presented, but gave us a tale on why a particular lamb kabob came about.
After each set of sample dishes were eaten, all silverware and plates were immediately removed. The busboy would come over to clean the tablecloth of any food and when the food bit produced a stain, he brought over a cloth napkin to cover it up as the napkin matched the tablecloth.
If any of us got up to go somewhere, a waiter was there to refold the napkin and place it on the table.
Okay, it gets better. Deveka and I needed to use the restroom. Come on, you know that women never go alone if there are any other women at the table. Deveka asked the waiter for its locale and he simply said that he would walk her to the direction of where it is. He then pointed to a manager who would be taking her. However, when I got up the manager noticed that I had a bit of a limp and asked if I preferred to go upstairs or downstairs. Well, just outside of the downstairs bathrooms is the Spice Room, so I opted to take those steps. The manager extended his arm and assisted me down the stairs and then described the Spice Room. Would you believe that he was waiting for us so that he could escort me up the stairs and back to my seat?
Now I'll comment on the food. It appears that the herbs and spices are mixed each day so they can bring out the flavor of the particular menu item. That means that if you are having something with "curry" and you are allergic to cumin, it can be simply eliminated. I had noticed not only the array of spices, but tools such as a pestle and mortar and a few different types of grinders.
Having eaten Indian food, I expected my taste buds to bring back memories. They didn't. Every morsel of food had flavors that were unrecognizable probably due to the way the herbs and spices were mixed. In fact there was not one piece of food that was overpowered by the flavor of one particular spice.
Peppery, spicy, hot...don't give that to me. A few things were a bit like that just due to my palate. I simply tolerated it and concentrated on the other flavors. Deveka and Ernie are used to peppery, spicy, hot and for the first time did not request some type of sauce, etc. to heighten the hot.
Ernie said that he was spoiled and that he would find it difficult to eat at another Indian restaurant. Deveka agreed. I rank the food as being a number 10 out of 10. I had a chat with Rajesh to find that he was a former chef so he designed the menu. I will have him on my radio show this week!
IT'S BEEN AWHILE BUT
11 months ago