Many food focused Americans have not had the privilege of eating gourmet North Indian cuisine. What most people are familiar with is the cheap corner takeout, with uninspired recipes and no presentation afforded in the dishes. But travelers to New Delhi and other parts of India know the difference and have fallen in love with the exquisite flavors and textures of Moti Mahal Delux. This beloved international chain now has a North American home in New York City and the owners claim full licensing rights to the rest of the continent.
It was at the Moti Mahal Delux restaurant in New York that I learned certain key ingredients used in the delicate preparations are simply not to be found locally. They have to be imported from India. That’s really saying something, when you’re talking about New York City —land of everything! The special clarified butter, with the terroir of India, along with certain fresh spices to be hand-ground on site are flown in regularly. So, if you want to indulge in authentic New Delhi flavors without traveling to New Delhi, you have to head to New York City to experience it first hand.
This Upper East Side restaurant is located in a more residential section of the city, which allows Moti Mahal Delux to maintain a relaxed vibe. Business casual seems to be the unspoken dress code. Lights are kept low and tables are intimate with soft chairs.
Diners are served an appealing opener of Naan – traditional, crisp flatbread – and three dips: chopped peppers with onion and vinegar; mint-cilantro chutney; and tamarind. They call them “Indian nachos.”
Some of the recipes at the restaurant were developed in-house, while others are part of the chain’s roster of traditional fare. The in-house recipes are also top-notch: Roomali Khasta is an appetizer with a modern presentation in long shot glasses on a wooden rack. They are rolled in pancake-like beddings with pine nuts, mushrooms and cheese served with a sun-dried tomato and garlic dip. There’s a little spice heat and lots of savory umami flavor.
Anardana Tikka chicken is another in-house recipe. It’s made in the clay oven, but special preparations and choices of chicken parts are made to ensure that they stay juicy – not typical of many clay-baked meats. The chicken is marinated in pomegranate and served with lots of pomegranate seeds. The result is a tender dish, with an exotic and lightly sweet flavor. It is garnished with a spicy chutney puree and greens tossed with sesame seeds and minced bell peppers.
One of the Moti’s signature dishes – and authentic to what one would eat in India – is the Burrah Kebab: mustard flavored grilled lamb chops. The mustard has a mild curry note to it. The chops are well marbled and juicy, the grill flavor shines through, too. The entrée is served with cranberry sauce and lemon wedge for squeezing.
Another addicting specialty that has people following this restaurant them all over the globe is the Murgh Makhani, “The Original Butter Chicken.” This is a decadent dish for sure! Real butter and cream goes into the luxurious sauce. Thick chunks of white meat chicken breast are bathed in a rich and creamy, yet piquant, sauce. You’ll want to order more naan to get at every last drop.
Vegetarians get full range of Moti Mahal Delux’s love. Daal Makhani is a dish of black lentils doused with home-churned butter for a savory, rich, creamy and flavorful choice. It goes very well with steamed rice. Straight up veggies, such as Baingan Patiala: stir fried eggplant with onion and ginger, as well as Bhindi Jaitpuri: spiced okra (fried, not gummy) are good to share as side dishes.
Or you can go in the entirely opposite direction at Moti Mahal Delux with specialty proteins such as brains, goat, mutton, and river fish.
Moti Mahal Delux in New York has a beer/wine license for proper complementary libations. And for a sweet ending to your meal, try Phirni – a very creamy, fluid rice pudding, and mango lassi.