• Critics’ Pick
  • Babu Ji

  • Indian $16-$25
  • 175 Ave. B
    New York, NY 10009
  • Neighborhood: East Village
  • Phone: 212-951-1082
Babu Ji Photo
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This venue is closed. In many Indian restaurants around the city, chefs tend to be ghostly, anonymous figures who rarely poke their heads out of the kitchen door. But at his boisterous new Alphabet City establishment, Babu Ji, Jessi Singh, who comes to the East Village via Melbourne and Punjab, is a constant presence in his dining room, grinning, circulating among the tables, cheerfully suggesting dishes in his soft Aussie twang. As designed by Singh’s wife (and co-owner), Jennifer, the room exudes a sense of conviviality, too. The walls are decorated with big photos of assorted babujis (“honored father,” or respected elder in Hindi) sporting eccentric handlebar mustaches and vividly colored sequined coats. A stuffed peacock sits above the beer-and-wine cooler, and when I asked for a beer to go with my curry, the waiter instructed me in a cheerful voice to go to the cooler and choose it myself.

The one-page menu at Babu Ji has a similarly pleasing grab-bag quality to it. There are elevated versions of classic Indian street snacks to graze on (try the papadi chaat sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, and the crispy-shelled gol gappa filled with three chutneys), fat croquettes made with thick hung yogurt (“yoghurt kebab”), and balls of crushed potato flavored with curry leaf and mustard seed and set in pools of pineapple sauce scented with cumin and mint (the excellent batata vada). Singh prepares his succulent version of tandoori chicken off the bone (it’s served as an appetizer with mango salsa), and when we ordered the classic goat curry (the recipe comes from Singh’s home village in Punjab), the soft, bone-in chunks of goat were garnished with bits of greenery from the Union Square market and a handful of fresh blackberries.

Staunch Indian-food traditionalists may quibble with these flowery touches, but not Ms. Platt, who gobbled down her dinner at Babu Ji like a ravenous teenager. “You’d better give this place three stars,” she cried between bites of tandoori-charred rainbow trout (served whole, with a drizzling of ginger and honey) and the predictably lustrous butter chicken, which Singh and his cooks prepare with milk and fenugreek folded with fried shallots, tomatoes, and generous chunks of free-range bird from Murray’s. The Long Island scallops in my copper pot of slightly oversweet scallop coconut curry were as big and soft as marshmallows, and the spinach in the densely green, garlic-infused bowl of palak paneer, that old curry-house warhorse, tasted like it had been plucked that morning from a nearby rooftop garden and prepared in the home kitchen of some local Alphabet City nabob.

The kitchen has been under strain more or less since Babu Ji opened (“It’s as loud as an Indian train station here” is one of the things Singh likes to yell at his guests), and it shows in some of the dishes. The fatty Goan-style pork belly vindaloo could have had more bite to it, and the chunks of lamb in my watery lamb rogan josh were as hard as vulcanized rubber. You can cover up these occasional mishaps with baskets of buttery, crunchy-bottomed naan, however, and with the fluffy house basmati rice, which is flavored with cumin and lemon. Whatever you do, leave a little room for the desserts, of which there are only two. The wonderful, pistachio-flecked condensed-milk kulfi gets all the press, but the dish we couldn’t stop nattering about was the gulab jamun, which combines the softness of just-baked sponge cake with the focused, sinfully addictive qualities of a first-rate doughnut hole.
http://babujinyc.com/
  • Prices

    $16-$25

  • Payment

    American Express Discover MasterCard Visa

  • Special Features

    Take-Out Great Desserts Prix-Fixe Online Reservation

  • Alcohol

    Beer and Wine Only

  • Reservations

    Recommended

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