The Indian-street-food phenomenon that’s suffused New York, the way curry vapors permeate clothing on East Sixth Street, has introduced a mellifluous new lingo to the city’s food vocabulary. From delicate plate-dwarfing dosas at Hampton Chutney Co. and the N.Y. Dosa cart, to wraplike rolls at Roomali and the Kati Roll Co., to the colorful, crunchy chaat of Sukhadia’s Gokul, we’re undoubtedly having a Southeast Asian street-food moment. Now, in a skinny little sliver of Greenwich Village real estate, comes Lassi, a fresh new take on the curry-in-a-hurry theme.
Catchily named for the frothy yogurt drinks on offer in mango-flavored profusion all over town, Lassi is much more than an ethnic smoothie shop (though its premade featured beverages, in potent, refreshing flavors ranging from spice-flecked cardamom and vanilla to a complex and curdy lemon, can easily become an après-gym addiction).
Lassi recently replaced an Indian spot called Thali, which dealt in ultracheap prix fixe vegetarian meals. But where Thali was dark and lugubrious, Lassi is bright and cheerful—like its owner, Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez, the former pastry chef of L’Impero and Veritas. A chance encounter with a Punjabi student in a pastry class she was teaching—and many stereotype-shattering home-cooked Indian meals— inspired Carlucci-Rodriguez to change culinary course. And even though she’s an unlikely Indian-restaurant owner, she’s a passionate one. Her food tastes unlike any other Indian in town—fresher, cleaner, but undiluted in its intricately spiced essence.
The backbone of Lassi’s menu is its parathas, just one of the Atkins- be-damned Indian breads that’s begun to make fast-food inroads here. The dough itself is minimally stuffed with minced fillings like goat, daikon, or a particularly flavorful cauliflower, griddle-blistered and served folded in half with boondi raita, spiced yogurt studded with tiny chickpea dumplings. Chewy and dense, satisfyingly grease-slicked and impregnated with herbs and spices, the paratha is best eaten immediately, in its most supple, almost tender state, at one of Lassi’s four counter stools.
Lassi and paratha may be the tiny shop’s raisons d’être, but daily specials offer customers compelling reasons to return. Small plastic takeout containers are filled with aromatic, spiced but not exceedingly spicy portions of shahi chicken—moist, mostly dark-meat chunks bathed in a triple-nut paste of cashews, almonds, and pistachios with a gritty texture and subtly complex flavor. Methi chicken’s appetizingly bitter bite comes from fenugreek. Murgh makhani, or butter chicken, is the richest of the three, luxuriant in a creamy tomato sauce.
Roast pork is less obviously Indian—despite its tandoori spice rub, the flavor profile is pure Latin lunch-counter pernil. But the tender meat and knockout seasoning make it a must-order, along with a vinegary tomato-and-cucumber salad. Meat isn’t the only way to go at Lassi; in fact, some of the best dishes are vegetable-based. Beans reign supreme and retain their highly individual personalities: The rajmah chawal, a mild, soothing combo of fluffy, cumin-seeded basmati rice and soft kidney beans, couldn’t be more different from the channas Punjabi, a lively chickpea stew. In texture if not flavor, both are superior to thin (but tasty) bean soups like the aromatic dal and a pungent kala channa; all the good stuff, like the pulverized split peas and nutty black chickpeas, sinks to the bottom.
The beanless shorba is a textural marvel, though—grainy ground cashews in a chicken-stock base, with a nice, round flavor and the sweetness of caramelized onion. The kitchen plays with various vegetable combinations, and so far, the aloo gobi has been most impressive—not least because the cauliflower florets aren’t overcooked into mushy submission but still a bit resilient, mixed with potato and dark onion strands in a deftly spiced sauce. In comparison, string beans and tomatoes are bland. But mushroom mattar, a murky mélange of button mushrooms and peas, has enough persistent heat to prompt a return visit to the lassi cooler.
Carlucci-Rodriguez has delved deep into the Indian spice rack, but not at the sake of her pastry-chef past. Desserts like pumpkin halwa, a creamy, grainy, evocatively flavored pudding studded with pistachios and yellow raisins, fuse her old life and her new one. They’re both pretty sweet.