[ RESTURANT REVIEW ]
An "Utsav" Everyday
Entrance to Utsav
Like every good restaurateur, Emiko Kothari saw gold in New York City. After taking charge of the chain of 19 Indian restaurants set up in Japan following the death of her husband, she trained her sights on New York and set up Utsav, a charming, two-story restaurant just steps away from the Rockefeller Center, in 2000.
"My grandfather met Emiko while visiting Japan in the early 70's. Together they opened and successfully operated a chain of 19 restaurants in Japan. Upon his death, my grandmother decided to expand the operations and looked to the US for growth opportunities. Utsav, here in New York, was opened mainly because she felt it would be lucrative to open a restaurant here that did not compromise on the authenticity of regional Indian foods," said co-owner Nandita Khanna, a beautiful softspoken young lady, who is no stranger to restaurant business herself.
Nandita, who has her roots in West Bengal, helped her father manage several family-owned restaurants in Calcutta before arriving in New York in 2000 after her marriage to a young banker. "In fact, the first wedding reception to be held here was mine," she recalled.
Nandita run's the restaurant with strict yet gentle precision. Almost always working behind the scenes as she "prefers it that way," her effectiveness at running this business is reflected in the courteous service extended to all customers by the staff and the great food served in a tranquil atmosphere.
Utsav's entrance is a bar and a lounge on the lower level where one can savor delicious and spicy snacks like chicken wings, tiny bite-sized kababs and Indian flat-bread pizzas, while sipping the delicious concoctions conjured by the ever attentive bartenders who run the wellstocked bar that has a wide array of beers, fine wines, scotch and traditional Indian drinks.
The décor is contemporary throughout and sets off the surrounding walls and tall glass windows beautifully. The ubiquitous ornate and garish furniture, a fixture at many an Indian restaurant that dot the city, is mercifully missing. "We chose to keep it simple and contemporary so that diners can feel relaxed and savor the food instead of being blinded by the décor," Nandita said.
Soft muted and airy interior of Utsav
The dining room upstairs can accommodate up to 200 guests, and doubles as a private party room. Done up in bolder shades with silk drapes and floor-to-ceiling glass windows that lend the restaurant a romantic ambience, the dining room's warm maple flooring complements the décor. There are booths along the windows that overlook the Plaza, and the 46th and 47th streets.
The menu contains a large variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes that pay homage to the varied cuisine of India. "Our menu reflects many regional cuisines such as the Konkan coastline, Kashmir, West Bengal, and Punjab. You can always find something new at Utsav that is different from restaurants in New York."
And I nodded in affirmation when I glanced at the mind-boggling array of dishes listed in the menu. For the meat lovers, it was the usual staple fare served at other restaurants such as the murg (chicken), gosht, and seafood dishes. However, they differed in that they were spiced right and not drowned mindlessly in heavy cream and oil.
But it is the veggie-lovers who have it really good with a wide variety of traditional paneer and kofta dishes and more some unique creations like lahsuni gobhi, tandoori mushroom, khasta kachori, kurkuri bhindi, palak kofta, subz Biryani, Triveni Daal and methi muttar malai, that brings together spinach, fenugreek and peas in a perfect blend.
That aside, I was there for food and more importantly, Daab Chingri, a flavorful spicy coconut prawn curry from West Bengal that I had tasted at a friend's house several years ago in India. The memory and fragrance of that dish, traditionally served in a hollowed out coconut shell, has stayed with me since. And at Nandita's insistence that Utsav "serves the best Daab Chingri with white rice this side of Bengal," I could not help but order it.
While waiting for Daab Chingri, I tried out a street favorite from India – the Bombay bhelpuri made with crispy rice puff tossed with potatoes, onions, cilantro in a tangy and spicy chutney. It was delicious beyond my expectation and unlike the soggy mess served up in other Indian eateries. In between, I nibbled on the unique and mind-blowingly scrumptious Tandoor Murgh roll, a breast of chicken stuffed with spinach and spicy ground chicken rolled up and topped with a spicy tomato curry sauce.
And then came the Daab Chingri, luscious prawns in a steamy fragrant curry served with a mound of perfectly cooked rice and a fluffy soft naan on the side. I breathed in the tantalizing aroma and with one bite, I was in Daab Chingri heaven, if there is ever such one. It was all and more than what I had expected - a treat for its presentation and taste. Served in the coconut shell, the flavor was easy on the palate and the prawns cooked to perfection, so tender that they dissolved in my mouth.
Fully sated and stuffed to the gills, I refused the many tempting sweets that Nandita wanted me to try. Although I do have somewhat of a sweet tooth, I declined to taste the mango mousse and malai kulfi offered much to my chagrin. But then, I have only one stomach, don't I?
So, how do I rate my experience at Utsav? Perfect and satisfying! Prices, I must say, are a bit on the higher side but that should not be a deterrent because the endless stream of new and regular customers is an indication of how good and different the food is at this upscale eatery. There is, however, a Pre-Theatre, 3 course prix fix, a steal at $30, which is perfect for a dinner or a theatre date. A post-theatre prix fix is also available at $25. During the week, Utsav serves a lunch box for takeaway, priced at $9.95 (non-veg) and $7.95 (Veg). Additionally, they have a wonderful daily lunch buffet priced at $17.95.
Utsav Festive India Restaurant
1185 Ave of the Americas
NY 10036 (212) 575-2525
47-50th Sts-Rockefeller Center (B, D, F,V)
49th St-7th Ave (N, R,W)
42nd St-5th Ave-6th Ave (7, B, D, F,V)
• Price Range: $$$
• Accepts Credit Cards:Yes
• Attire: Casual
• Good for Groups:Yes
• Good for Kids:Yes
• Takes Reservations:Yes
• Waiter Service:Yes
• Wheelchair Accessible:Yes
• Good for: Lunch, Dinner
• Alcohol: Full Bar
[ BY A SHARMA ]