Chef Anita Jaisinghani has been lighting up the dining scene in Houston for years now — first with her upscale Indian restaurant Indika, which earned her a James Beard award nomination, and then with her more casual restaurant and bakery Pondicheri. Later this year, the chef will finally make her debut in New York, in a more than 100-seat space at 15 West 27th St., with another version of Pondicheri. "It’s a serious size," Jaisinghani says. "We’re not sliding in. It's a serious city." There's not a firm date for the opening yet as her team is still working on construction, but Jaisinghani sat down with Eater recently to talk about what to expect from her in New York. Here are five crucial facts about Pondicheri.
1) Pondicheri New York will be casual and take-out during the day. Jaisinghani first became known for her fine dining at Indika, but during the day, her first restaurant in New York will focus more on the casual and to-go options that are available in Pondicheri and it's Bake Lab. From the morning until 5 p.m. the restaurant be counter service, with a bakery and coffee. "We want to become more for lifestyle, for people to be there picking up food, picking up gifts, picking up dinner to go," Jaisinghani says. "It's a mentality of food you eat every day."
2) She wants you to eat Indian food for breakfast. The menu will be somewhat different from the Houston Pondicheri, but as an example, the breakfast menu includes an egg wrap with roti bread, masala eggs, and a South Indian-inspired grit dish with cauliflower, green peas, and herbs. "It's food to go in the morning, food to stand and eat while you go to work," she says. "A lot of quick bites." Think baked eggs and buns, with flavors from different regions of India.
3) Expect an experimental baked goods section. The Pondicheri Bake Lab in Houston has about 15 cookies, and the team will be bringing over half of them to New York, such as the popular chocolate chili. The chai pie will also likely be brought over, as will Pondi Bars, a twist on a granola bar with crisp rice, peanut, raisin, pumpkin seed, and marshmallow. But they plan to create new options in New York, too, including in morning bake-offs. "We want to continue creating," Jaisinghani says.
4) Dinner will be more like Indika, with more of an upscale feel. People looking to try more of what Jaisinghani became known for Indika will have the opportunity at night, when the menu will transform with influence from her fine dining leg. "We want dinner to feel special," says Nikhil Kumar, who will be helping to run the restaurant in New York. Pondicheri's tasting platters, where small metal bowls are filled with samples of curries, greens, and samosas, will be more experimental than at the original location as well. "We're just going to make them more interesting," Jaisinghani says. "New York is a great opportunity to do something more creative and exciting. Why wouldn't we do that?"
5) Jaisinghani wants you to leave the meal feeling energized. The items at Pondicheri New York won't be heavy and rely on theories of "aryuveda," the Indian idea that everything should be balanced. "You generally feel really energized and good after eating Indian food for weeks," Kumar says. "Unfortunately, a lot of [Indian] restaurants have a different type of cuisine that makes you feel heavy and really, really full." That means Pondicheri considers warming foods in the winter, cooling foods in the summer, and balancing the meal with a mixture of sweet, spicy, sour, and bitter flavors. "We’re really trying to examine our own history and heritage and pick out what we think makes sense in today’s ages," Jaisinghani says. "Most of it makes sense."