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Pete Wells Awards One Star to Chaiwali in Harlem

The owner greets guests at the door


Visiting Anita Trehan's Chaiwali feels like a visit to someone's home, according to Pete Wells. After all, the Indian restaurant occupies the bottom two floors of Trehan's Harlem brownstone. The eclectically-decorated dining rooms feel intimate, and the menu feels personal, Wells writes in his review.

It reminds me of the relaxed, light-handed, modern food that Americans with roots in India, like Ms. Trehan, may cook at home. Her recipes probably aren’t her grandmother’s, but she pays attention to the quality and balance of saffron, fenugreek, ginger and coriander. What comes out of her kitchen looks attractive, but it hasn’t been whipped into stiff peaks of fine-dining artiness.

Then, if you were in luck, she [Trehan] might carry vindaloo lamb chops to the table, having marinated the meat with vinegar for tenderness and ginger for flavor. Chaiwali makes vindaloo with complexity and nuance, nothing like the aggro-curry the color of a rusted tailpipe served in generic Indian restaurants. It comes with potatoes softly roasted with whole mustard seeds, a recipe that I am going to steal.

Service can sometimes be forgetful, and a couple of dishes miss the mark, but the wonderful spices in an inviting setting win the Times critic over. "Of the many reasons people have for starting a restaurant, the desire to serve something they themselves want to eat and drink is one of the best." He gives Chaiwali one star.