Suvir Saran, former chef of critically acclaimed Indian restaurant Devi, is back in business in NYC. Saran's new seasonal West Village restaurant Tapestry opens on Friday, and it's the first time the Michelin-starred chef will be in a restaurant kitchen since he left Devi in 2012.
It's not for lack of trying. Saran, who also had a stint on Top Chef Masters, tried to open a restaurant in San Francisco for years and ultimately decided to ditch the project after a slew of hiccups. He initially was only going to consult on Tapestry, but the restaurant's owner Roni Mazumdar, whose family owns The Masalawala, convinced him that he should be a partner, too. "I was seduced by New York yet again," says Saran, who first moved to the city in 1993. "Why did I leave? Everything about New York, the grit, the grime, the noise, the fire trucks. ...The nuisance of new York is all just the charm of New York." He's finding an apartment nearby and hunkering down for his return to the city. Tapestry, at 60 Greenwich Ave., opens just for dinner on Friday, with lunch and brunch to follow. Here's what you need to know.
1) Saran is going global with the menu — with dishes traditionally associated with France, India, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, and more. People who were fans of Devi or read Saran's 2007 cookbook American Masala won't be surprised that the chef opted to combine flavors from different cuisines at his newest restaurant. But he goes even harder and broader at Tapestry than he has before. The menu features dishes like a Mexican sea bass ceviche that's dotted with Indian spices and a French terrine with rabbit, pistachios, fennel, and pernod. "I'm not changing what a terrine is," Saran says. "To eat terrine at an Indian-owned restaurant, with dishes that are not French, you’ll appreciate the terrine in a way you would not have at a French restaurant."
He's not trying to be particularly avant garde though. Saran sees the dishes as "comfort food" from around the world, highlights of the most memorable flavors he's had over the course of his travels and through New York. "It’s comfort food that’s comfort because it’s pleasurable to the palate and has a story that ties it to a country or a people," he says. "Comfort changes based on the national border that you're in. Food brings us together."
2) But don't call it "fusion." "Fusion can be confusing, both for the chef and the diner," Saran says. "It leaves nothing untouched. It leaves nothing pure." Instead, he's thinking of it as a way of highlighting the flavors that already exist. "I'm not interested in changing Italian food and making it into Indian. I’m interested in getting the flavors of the dish out," he says.
3) He'll be sourcing as much food as possible from local farms — including his own. Saran calls the American Masala farm in Hebron, New York home, and eggs from the 200 chickens at the farm will be used for dishes like the French dessert ile flottante. By the fall, Tapestry will be able to serve pork from pigs on the farm as well. He's not caught up on making the whole restaurant strictly farm-to-table, though. "I’m not claiming to be precise," he says, adding that many restaurants who sell the "farm-to-table" ethos struggle to maintain it. "There’s no farm-to-table in reality. We’re doing the best we can."
4) Two other separate menus are planned, including a bar and a chef's table. A space downstairs will eventually be built out into a chef's table or private dining area for eight to 12 people, potentially within the next six months. It will have a special menu every night that's still being designed. Meanwhile, the 12-seat bar — which will debut along with the rest of the restaurant — will have a separate menu from the dining room, with items like curry leaf deviled eggs.
5) Diversity on the staff mattered to Saran and Mazumdar. Chef de cusine Joel Corona, from California, is Mexican American, and executive sous chef Aarti Mehta is from Bombay. Saran sees the male-female team as the yin and yang of the kitchen, he says. Other top women in the restaurant include pastry chef Crystal Hanks and director of operations Nikki Wong. Tapestry, which has such a varied menu, requires a staff that reflects variation too, he says. "We want a diverse community of people working for us," he says. "So that we reflect Tapestry, and we reflect the New York mosaic."
6) Saran's top recommended dishes so far are... the rabbit terrine, masala fried chicken, and the harira posole, a Mexican and Indian dish with chicken, chickpeas, hominy, cilantro, onions, chile, and cumin. Mazumdar particularly loves the fried chicken, which comes with peanut slaw, biscuits, and aloo bharta.
7) Finally, Mazumdar is ambitious about what he wants Tapestry to do. The young restaurateur is aiming for Tapestry to change perceptions on what Indian food can be, and in that sense, it's very much a passion project in addition to a business venture. As a first generation immigrant from India, Mazumdar sees a responsibility to make Indian cuisine simultaneously more mainstream and more exciting. Most Indian restaurants he sees are "a little bit cookie cutter," he says. "The idea here is, what are we creating that's new, that's changing the conversation?" he says. "I want our future to look back and say, 'These are the people who moved the needle forward a little bit.'"
Take a look around the restaurant here: