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Robert Sietsema

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ARoqa Might Be NYC's Most Dramatic New Indian Restaurant

The city’s Indian food boom continues

ARoqa is not a typical Indian restaurant. As if observing the Rolling Stones’ musical imprecation, the interior has been painted black. With the doors thrown open to summer breezes, customers sit inside as if dining in a cave. The food from chef-owner Gaurav Anand is equally as unusual, with his focus on familiar dishes with tweaked spice combinations and inventive presentations: As Indian restaurants proliferate around NYC, this one is a standout because it pairs science-chef techniques with dishes and drinks.

Corn paddu is a dish of globular brown fritters that rides in on a black bike with kaffir-lime coconut chutney in the basket. Do you love chicken tikka? Here the chicken morsels are treated in science-chef fashion, bristling with a pink sauce in miniature plastic pipettes and separated by parmesan crisps. But, heaped with microgreens and delivered on a charcoal-gray plate, vindaloo momos lacked the hoped-for heat and flavor. Meanwhile, kasundi prawns, slightly charred and delivered in an olive-green sludge, proved scrumptious.

There are 16 small plates ($10 to $16) in two sections, and eight entrée-size dishes ($18 to $26) grouped in the Coming Together section. While the small dishes are dramatically plated and piquantly spiced, the quantities tend to be small, so that the larger dishes are a better value — especially if you’re looking for a full meal as opposed to just snacks.

The duck confit is the most spectacular of the entrees, a heap of the Sri Lankan rice noodles called string hoppers topped with a dark-fleshed, leg-thigh combo with an imperially crisp skin. (Though on another occasion, a pallid rice pilaf had been substituted for the hoppers without warning.) For vegetable lovers, achari baingan is a northern Indian standard, the baby eggplants here stuck in a thick millet porridge, with popped lotus seeds sprinkled around like popcorn.

Another fine entrée is a sea bass filet flavored with lemongrass that sends the dish in a Southeast Asian direction. Stuffed and topped flatbreads ($6 or $7) occupy a section of the menu, served with sauces so that they make excellent bar snacks — though matching these with some of the unusual cocktails constitutes a challenge.

The menu puts cocktails front and center, to the detriment of beers and wines: a shame since pilsners, lagers, and off-dry white wines are a natural pairing with the bold flavors of South Asian food. But many of the cocktails are interesting enough that they might be worth trying on their own. In the drink “in the garden” ($14), Brazilian cachaça (a cousin of rum) is matched with carrot eau de vie, rhubarb and — wait for it — English peas, giving the drink a sickly green color, though it makes a formidable cocktail and a strong one.

Other eclectic drink fixings include Malbec syrup, lavender agave, swiss chard, pink peppercorns, dill, and pickled watermelon. Indeed, at aRoqa, the drinks are as much of an adventure as the food.

aRoqa

206 9th Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10011 (646) 678-5471 Visit Website
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