The team behind West Village’s upscale Indian restaurant Rahi has expanded with a new, more casual neighborhood restaurant to Long Island City today. Adda, Inspired by canteens found throughout India, is now open at 31-31 Thomson Ave., near Van Dam Street. Owner Roni Mazumdar, whose family runs the LES Indian restaurant the Masalawala, says the restaurant is intended to be a “simple, cozy hangout spot,” a place for locals and nearby students.
Mazumdar, who is from Kolkata, worked with Rahi chef Chintan Pandya, who is from Mumbai, to craft a menu of snacks, tandoor grill dishes, curries, and biryani — all inspired by their hometowns and other regional cuisines from throughout India. Whereas their restaurant Rahi does more experimentation and fusion approaches to Indian cuisine, the name of the game at Adda is simplicity and tradition, with a healthy dose of nostalgia from their childhoods.
The murgh rezala, a chicken dish with a cashew- and yogurt-based gravy, comes from Kolkata, and here, it will be more like the version that Mazumdar had in India: “It should be brothy — that’s what real rezala is,” he says of the dish, which he has had trouble finding in its traditional form in NYC. For kebabs, Pandya wanted the them to be served the same way they are in the small shops of Mumbai where he grew up eating them: accompanied with lime wedges and raw onion to cut through the spice.
For the junglee maas, a goat curry from Rajasthan, the meat is cooked on the bone. “Every single person in India cooks the meat on the bone,” Mazumdar says. “The idea of boneless happened when I moved to this country, and I started seeing that’s how it is here.”
Spice-level customization isn’t a thing at Adda, with Mazumdar wanting to challenge the notion that all Indian food is inherently spicy. “There are certain dishes that are spicy, and certain that are not. There’s a variation, just like any other cuisine,” he says. The junglee maas is served in its spicy traditional form, but other dishes like the saag paneer — made with housemade paneer and local greens — isn’t necessarily packing the heat. If someone really wants some extra spice, they can request a hot chutney on the side, Mazumdar says.
In a similar vein, Adda’s take on its bhatti da murgh, a grilled whole chicken leg from northern India, doesn’t break from tradition, made with a thick crust of spices “that you actually have to bite through,” says Mazumdar. The spices are left coarse instead of finely ground. “It looks not really appealing, honestly,” he says, but he didn’t want to alter the look or taste.
The space nods to the casual vibe of the restaurant, and like the menu, it intends impart some sense of history and culture with Indian newspaper covers from the past 100 years plastered across the space. It has 40 seats and a small eight-seat bar, although the beer and wine programs as well as happy hour won’t roll out until December.
The restaurant is located near Laguardia Community College, and the price point as such caters to students and the neighborhood. Most dishes on the lunch menu are under $10, and the dinner entrees range between $14 and $17. Though it’s a full-service restaurant, Pandya adds that the restaurant should also be a place where students can come in just for a samosa and a $1 cup of chai. “When I was in college, that’s what I would do,” he says. “I would get a 10 or 15 minute break and I would walk in, grab a samosa and a tea at the canteen, and run back to class. This reminds me of those days.”
Mazumdar opened Rahi in 2017, bringing on Pandya, who previously cooked at the Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Junoon. Soon after it opened, the New York Times critic Pete Wells celebrated Rahi for serving “the most exciting food” of a slew of new Indian restaurants that opened in NYC — commending Pandya’s ability to “infuse non-Indian ingredients with flavors that are very true to Indian cooking.”
Adda, though, focuses specifically on Indian ingredients. “We want to celebrate the culture in its most honest form, with the highest level of integrity,” Mazumdar says.
The restaurant is now open Monday through Saturday from noon to 9 p.m.