Restaurateur Sonny Solomon — the behind-the-scenes force responsible for upscale NYC hits Kurry Qulture, Tulsi, and Devi — has shifted his attention outside of fine dining for the first time in his career. In August, the restaurateur opened Veeray da Dhaba, a new takeout-friendly spot at 222 First Avenue, between 13th and 14th Streets, in the East Village.
Veeray da Dhaba focuses on Punjabi fare commonly found at dhabas, casual roadside restaurants that are a regular sight across Punjab, according to Solomon, who grew up in the area. The menu, spearheaded by renowned Michelin-starred chef Hemant Mathur and former Kurry Qulture executive chef Binder Saini, includes snacky, relaxed food like Punjabi kadi, vegetable fritters paired with a yogurt gravy; amritsari maachi, a traditional dish of deep-fried fish seasoned with carom seeds and turmeric; and baigan bharta, an eggplant dish made by skewering the vegetables and roasting them whole in the kitchen’s tandoori oven.
Customers can choose to order items a la carte, or buy set lunch or dinners in the form of Veeray’s Tiffin, a meal package that consists of vegetables, a main dish, dal, rice, and naan for $14 each.
When NYC restaurants can reopen for indoor dining, Mathur and Saini plan to serve thali, the roadside version of a tasting menu and a hallmark of dhaba cooking, Solomon says. The menu includes five dishes — diners will have a choice of vegetarian or meat courses — served alongside rice, naan, raita and dessert. The vegetarian thali will be sold at $20.95, while a meat version costs $25.95.
Veeray da Dhaba is a more informal restaurant wholly designed for a mid-pandemic launch, Solomon says. He shut down Kurry Qulture in Astoria over the summer because the fine dining restaurant’s menu didn’t translate well to a to-go format, and indoor dining had just been banned indefinitely. At Veeray da Dhaba, the Michelin-starred team’s laid-back menu is built with takeout and delivery in mind.
The more casual direction is a first for Solomon and his team, who have built a reputation in the city for launching attention-grabbing Indian fine dining gems. Solomon and Mathur were behind Devi, the first Indian restaurant in the U.S. to be awarded a Michelin star, and the pair followed that with Tulsi, another Michelin-starred restaurant in Midtown. Both have since closed. Solomon went on to launch Kurry Qulture, while Mathur ran his own slew of Indian restaurants across the city.
“Covid changed my mindset — it changed a lot of things,” Solomon says. “For the next two years, we don’t know how the future is going to be for fine dining. I used to not be a big fan of takeout and delivery, but now the times are changing.”
Veeray da Dhaba is open daily from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. for takeout and delivery on all the major platforms, including Seamless and Uber Eats. The restaurant is also offering a 15 percent discount for essential workers during the pandemic.