When the groundbreaking Junoon opened in 2010, chef Akshay Bhardwaj recalled how customers at his father’s fine dining Indian restaurant would start ordering samosas and chicken tikka masala without even looking at the menu. But Junoon’s efforts to push back on preconceived notions of Indian food — that it’s only takeout fare, always spicy, or should be affordable, he says — quickly gained the respect of New York diners and Michelin stars followed.
Since closing during the pandemic, Junoon is reopening on June 29 in a new space, at 19 West 24th Street, a few doors away from its original location in the Flatiron District. This time around, the trailblazing Indian restaurant is expanding on its reputation as an elegant fine dining destination with an extensive wine program and top-notch cocktails. The space is more intimate with fewer tables and it’s no longer a tasting menu-only experience with formal service.
“Trends have changed over the past decade,” Bhardwaj says. “Indian chefs are being creative and bold. We’re taking chances that didn’t happen before.”
Junoon’s reopening comes at a time when New York’s Indian restaurants have garnered the spotlight like never before. Critics across the city have bestowed glowing reviews of Dhamaka at the Essex Market for its menu focused on regional dishes from the subcontinent. More recently, Pete Wells devoted precious real estate in a New York Times review for Sona, where celebrity Priyanka Chopra Jonas helped catapult the splashy opening as a creative consultant. But nearly a decade ago, it was Junoon — one of the first Indian restaurants in the United States to earn a Michelin star, which it kept for eight years — that paved the way for these newly minted hit Indian restaurants.
“For the longest time, it was the institution,” says Chintan Pandya, the chef and co-owner of Dhamaka, who worked at Junoon for about a year. “It was iconic. Indian people everywhere in the food world looked up to it.”
The new Junoon includes a main dining room with 42 seats and a pastry counter where pastry chef Gustavo Tzoc makes all of the restaurant’s desserts. A front room with a marble-top bar features 29 seats and a market area selling spices, teas, and chocolates.
Bhardwaj, who is 28 and started working cooking at the restaurant in his early twenties, says about 40 percent of the menu is made up of classic Junoon dishes, such as the decadent tellicherry duck ($40). Another favorite includes the ghost chile murgh tikka ($22), a fiery recipe for tandoor chicken thighs nestled in a ramp mousse with pistachio crumble and grape chutney.
Among the new dishes, there’s the tandoori octopus ($24), where the tentacles marinate in different spices and cook for three hours at a low temperature. The dish comes served with a red chili aioli and confit fingerling potatoes.
For those who want to experience Junoon’s more lavish offerings, there will be a seven-course tasting menu ($115 per person), which includes dishes not available a la carte. A shorter three-course prix-fixe menu — an appetizer, entree, and dessert — goes for $85.
Junoon’s roots date back to Cafe Spice, a chain of smaller restaurants that Bhardwaj’s father, Rajesh Bhardwaj, started in 1997, well before today’s golden era of Indian cuisine. The menu there served dishes Americans are most familiar with when it comes to Indian food and eventually expanded to a dozen locations. The elder Bhardwaj opened the opulent Junoon even as Cafe Spice expanded into fast casual operations and packaged meals sold at supermarkets across the country.
“We’ve always wanted to stay faithful to the cuisine but to continue opening doors and pushing boundaries,” Bhardwaj says. “We’re not trying to play it safe.”
Junoon is open Tuesday through Thursday and on Sunday from 5 to 10:30 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11:30 p.m.