New York’s hottest dining duo, chef Chintan Pandya and restaurateur Roni Mazumdar of acclaimed restaurants Dhamaka and Adda, are continuing their expansion blitz with the highly anticipated reboot of Lower East Side mainstay Masalawala, now reimagined as a restaurant and retail shop in Brooklyn. Masalawala and Sons opens on Thursday, September 22, at 365 Fifth Avenue, at Fifth Street, in Park Slope.
Masalawala 2.0, a revival of Roni and his father Satyen Mazumdar’s first restaurant that ran from 2011 to 2021, aims to bridge the gap between what’s eaten in Indian homes and what’s served in Indian restaurants. Masalawala’s previous menu, with mainstream hits like garlic naan, chicken korma, and chicken tikka masala — which Roni dragged himself to put on the menu after countless diner requests at the Lower East Side restaurant — has been reworked so that over 60 percent of the new, 24-item menu is culled straight from the Mazumdars’ own dinner table and revamped by Pandya.
“This is my family,” says Roni. “This is where I come from. These are dishes that my mom, dad, and I eat.”
The team is bringing back the sabudana vada, one of Satyen’s regular afternoon tea time snacks, that met so little reception ten years ago that he took it off the menu after offering it for a month at the previous restaurant.
Pandya resuscitated the dish, with a few adjustments, for Masalawala and Sons. He puffed up large white tapioca pearls by rinsing them for 15 minutes and drying them in a muslin cloth for a half hour. He then fashioned the pearls into a patty along with super-soft, spiced mashed potato and crushed peanuts, and deep-fried the batter. The result is an intentionally proportioned play of textures: crispy on the outside and particularly gooey from the potato and pearls on the inside. It’s served with Pandya’s take on chutney: a thin yogurt broth that’s both sweet and savory and tempered with cumin and red chile.
The macher dim, curried fish roe, is another family favorite that rarely makes an appearance in restaurants. “I would have never dared to even talk about macher dim [in restaurants] in my life,” says Roni. “But I have it at home probably once a month.”
In Pandya’s rendition of the dish, he lightly poaches a sac of hilsa fish roe in a curry of mustard seeds and tomatoes until it reaches a “silky smooth” consistency in a traditional clay pan, he says. It is served alongside a bowl of Gobindobhog rice, a West Bengal state cultivar that’s shorter, stickier, and nuttier than the basmati. Due to the limitations of sourcing the roe, he’s only making five to seven orders per day.
The Mazumdars have entrusted Pandya to bring the macher dim to life at their restaurant. “Chintan takes a dish that is so humble and reaches an absolute level of perfection which is what I don’t think we were able to achieve in the past,” Roni says.
While the original Masalawala sported modest brown interiors, the new restaurant is artfully homey and colorful, from the cushioned ottoman stools to the vibrant wall paintings of flowers and the Hindi words for “real, tasty shop,” evocative of the matter-of-fact messaging popular in 1980s India, according to Roni. The space accommodates 30 customers indoors and another 30 in the backyard.
The retail section along the entire left wall brings diners even closer to the Mazumdars’ home cooking. The team has curated a collection of spices like turmeric, cumin, and cinnamon from importers Diaspora Co, Burlap & Barrel, and Spicewalla. Coffee beans grown in India and rose-cardamom chocolates from Ministry of Kaapi, Dryft Coffee, and Elements Truffles round out the selection.
At Roni and Pandya’s four other restaurants — Dhamaka, Semma, Adda, and Rowdy Rooster — they have been intent on showcasing an unprecedented range and depth of Indian cuisine in an effort to push the boundaries of Indian restaurant food in New York. Along the way, they’ve racked up accolades from outlets including Eater, Bon Appetit, the New York Times, and the James Beard Foundation. After Masalawala opens, they’ll move to putting their spin on a new fast-casual kebab shop called Kebabwala, and an Adda reboot in the East Village.
The reception has buoyed them to keep pushing the bar higher with subsequent openings, including at Masalawala. “If we didn’t have the precursor of all these restaurants, where we built this kind of a bond with the city and with the people who are coming by, I don’t think we would have felt as empowered to actually be so daring to put half of [Masalawala’s] menu out there,” says Roni.
Masalawala’s opening hours are 5 to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, until early October, when it will open 12 to 10 p.m.
Caroline Shin is a Queens-raised food journalist and founder of the Cooking with Granny YouTube and workshop series spotlighting immigrant grandmothers. Follow her on Instagram @CookingWGranny.