Welcome to the Scene Report, a column in which Eater captures the vibe of a notable New York restaurant at a specific moment in time.
Historically, Indian restaurants on the Upper East and Upper West Sides have offered menus that concentrate on a combination of meaty Punjabi and North Indian Mughal vegetarian fare. With the growing popularity of other regional Indian food all over the city, these uptown restaurants have become more adventuresome. Bombay Chowk (1378 First Avenue, near East 73rd Street) is a perfect example.
The place was founded five years ago by Assis Goes, who was born in the northern part of the Punjab in what is now Pakistan, but spent his childhood in the southern Philippines. The restaurant is perhaps over-decorated, with a giant colorful mural of Arjun’s chariot from the Mahabharata, pillars circled by plastic autumn leaves, Hindu statuary here and there (though the meats served are halal), and handsome lathe-turned chairs with red brocade cushions.
The vibe: Open since 2018, Bombay Chowk attracts an eclectic crowd who seem very happy to be there. At lunch, the place isn’t particularly full and it’s entirely relaxing. Tables on the sidewalk are perfect for people-watching. In the evening, the dining room fills up as 8 p.m. arrives. (We went at 6:30 p.m. with a party of six.) Some dine on straightfoward curries and tandooris, while others are here for the regional fare. The owner works the room, advising customers, or standing behind a counter surveying the scene.
The food: The bill of fare is widespread. Seek out the recently added Goan section of the menu, referring to the seaport and beach resort on the west coast of India, with dishes that are often spicy and laden with coconut milk. Chicken xacuti, with a sauce made of white poppy seeds, grated coconut, anise, and dried red chiles, stands out for its mellow heat, while egg chop has no heat at all, embedding boiled eggs in mashed potatoes and deep frying them.
The biryanis in the northern style are particularly delectable, especially the shrimp version ($23) served festively molded into a ring with pomegranate-dotted yogurt; and so is railway canteen goat ($20), ragged chunks of meat in a tomato-laced curry, found nowhere else I know of in the city. Also, don’t miss the dish of scallops from the southern Indian city of Mangalore.
What to drink: Beer is the best thing to drink with an eclectic mix of Indian dishes — especially Indian beers which tend to be low on bitter hops, like Kingfisher, Taj Mahal, Old Monk, and the Indian American 1947 — and seltzer does well, too. Rhubarb falooda flavored with rose water is a milkshake-like drink that makes for a very nice dessert, but may be a tad sweet for drinking during a meal, but then so is mango lassi.
The drawbacks: Skip the vegetarian southern Indian dishes like dosas, which are pallid. Also skip the butter chicken, which is too light and sweet. And if you like a restaurant with quiet corners and isolated tables fit for deep conversation, Bombay Chowk is not the place for you — during dinner service, at least.