The team behind Junoon, a fine dining institution and one of the country’s first Indian restaurants to earn a Michelin star, is headed in a more casual direction this week. Its owner Rajesh Bhardwaj and his son, Akshay Bhardwaj, the chef at Junoon since 2016, are opening a new restaurant on Tuesday at 207 Second Avenue, at East 13th Street, in the East Village.
Instead of tasting menus, Jazba is focused on the food of India’s dhabas. The casual roadside restaurants can be found across the country, says Rajesh Bhardwaj, who grew up in New Delhi. In some cases, their owners are known for singular dishes whose tightly guarded recipes have been passed down for generations.
Jazba will attempt to recreate 24 of them under one roof. The menu isn’t inspired by dhabas generally: It pays tribute to them very specifically. Its butter chicken is an estimation of the one served at Aslam Chicken, a shop in Delhi that Bhardwaj admires. The lazeez pasliyan, a mutton chop in a yogurt sauce, namechecks Karim’s, a small restaurant in the same city.
In one case, to make the restaurant’s aminabad ke galouti, Bhardwaj poached a former employee of Tunday Kababi, a famous dhaba in Lucknow, to learn how to make it. The kebab is prepared by mincing goat meat, and then pounding it into a smooth paste.
Not everything comes from the roadside. The restaurant’s korma is based on one served at the Press Club of India, where Bhardwaj grew up eating with his father, the organization’s former president. The “one hundred chile chicken” is a family recipe. At one point, it was made by grinding 65 green chiles into a paste and adding in another 35 whole. At home and in his restaurant, it’s now made with 75 chiles in total.
“You’re still going to sweat,” Bhardwaj says. “It’s a different kind of heat than a red chile.” Where does it hit your mouth? “All over.”
Jazba is meant to be more casual than Junoon, which held a Michelin star for eight years. “I would never have thought of doing this a decade ago,” Rajesh Bhardwaj says. Opening a fine dining restaurant used to be a way to challenge American assumptions about Indian food: that it has to be cheap, spicy, and served in a takeout container, he says. Recently, it’s been happening at casual restaurants, too.
An avenue over, the restaurateur Sonny Solomon made a similar gamble when he opened Veeray Da Dhaba, a restaurant whose menu is modeled after the dhabas of Punjab. Roni Mazumdar and Chintan Pandya, who run the city’s only Michelin-starred Indian restaurant, now sell fried chicken sandwiches in the same neighborhood. In Hell’s Kitchen, Hyderabadi Zaiqa can blow your mind with a pot of biryani.
“We haven’t even scratched the surface of just how many dishes there are,” says Akshay Bhardwaj. “The regions, the techniques.”
Jazba is open from Sunday to Thursday, 5 to 10:30 p.m.; and Friday to Saturday from 5 to 11:30 p.m.