Two friends and I resolved to give Goa New York, a new Indian restaurant in Tribeca at 78 Leonard Street, near Church Street, a look as soon as it opened.
The restaurant’s chef is Hemant Bhagwani, who runs a string of Indian restaurants in Toronto, including Goa Indian Farm Kitchen; this is his first New York City venture. Goa is a state on the west coast of India famous as an international beach destination, but also for its Portuguese-influenced cuisine, which is often extremely spicy.
We were excited to see how this Goan restaurant would compare with others around New York, including Cardamom in Sunnyside, which has one of the largest collections of Goan dishes; and Indian Table in Cobble Hill, which incorporates regions touching Goa into a stunning South Indian menu.
Over in Tribeca, we hoped to eat our way around the 40-item menu, but we were informed shortly before arriving that the point-of-purchase system was down and we should bring cash or payment via a “secure internet link,” because no credit cards would be accepted.
When we got there, we also discovered that the full menu had been suspended for a few days in favor of a single five-course dinner for $150 per person, which included wine pairings. In spite of the disappointment of all having to order the same thing, we were already at the greeter’s podium and said, “Why not?”
Inside Goa New York, flaming grills aligned the wall of a linear kitchen. It was flanked by a dining counter that made up much of the restaurant’s seating. Overhead, an industrial-looking stair and catwalk led to a mezzanine that was closed the night we dined. In lieu of the counter seating, we opted for the dining room deep inside the restaurant, which offered a more serene atmosphere framed by a mural depicting peacocks, flamingos, and swans among multi-hued foliage. Taking two and a half hours, the five-course meal unfolded as follows:
1. A reported sixteen ingredients were hiding in this Goan-style slaw: too many to identify without a magnifying glass, though we spotted purple cabbage, carrots, starfruit, and what looked like shaved paneer. The plum dressing was so light that the crunch of the vegetables eclipsed its flavor — perhaps too subtle a start to a Goan meal. Wine: Gruner Veltliner.
2. The meal picked up with a cauliflower kis-mur, a warm salad of cauliflower florets with a tamarind-chile glaze flavored with coconut, onions, and curry leaves that packed a bit of heat. This dish was fun to eat, with the earthy taste of cauliflower at its heart. Wine: Sauvignon Blanc.
3. Shrimp balchao on toast was similar to ones we’d eaten at Cardamom: rock shrimp that popped in the mouth in a fiery red sauce mounted atop Japanese milk bread — which is like Wonder, only thicker and denser. Did I mention that the sauce was so spicy it made a friend’s bald head sweat and made me hiccup? Wine: Riesling.
4. You may be tired of chefs tucking their dishes into Chinese steamed bao, but the steamed lamb leg bao really worked. The pulled meat had acquired an Indian pickle flavor that married with the sweetness of the folded bun. However, we also noticed that the portion of meat, as with the previous course, was smaller than we might have hoped for at the price. Wine: Not wine, but Indian lager served in tiny glasses, the best pairing of the evening.
5. Butter chicken, said to be the chef’s signature, came on a single skewer. A server slid smoky pieces of chicken off the skewer at the table, into a buttery tomato sauce painted with concentric circles of what was described as “mushroom green chili cream.” It was delicious in every regard — though decidedly not Goan, and the quantity allowed for only two or three chunks of chicken per person. Nevertheless, we eagerly scooped up every last drop of sauce with the perfect garlic naan that arrived as the course progressed. Wine: Barbera D’Alba
A very pretty plate of Japanese eggplant, cut longitudinally and painted with spices and sesame oil, arrived next as an adjunct to the fifth course. It was great, but we felt like the Goan theme of the meal had been forgotten. Wine: Malbec
In lieu of dessert, we had a flute of sparkling rose and a tiny bowl of pistachio-sprinkled gulab jamun, fresh cheese in sugar syrup. It was a good ending to a flawed but ultimately satisfying meal. We left a little disappointed at having so much wine and not having more actual food, and wondering how the tables around us had come up with the steep cash tabs. Our cost for three, with tax and tip was $580.