Wildly popular Indian restaurant Dhamaka, winner of the 2022 James Beard Award, is not short on customers, regularly one of the city’s most sought-after reservations. But the restaurant, located in Essex Crossing market on the Lower East Side is closing through April 18, a plan that’s been in the works for nearly six months.
The brief pause will allow Unapologetic Foods from Roni Mazumdar and chef-owner Chintan Pandya — the duo behind Adda Indian Canteen in Long Island City, Semma in Greenwich Village, Rowdy Rooster in the East Village, and Masalawala and Sons in Brooklyn — to overhaul the entire menu and get rid of a couple tables to make room for a drinks cart and a dessert trolley.
Touted as one of New York’s most exciting restaurants, Pandya says it was always a plan to change the menu periodically. “It was my dream to change the menu every six months,” he says, but with such wide acclaim, it proved too difficult to retire dishes that people had heard or read about and waited months to try. “People were disappointed,” he says. “It was a learning experience.”
“Everyone is asking why we’re doing it,” Pandya says. “A lot of restaurants make changes when they’re not doing well. Since that wasn’t the case with us, it took a lot of convincing. We wanted to reinvent our thought process: How do we do this restaurant now? We wanted to do something new to get people excited about regional Indian cuisine.”
The most popular dish at the restaurant, the paneer methi, will remain, he says, but while the paplet fry will go, new items like fenugreek dumplings or smoked pork tail will make an appearance. Of that paneer, “I’ve cooked Indian food for 23 years,” he says. “And usually the most popular dish at an Indian restaurant is chicken.” The paneer, he says, is leagues ahead of sales of any other dish at the restaurant. Dishes will represent several regions of India and the limited-run rabbit, so elusive New York Times critic Pete Wells wasn’t even able to order it for his review, will stay on the menu, a spokesperson confirms.
Dhamaka opened in 2021 with a collection of dishes dedicated to the “forgotten side of India,” as the website puts it, offering a variety of regional dishes not often seen on New York’s South Asian menus, or, Pandya says, at restaurants around India. Dhamaka was followed by Semma, which earned a Michelin star for 2022.
Before Adda and Dhamaka, there was the first Masalawala on the Lower East Side, helmed by Mazumdar and his father, which opened in 2011.
The new Dhamaka menu isn’t the group’s only reinvention of itself — as previously reported Masalawala relaunched in 2022 in Park Slope; in 2021, Adda announced it would be relocating to a bigger space with a liquor license.