Since opening in February 2021, Dhamaka has been presenting regional Indian recipes on a menu mainly focusing on cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, and their surrounding regions. The fare has been nuanced and adventuresome, often introducing new ingredients and recipes many New Yorkers had never seen before.
The menu was well-regarded, but apparently the founders of Unapologetic Foods, Roni Mazumdar and Chintan Pandya — behind hits like Adda Indian Canteen in Long Island City, which opened two years earlier; Semma in the Village, and Masalawala in Park Slope — had always intended to vary the bill of fare. The idea was to push the boundaries in exploring local cuisines of which India has dozens. On April 11 they closed the restaurant for a week to retool, only to reopen two days ago with a brand-new menu. The place has a refurbished outdoor dining area, too, so it looks like a brand-new place — and really, with so many menu changes, Dhamaka is an entirely new restaurant.
Only four dishes out of the current 22 remain from the old menu. (Don’t worry: The goat kidneys and testicles persist.) It’s divided by snacks, grill, pots, rice, sides, and a $210 hunting meal. One nifty element of the new menu is that it is big enough to feature a detailed map of India, with each dish represented by lines that point to its state of origin. This is amazing and makes the menu more instructive of Indian cuisine in general, and also provides a geographical romp through the subcontinent (though fewer dishes are on the menu from the South, the region that defines the menu at its nearby sibling, Semma).
Did you know, for example, that one nearly detached region of India lies on the other side of Bangladesh to the east? From the state of Nagaland, bordering Myanmar, comes Nagaland pork ($21). Three fatty and meaty tail sections have been smoked like Texas barbecue and furnished with a reddish dipping sauce that hints of pineapple. You’ll find yourself licking every vertebra clean.
From Gujarat in the far West comes methi na gota ($14), five fritters made with chickpea flour and fenugreek, and if you’ve never tasted the herb in its fresh form — it’s about 100 times more pungent than the dried version. Dip them in the glowing saffron-yellow yogurt sauce. Bombil fry, listed as Bombay duck, ($21) is actually a species of coastal lizardfish named after a train. Dried, it’s turned into a snack that imparts a distinctive odor to the byways of Mumbai — and now Delancey Street, as well. One bite and you won’t be able to stop nibbling.
Two larger-size starters might be mentioned: misa mach poora ($27) from the Mizoram state betokens two large shrimp wrapped in a banana leaf secured with toothpicks like a birthday present. They’re served head-on; definitely eat them, as they may be the best part.
Chapli kebab ($21) is often made with chicken and served as a patty or linear ground kebab. Here, in a more luxuriant form attributed to the capital of Delhi, it is a seething dark mountain of ground short rib, with an intensely meaty flavor enriched with egg yolk, making this meatloaf paradoxically smooth and creamy once cut into and tasted.
By now a companion and I were already stuffed, but we went on to try two full-blown main courses. Yes, chicken korma is found on many of the city’s Indian menus, but taste Dhamaka’s kali mirch korma ($38) and you are likely to be delighted at the difference. Not only because it is thickened with so many cashews you can taste them, but also because it contains black peppercorns that make the dish every bit as hot as anything found on a Sichuan menu. But this different kind of heat mellows on the lips and tongue like a romantic memory, also reminding you that the peppercorns are indigenous to India.
Finally, a seafood pilaf known as kolambi ani kekda bhaath ($42) arrived in a pressure cooker — as at Masalawala, the serving vessels often gesture toward kitchen cooking methods. This rice casserole was dotted with prawns and crab, and used a form of rice called surti kolam, milder tasting and shorter-grained than basmati.
We looked up as a trolley with several dessert vessels clattered by in the widened aisles of Dhamaka (a mixed drinks trolley featuring Indian-made liquors had earlier passed by) and reflected sadly that we had no room left for dessert.