“Simple but good. This guiding principle is evident from the moment we enter the Angel Indian restaurant in Jackson Heights, where the small dining room is almost devoid of decoration. Until our food arrives at the table, the most eye-catching sights – barely visible above the large partition that shields the open kitchen seating area – are the flames that shoot from a saucepan as the chef and owner Amrit Pal Singh put the finishing touches to our meal.
The flames are unlikely to have jumped as high at his home in Pathankot, a town in the northern Indian state of Punjab where Amrit was born in the mid-1980s. (Even today, few of domestic kitchens are equipped with a high-powered commercial stove and a ventilation system.)
Amrit’s mother was, and is, a vegetarian, while her father – a former military officer who learned to cook in the army, in a way – is not. Amrit recalls that while his father was allowed to prepare non-vegetarian meals at home, he also had to clean up any traces of meat afterwards.
Unlike most Indian dishes you can find in New York, Amrit continues, her “mother’s kitchen” disdained heavy cream and excessive spices as well as meat, to preserve the “original taste” of eggplant. , cauliflower or any other vegetable. at hand on any given day.
For Amrit, new menu items have always been tested at home.
After completing high school in India, Amrit pursued a formal culinary education in Australia, first at school – where, he recalls, he was often at odds with his instructors, but for love’s sake. school, he followed the line – then in practice, on the pitch. -professional training. His younger brother followed a similar path and now runs two restaurants of his own in Sydney. Their father and mother also live there.
Amrit himself, however, did not follow his fortunes Down Under. His wife wanted to live near her mother as the young couple started a family, and in 2013 they moved to the United States, and to Jackson Heights. For decades, the area was renowned for its Indian restaurants, markets and sweet shops, although even then a growing number of businesses were Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Tibetan and Nepalese.
Amrit worked for two years at a local Indian restaurant and ate a lot in the neighborhood, but he felt that “no one [had] passion” for Indian cuisine. Although some of these restaurants have been financially successful, “this [was] not Indian food,” he says.
At his next job, in a Manhattan restaurant, Amrit met someone who had this passion: Chintan Pandya, then a promising young chef. Pandya hired Amrit to cook at his Rahi Indian bistro in the West Village, then brought him to Queens when he opened Adda in Long Island City in late summer 2018.
Adda received breathless rave reviews for a menu that was often described as home-style or canteen-style – and perhaps also described as “simple but good”. After a year of cooking in Adda, Amrit invested “all my savings” in his own restaurant in a neighborhood he felt still lacked the Indian cuisine he loved, for all of its options.
Angel – named after chef Amrit’s young daughter – opened in Jackson Heights in October 2019. The restaurant enjoyed several months of stardom, first as a restaurant whose chef had recently cooked in Adda, then as a as an excellent halal vegetarian restaurant. We have visited several times for the likes of dahi batata puri (wheat puffs stuffed with yogurt and potatoes), kale pakora (chickpea fritters), vegetables dum biryani (a simmered mixed rice dish) and lassuni gobi – garlic cauliflower has never tasted so good.
Then Covid hit Queens hard in March 2020. “My pocket [was] empty,” laments Amrit. His restaurant was closed for several months and he “didn’t sleep well” until he started cooking more for his family – now a family of four, now that his daughter, Angel, has a younger brother – in their current home on Staten Island.
For Amrit, new menu items have always been tested at home. “My family [and] my clients” eat the same food, he says. We are happy that Angel (his daughter) not only eats his vegetables but also has a taste for goat and chicken. When Angel (the restaurant) finally reopened, the food menu included meat; guest opinion was two to one in favor of the change, Chief Amrit tells us. We’ve included Angel on our list of Queens’ best bites of 2022, so there should be no doubt where we stand.
On our last visit we ordered something from both sides of the menu. Chief Amrit’s paneer tikka features homemade cheese squares that have been marinated in yogurt, garlic and ginger, then skewered and cooked in a tandoor and finished on the stovetop. His version of tawa kaleji revives chicken livers with chili powder and ginger in a skillet – it was the dish responsible for the most significant leaping flames – and offers them with a pair of toasted buns called cobblestone (pronounced “pow”).
We probably would have asked for another pair of cobblestoneto remove excess liquid from fried livers, if you weren’t also interested in the dessert: suji ka halwa, a grainy semolina pudding with nuts. It was a dish, recalls Chef Amrit, that his mother always prepared during the winter at home.
Things are getting back to normal “slowly, slowly,” Chief Amrit adds. The restaurant is lively only in the evenings and on weekends. Even so, six days a week, he arrives at 9:00 a.m. for prep work, stays until he closes at 10:00 p.m. (or earlier, sometimes, if there’s no business) , then travels to Staten Island, returning home by midnight.
The inspectors of the prestigious Michelin guide have already deemed its restaurant worthy of a “Bib Gourmand”, one that offers good cuisine and good value for money. It is a rare New York-based Indian restaurant to hold this distinction today. A Michelin star is my dream, Chef Amrit tells us. For a restaurant that could earn a star in years to come, what name fits better than Angel?