Chef Chintan Pandya has fun doing everything he thought he could never do in a restaurant. Dhamaka, the sensational hot spot that Pandya and Roni Mazumdar opened at Essex Market on New York’s Lower East Side in February, serves dishes from the ‘forgotten side of India’.
There are regional dishes that Pandya discovered while working and traveling in India. There are uncompromising specialties of houses, street corners, alleys and countryside. Pandya remembers taking notes on some of these dishes years ago, but back then he couldn’t imagine a scenario where he would cook them professionally.
âThese recipes are not intended for a restaurant,â he says. “I really never knew what I would use it for.”
But now in Dhamaka, after opening New York’s best-selling Rahi and Adda with Mazumdar, Pandya realizes that her patrons are ready for a more in-depth exploration of Indian cuisine.
âPeople have matured,â says Pandya, who cooks many delicious dishes that seem deliberately non-photogenic in the Instagram age. âMaybe this food wouldn’t have worked well five years ago, but that’s what people are looking for now. People really want this real food. People want this real experience.
The highlight of the Dhamaka experience is the coveted Rajasthani khargosh, a $ 190 whole bunny that can be extremely difficult to book. You need to pre-order it at least 48 hours in advance, and Dhamaka only serves one per night. Many customers order it weeks before their visit. In his rapture New York Times Examining Dhamaka, Pete Wells admitted that he tried twice and failed to secure the bunny. New York magazineAdam Platt also wrote a glowing review of Dhamaka without eating the rabbit in question.
These reviews missed something spectacular. Each rabbit spends two days soaking up the flavors of a yogurt-based marinade with red chili powder, garlic paste, ginger, cloves and a secret blend of spices. While this is happening, Pandya soaks a clay pot in the water overnight. After draining the pot and adding a bed of sliced ââpotatoes, Pandya puts the rabbit inside with fresh sliced ââginger, green chili peppers, cilantro, golden fried onions, and broth and broth. flavored oil. He then cooks the rabbit for five and a half to six hours.
When the clay pot is carefully opened at your table, steam and an intoxicating aroma escape from it. And then you break the rabbit with pliers. (One of the first questions at our table is, âWho wants the head?â) This is an intensely flavorful and fragrant curry. The marinade and the slow cooking result in a spicy, smoked and tender meat. Sweet white meat is one with ginger, garlic, chili peppers and everything in between.
The rabbit, which comes with potatoes, bread, rice, and lentils, is an unforgettable family feast and arguably New York’s most important large-format dish since David Chang’s bo ssam. It is also a dish with a modest history.
âThis, in particular, was a hunting dish,â says Pandya. âPeople would go hunting and cook whatever they hunt. “
Pandya turned it into a New York baller experience; a bucket list dish. But he wants to be clear: âThis dish is for people who like to eat. He wants customers to order the bunny for the right reasons. He understands that some customers are intrigued by this because it is expensive and difficult to obtain. He points out that the price and limited availability is due to the manpower involved and the size of his small kitchen.
âThe reason we make one is also because we want to control the quality,â explains Pandya. âWe want the people who order it to have the perfect experience. It is an experience that you should savor for a while. It is not a dish where you go to a restaurant and you order, eat and go.
Pandya mentions a good friend and loyal customer, who is a vegetarian and wanted to order the bunny for his girlfriend’s birthday. Pandya refused to give him the bunny. Again, he wants the people who order him to take advantage of it.
In Dhamaka, waiters wear shirts that read “Shameless Indian” and Pandya cooks with confidence. He is fortified by the success he has had serving goat brains to Adda in Long Island City, so he cooks goat testes and kidneys in Dhamaka. This dish, accompanied by a thick sauce and dip rolls, is limited to six or seven orders per evening. Pandya could theoretically sell a lot more than that, but there is a limited amount of testes and kidneys in New York City.
âWe literally go from butcher to butcher to butcher,â he says.
Pandya also asks Uber drivers to look for these precious offal when they are driving around Queens and seeing a butcher shop. Dhamaka clearly disrupted the market for goat testes and kidneys.
Dhamaka also serves pressure cooked pig’s head salad, which is wonderful meat, fat and collagen with lime, cilantro, onion and ginger. It’s a decidedly Indian dish that might remind you of Filipino sisig or Thai larb or Mexican street tacos, depending on your point of reference. Much of the food in Dhamaka knocks you down whether you’ve eaten a lot of Indian food or not. It’s like a particularly vivid kaleidoscope or a new collection of Farrow & Ball wallpapers. You see different shades of your favorite colors.
It is normal that Dhamaka is in the Lower East Side, with its rock clubs and concert halls. You could say that Dhamaka’s food is punk rock, but noise rock is more precise. Going to Dhamaka results in sensory overload similar to a Sonic Youth concert, where cacophony fights harmony and somehow they both win.
Ultimately, times like this only matter if the crowd understands. In Dhamaka, the guests do. The word dhamaka means “explosion”, like an explosion. But in Dhamaka, âblastâ can also refer to the time that everyone spends. The brightly colored dining room, large patio and the soundtrack with Bollywood songs set the tone for this festive restaurant. But Pandya’s fearless cuisine is the main attraction, of course.
Pandya asked Indian customers to tell her that Dhamaka is the only restaurant that reminds them of the food they grew up eating. Indian customers have also told him that they are proud to be in a restaurant where so many non-Indians enjoy this food.
I look around the dining room, at a diverse mix of young people who look like they’re about to go to the club. I see a little older set designers on dates. There are large tables with families and parents with babies. Chef Hari Nayak from Sona, Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ new Indian restaurant in Flatiron, is having dinner. (Dhamaka became the meeting place of a chef who was visited by Jeremiah Stone and FabiÃ¡n von Hauske Valtierra from Wildair, Missy Robbins from Lilia, Alex Stupak from EmpellÃ³n, Alex Raij from La Vara and many more.) stands up speechless when our rabbit arrives.
Pandya is lining up in his cramped kitchen that evening, but he takes the time to go out, greet guests, and soak up his energy. It must be great for him to go through this every night. He’s a leader with a clear message: I’m going stronger and more ferocious than before. You will taste the intensity. Hope you feel the love.
The audience in Dhamaka is receptive. The tables are covered with food and the guests smile and gasp as they tear up the bread and dip it in sauces laden with innards. Even if they don’t say a word to Pandya, their answer goes without saying: Yeah, buddy, we see you. We can feel you. This is why we are here. Bring it. Bring us all you have.
Learn more about Robb Report‘s Culinary Mastery event taking place in San Diego September 25-27 here.