A PASSION OF RESTAURATEUR RAJESH BHARDWAJ
I was recently in New York to attend the Varli food festival and spend time with my good friend Chef Sanjeev Kapoor. My wife Nisha, my friend & business partner Surfy, his wife Madhavi and I decided to drive from Washington DC to New York. Normally on all our trips, as foodies and restaurant owners know, everything revolves around food, food and food. So this trip was no different.
For some time now, Rajesh Bhardhwaj, another dear friend of ours from our days in New Delhi had invited us to check out his latest venture -Junoon. So this was an opportune time to take up him on his offer and spend some quality time with good old friends.
Junoon, a restaurant located very close to the Madison Park on 27 West 24th St., btwn 6th & broadway, is stunningly beautiful. Junoon means passion and Rajesh's passion is clearly visible from the time you step in. The restaurant is opulent, built beautifully, the walls made with stones hand- carved into a basket weave, with an inviting reflecting pool in the front, beautiful hand-carved swings, antique wood palace doors, an open kitchen, a lovely bar with majestic drinks, and a beautiful spice room downstairs.
We left the ordering to our friend and host Rajesh. Nisha, Madhavi and Sanjeev Kapoor were all vegetarian for the day as this was the time of Navrathri - during which time most folks either adhere to a strictly vegetarian meal or have a very restricted diet. Nisha and Madhavi had ordered a vegetarian thali - a beautiful array of fresh seasonal vegetables, dal,rice,yogurt, bread etc brought out on a copper platter. Rajesh, knowing my preference for seafood, ordered a konkan fish curry, which had a smooth and silky gravy with coconut milk and the right spiciness from the chilies balanced by the tartness of the kokum. I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre Champault,Loire, France - which complemented well with my konkan fish curry. Surfy had a spicy bloody mary and the rest of the group stuck to water.
An amuse bouche of a cauliflower was brought at the beginning. It was beautifully plated and it had the right combination of the heat from the chilies, tartness and sweetness from the tomato and garlic. I also was able to taste all the vegetarian dishes from Nisha's platter which consisted of an assortment of fresh seasonal vegetables, dal, raita, rice and breads; thali was exquisite. Sanjeev ordered a Kadi Pakodi ( a vegetable dumpling in a flavorful yogurt based sauce) - this is comfort food at its best.
We finished off with some lovely desserts including a trio of Kulfi, with three flavors - cardamom, Mango and Paan.
After lunch we went next door to Hotel Wyndham where we were all staying, relaxed a bit, changed into Indian outfits and went to the Varli food festival. It was indeed a delight to see do many Indian restaurants and restaurateurs under one roof showcasing the cuisine of India.
After the Varli event, we got back to Rajesh's Junoon again, where first we had some drinks in the gorgeous lounge and then moved into a private dining room with some more friends joining in. We went in for another feast. Some of the highlights of the evening were Chicken Awadh Korma, cooked with almond, onions, yogurt and saffron, Goat Matke Wala, very tender goat pieces cooked with garlic, tomato, bay leaf and pomegranate, Amristari Aloo Wadi, sundried lentil dumplings and potatoes cooked with spices - this is a peasant dish, rarely seen in restaurant menus. This was followed by more desserts, masala chai,& coffee.
By this time, it was 1.30 AM and we were in no mood to drive back to DC; but we had already checked out from the Hotel; our wives had to report for duty the next day and we ourselves also wanted to get back to our own restaurants for a busy Friday. So we had no choice but to drive back at this unearthly hour - slowly but surely, with the help of a few hot cups of coffee on the way and some nice hindi music I decided to take over the driver’s seat and by the time the sun was rising we reached home, sweet home! a memorable trip indeed!
Left to Right : Surfy Rahman, Rajesh Bhardwaj, Sanjeev Kapoor and yours truly at Junoon, NY
Rajesh, narrating to us as to how he went about sourcing materials for the interiors!
The service here is impeccable, attentive without being obtrusive!
The layout of the dining room is very good with a nice wine cellar at the back and chic lighting.
Nisha is happy that I brought her here !
Chef Walter Rozario is a very dear friend. Chefs Vikas Khanna and Walter Rozario are the two masters in the kitchen.
This is the Amuse Bouche! Crispy Cauliflower, garlic tomato chutney. Exquisite!
Vegetarian Thali - served in beautiful copper utensils with cute small wooden spoons!
Service here is immaculate! It reminded me of our days at "Hyderabad House" where the Prime Ministers and Presidents were served in India. Well synchronized and executed with a panache.
These curries are served from striking small copper pans.
Nadru Kofte - These were croquettes made with lotus root, home made cheese"Paneer" and cashew nuts in a rich sauce garnished with lotus root chips.
Seated at the private dining room during Dinner
The expansive lounge and Bar at Junoon serves innovative cocktails
An array of desserts included a seasonal trio of Kulfi - cardamom, mango and paan- Date Pudding Cake - with a cranberry reduction, orange buttermilk ice cream, Passion fruit bomb, and spiced chocolate ice cream with chai ice cream!
Friandises - the grand finale!
UPDATE : OCTOBER 4, 2011
JUNOON IS FEATURED AMONG THE PRESTIGEOUS MICHELIN STAR RESTAURANTS OF NEW YORK -2012
HEARTIEST CONGRATULATIONS - RAJESH BHARDWAJ, VIKAS KHANNA AND WALTER D'ROZARIO