There’s an urban legend that all of the restaurants on Curry Row, in the East Village, share the same kitchen. We’ve even heard there’s an underground tunnel connecting them all. Today, in talking to the owner of East Sixth Street’s newest Indian establishment, we’ve debunked that myth. ONCE AND FOR ALL!
Shaikh Ali (above) opened Raj Mahal about 20 years ago; a couple of weeks ago he and his partner in that restaurant opened Jewel of India right next door, in the subterranean space that briefly held a Japanese restaurant and then a Szechuan joint. If any two restaurants on the block were going to share a kitchen, it would be these two, right? Except Ali took us back to the small kitchen where his chef was baking naan in a modern tandoor. It was pretty self-contained — but did that door on the far wall lead to an underground passageway? Nope. Ali opened it to reveal a regular ol’ walk-in freezer.
After that, Ali took us to the back patio and showed us the separate entrances to the kitchens of Raj Mahal and what used to be Spice Cove, which is being replaced by an izakaya and just reopened a door over at 328 East Sixth Street. Now it’s true that if there was some sort of collusion, one could easily use this shared back patio to go from one kitchen to the other, but the patio certainly doesn’t span the whole block. Plus, Ali insists the cooking at Jewel of India is different from Raj Mahal, and from his restaurant on Smith Street, Britain Indian.
“Most Indian restaurants use almost one type of sauce, and they make the colors a little distinct. But ours, every sauce is different. For the balti sauce, we use the balti paste — most restaurants don’t do that. For the masala sauce, we use different spices. And the vindaloo sauce, we make it here. It’s a special vindaloo sauce. Others use only the hot dry chili powder. But we make the sauce with coriander, dry red chili, and other spices. There’s a lot of competition, that’s why we’re trying to do something different.”
Well, not too different — rest assured the self-described “aesthetic place for exotic Indian food” has the requisite sidewalk barker.
Jewel of India, 324 East 6th St., bet. First and Second Aves; menu here.