Friday, April 2, 2010

Chaating it up at Bhojan Vegetarian

I've always despised the large helping of self-righteousness that sometimes goes along with vegetarianism and its ilk. Yet in the past year I have been making an effort to eat less meat, certainly not out of qualms about eating animals, but out of a growing sense that I should be more conscious about what I'm eating and how it got to my plate. In doing so, I've been eating a lot of Indian food, which is one of the few (if only) cuisines that does not leave me missing meat.

Lately I've been craving chaat and other Indian snacks, which are often vegetarian.  The urge was especially strong after recently reading about a delicious looking Indian grilled cheese sandwich from Mumbai Express in a post by Joe DiStefano on World's Fare. Unfortunately, Mumbai Express is way the hell out near Great Neck, and it would take a group of people (and perhaps a car) for the proper motivation to make the arduous trek.

Then I read about Bhojan, a Gujarati Kosher vegetarian restaurant serving chaat (and the vaunted cheese sandwiches) that just opened in Curry Hill. It is also run by the owners of Chola and Tadka, two of my favorite places in my neighborhood for Indian. I instantly planned a lunch for the next day, and wanting to try a variety of dishes (certainly not out of any sense of "friendship"), I rounded up my roommate (henceforth known as "The Quaker") and the DAsian to make the 10 minute non-trek to 28th and Lexington.

The Quaker and I arrived for before lunch, while the DAsian was running late, because apparently he lives in the only place in Brooklyn that can't get him directly into Manhattan by subway. We were starving so we ordered up a pair of mango lassis while we waited. Once we got our lassis we waited, and waited... then waited some more. Plenty of time to take in the decor, which is a really cool, modern space that was buzzing with crowds at lunch as it filled up. A table of two Indian guys next to us sat down, ordered their thalis, ate, and left before the DAsian even arrived.

Hell yeah dessert counter, I'll be saving room for you later.

Copper pots on the ceilings (now I've seen everything!)

Finally, the DAsian made his late entrance and we put in our order. First was the phuchka ($6), which were puffed puris with a "tangy water" (or, regular water in India). You popped holes in the puff puris and poured the water in, throwing the whole thing in your mouth at once. These were excellent.

I demand to know why more drinks aren't served in puff pastries!

Next, the cheese sandwich I had been so excited about arrived. I had seen two options on the menu: chile cheese toast and the pudina cheese sandwich. Of course I ordered both, why would you even ask such a stupid question? Unfortunately Bhojan's version of the cheese sandwich was profoundly disappointing. It wasn't put in a panini press like the sandwich one from Mumbai Express, and was much less imposing. Essentially, it was indistinguishable from a typical British tea sandwich except for being served with ketchup (I assume this is common in India?) and phoori.

C'mon guys, slip that sucker in a panini press!

However, the chile cheese toast balanced out the letdown of the other sandwich, with a heat far more intense than any of the other dishes we ate. It seemed like something I would whip up while messed up at 3 am after a night out (that's definitely not a bad thing).

Muy picante as they say in Bombay.

We also ordered the Dabeli ($5), which arrived looking like a hamburger flanked by two chutneys. The patty consisted of spiced potatoes, peanuts and red onions.

They should just go all out by adding some melted paneer 
and calling it a vegetarian cheeseburger (at least that's what I would do).

After this combo of small plates and chaats, I was admittedly kind of full-- but oh yes-- we had each ordered the Gujarati lunch thali ($8). Stewed okra, buttery daal, raita, what tasted like a korma curry with paneer and peas, a vinegary palate cleansing cucumber and carrot salad, spicy chickpeas, rice, dessert, chapati and pappadum. A smear of chutney and something rolled up that I've never had before that the busser seemed to mumble was from the floor. I have no idea what he meant either (I'll ask the waiter next time instead, but some help from the comments would be appreciated).

Choose wisely.

The stewed okra was a standout, along with the chickpeas and the curry.

 Except I wish these seeds were dried chile peppers.

After the meal we headed to the front for some dessert.

Contains over %100 of your daily recommended edible foil.

We asked the lady at the dessert counter for recommendations. She told us we would want something juicy and handed us a kesar pista sandesh. I have no idea what was in this, but it was certainly juicy and sweet. We also tried the kaju katli, a flattened, slightly chewy and sweet candy which was probably the best dessert we ate. The white peda tasted like congealed rice pudding, which was not really my thing.

Bhojan has a huge variety of small plates and chaats on the menu at reasonable prices (although not so much when compared to Queens) and is a great new addition to the Curry Hill scene. And as far as vegetarianism goes, if I only could dine on Gujarati cuisine, you can consider me a convert.

For all of the DAsian's pics, see our flickr set.

102 Lexington Ave (between 27th and 28th Street)

Bhojan on Urbanspoon


  1. nice photos.. glad you enjoyed ! :)

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  3. The rolled up stuff is called 'Khandvi' and is made with chickpea flour, buttermilk and spices