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Devi: New York Indian Food’s Holy Temple

I have always loved Indian food, from the authentic family-style dishes served in a basement-level restaurant during my childhood to the many varieties available on in college to fancy schmany Indian fusion scenes in Manhattan. Thus, when I saw that Devi, a restaurant called “perhaps the city’s best Indian restaurant” by Frank Bruni, was participating in restaurant week, it was hard to say no.

Just across the street from Aldea (another favorite!) in Flatiron, this gem of a restaurant is inspired by an Indian family’s personal home and by Hindu temples. The multi-level space is visually stimulating and brightly colored with vibrant red fabrics, rainbow-hued hanging lamps, exotic patterned cushions, and delicate white lattice-work. The lower-level front room is long and narrow with a long row of white-tableclothed tables and tiny bar for serving beverages; the alove/loft dining room is more intimate with peekaboo windows to the room below.

The menu is extensive and overwhelming, stocked with every possible mouthwatering regional Indian and American Masala dish. Expect curries, breads, biryanis, Tandoori-grilled meats, and a plethora of savory vegetarian options. Although my friend Alex and I went there for restaurant week, we were so tantalized by the regular menu that we just ended up ordering from there.

We started out with one of the house specialties, the ‘Manchurian cauliflower.’ This overwhelmingly delicious dish coated plain old cauliflower in a type of sweet & sour sauce, resulting in savory crispy crunchy totally uncauliflower-like nuggets of joy (yes, nuggets of joy). I could have eaten an entire vat of these little marvels.

We then shared the chicken tikka masala, the saag paneer, naan, saffron rice, and an intriguing almost curry-like vegetarian dish. The chicken tikka masala (personally, my favorite Indian dish in spite of how cliche that might seem…) was divine – spicy, creamy, thick, fragrant, and with a generous portion of tender white meat chicken. It was, in short, an amazing break from the mediocre chicken tikka masala that dots Manhattan. The saag paneer, normally not a favorite of mine, added welcome rich and mellow flavors to an otherwise spice-tastic meal. The soft mild cheese and sharp spinach complimented the masala dish perfectly and tasted particularly good piled atop the soft and fluffy naan. Lastly, the vegetarian dish, a kofta, surprised me not only texturally but also in terms of how bold the flavors were. While avoiding vegetarian dishes is typically my MO (risking blandness and texturally-ambiguous faux meats is not my shtick), this play on vegetarian ‘meatballs’ was exciting, tasty, and aromatic. While not necessarily my cup of tea, I can see how it would be truly heavenly for vegetarians.

Devi is an ethnic food wonder: beautifully designed, immensely flavorful authentic food, top-notch white-glove service. Granted, none of this comes cheaply; however, if you’re searching for high-quality Indian in a refined yet relaxed environment, Devi is absolutely worth it. The interactive spicy food and personal environment makes Devi an obvious choice for romantic rendez-vous; and, the elegant peaceful atmosphere offers an ideal locale for an ‘exotic’ dinner with parents, friends, and colleagues.

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