The Attractive Dining Room: (Photos Credit ACMB Photography)
Benares Tribeca is located at 45 Murray Street, 212-766-4900, and is open for lunch Mon-Sun from 11:30am-3:00pm. Lunch specials are a steal ($10.95-16.95), with a choice of three courses in vegetarian, non-vegetarian, seafood or tandoori, all served with Banarsi dal, steamed rice, naan or paratha and dessert. Dinner is served daily from 5pm-10:30pm.
The world of Indian cuisine is vast and diverse. Every 100 miles in India the food changes, from the Eastern areas influenced by China to the abundance of chilies for cooling purposes in the South. But in the world of Indian cuisine in Manhattan, the leaders in the field clearly stand out: Restaurateur Inder Singh, a former partner in Devi and Baluchi’s, who also has a family legacy in the business (Poonam, Minar, Aangan), has recently joined forces with acclaimed Executive Chef Peter Beck, celebrated for his creative cuisine at Tamarind and Chola. Together, they have established Benares, a celebration of the foods they cherish, featuring specialties from all 28 states of India, dishes not found in any other restaurant in New York.
The menu is a medley of regional dishes with an emphasis on the restaurant’s namesake city of Benares, which is known for vegetarian dishes. Benares (also known as Varanasi), a city in the north of India, is a spiritual place that has historically been home to thousands of religious temples, that is culturally linked to the Ganges River.
The first outpost of Benares, recently opened in midtown, has been so successful that the team has brought the concept to Tribeca, in tribute to their neighborhood clientele, focusing even more on healthful options, with an even stronger emphasis on vegetarian and seafood entrees, prepared with a minimum of butter and fat, and a maximum of spice and flavor. The tandoori oven is also used to great effect, to create flavorful preparations, while keeping the food light and healthy. Tandoori dishes are also, atypically, served with grilled vegetables at the Tribeca location.
The clean, spare interior in the open Tribeca space, captures immediately the upscale experience one can expect, with deep mustard and dark brown banquets and earth-toned panels punctuated by red saris, representative of the region. The theme of the Ganges River flows throughout the space. For example, a mobile dividing panel contains a window in the shape of the Ganges, with embedded rose petals floating in the glass. The bar is highlighted by paintings of India from the Victoria and Albert Museum, photographed and reprinted on aluminum.
You are greeted at the elegantly modern Benares, not with the ubiquitous flat papadum wafer, but instead with a bamboo-paper boat of colorful pink and yellow flower-shaped crunchy crackers called Phoolwadi, making it clear that this is a different experience. The snacks are served with traditional condiments for dipping including tamarind and cilantro, as well as an orange-spiced liquid invention of Chef Beck (delicious). Typically served only in private homes, these special little snacks are perfect with the house cocktails, including the signature Varanasi, composed of tequila, roasted pineapples, house-infused orange liqueur and chili-laced grenadine.
The extensive appetizer list is a great introduction to the diversity of spices, flavors, sauces and textures found at Benares. Kashmiri Tikki, bright beet red and roasted turnip patties seasoned with fennel, ginger, garlic and cumin and garnished with crispy lotus and mint relish, is representative of the vegetarian cuisine of the city of Benares. But you don’t have to be a vegetarian to be thrilled by the flavors of Beck’s other interpretations of Bombay street food: Extra spicy sprouted beans with chili, coconut, and spiced crisps, called Kolhapuri Missal, are extra-popular with spice addicts, but are served with a cooling herbal yogurt lassi. Aloo Papri Chaat may seem familiar, but these wheat crisps, topped with yogurt, chickpeas and potatoes with a sprinkling of jewel-like pomegranate seeds, have flavors that pop and textures that surprise: Not to be missed!
Beck also has a special way with lamb as is evident in Makkai ka Soweta, an addictive combination of tender yogurt and turmeric marinated lamb shoulder mixed with roasted corn served with Malaysian Paratha (layered pancake like bread). Seafood lovers can also find a preview here with the outstanding Konkani Shrimp in spicy palate pleasing tomato sauce flavored with cumin, cinnamon and black pepper with a steamed rice cake or Tawa Scallops, tender pan-seared scallops on a tomatillo, green chili and ginger sauce topped with mango-tomato relish, a fresh chutney-meets-salsa with terrific kick.
One of the most enlightening entrees is Beguni Maach, meltingly tender braised marinated sea bass with ginger, garlic, jalapenos and sun-dried tomatoes served over garam masala baked eggplant, a vegetable accompaniment worthy of being an entrée all on its own. Other entrees will also surprise: Murgh Seyal is a moist grilled chicken breast, subtly spiced, and served over spinach and broccoli rabe. Barrah Masaledar is tender grilled baby lamb chops, wonderfully sauced with a spicy, tangy tomato garam masala, and can be paired with Saffron Rice or Rosemary Naan. It is the best version of the ubiquitous lamb chops in any Manhattan Indian restaurant. For a real treat check out the amazing goat: tender and succulent, it is delicious with raita and warm bread or flavored rice..
Vegetarian dishes include Banarsi Dal, a very special blend of three lentils (symbolizing the holy rivers that join together at the Ganges in the city of Benares), pigeon peas, black and yellow lentils are prepared tableside in a dramatic fiery presentation, mixed with fresh onion, ginger, tomatoes and ghee. There’s also a not to be missed entrée of baby eggplants simmered in coconut, peanut, curry leaves, served with stuffed peppers called Baingan Mirch ka Salan.
Desserts include the traditional milk-based sweets such as Gulab Jamun, condensed milk roundels in sugar syrup, and Rasmalai, sweet cottage cheese dumplings, as well as Kheer Anarkali, pomegranate-saffron flavored rice pudding, thick, creamy and delicious. For something out-of-the-ordinary, go for the warm chocolate soufflé with soft ice cream.
The well-edited global wine list was specially selected to pair with Indian spices and flavors. Most of the wines are available by the glass or by the bottle. The light sweetness of the Washington State Chateau St. Michelle Riesling offsets the spiciness of the food, and the fruitiness of the Handcraft California pinot noir is a good match for lamb and chicken dishes. There’s also a choice of 11 beers including Kingfisher and Taj Mahal.
Service, under the direction of a seasoned pro, restaurant manager Ranbir Bhatia, is helpful and professional and Benares TriBrCa is a must on any subcontinent foodie’s radar and some of the most interesting Indian food in Manhattan.
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