Yes, Tamarind, set in the heart of Tribeca, is an Indian restaurant that’s been around for more than two decades, but tired it’s not. In fact, it’s a showstopper of a place with a star that’s brighter than ever.
Owner Avtar Walia opened the first location in the Flatiron District in 2001, and the Tribeca location followed ten years later (the Flatiron location has since closed). Walia says that he wanted to offer an Indian food experience that didn’t exist in the country before. “When I looked at other culture’s restaurants like Italian, French, Japanese, all of them Michelin starred, that drove me to create one of my own,” he told me, when I first covered him in Forbes.com several years ago. “I felt that the Indian culture has the knowledge, the rich culture, and the innovation to do it too.”
He continued, “I said I wanted to own a place just like any French or Italian restaurant. My competition will be with those people. I want to compete with places like Jean-Georges,” he said back then.
Walia has achieved his vision and more: the restaurant is regarded as the godfather of high-end Indian cuisine in the United States and was a hotspot the instant it opened. Celebrities were — and still are— among the regulars: Robert Redford, Taylor Swift, Bruce Willis, Richard Gere, Uma Thurman and many more. Diners also include chic millennials, titans of industry and high-profile Indians such as the Ambanis (one of the richest families in the world)who dine only at Tamarind whenever they’re in New York. It’s no wonder why reservations are a hot ticket commodity.
I can tell you that it’s one of my favorite spots to dine— not just in New York but anywhere truth be told— and on par with top restaurants around the world.
A meal here hits all the right notes: the bi-level eatery is sleek with a distinct modern aesthetic and wood finishes that bring in a warmth. The high ceilings create an airiness and add to the grandeur of the space. Tamarind also has an impressive outdoor setup with posh cabins for privacy and tables that line the perimeter. On a beautiful night, this is the area where you want to be.
Before even entering the main dining room, let’s talk about the buzzy bar. You can happily spend an evening here and enjoy the vibrant setting, along with delicious cocktails and stellar lineup of spirits and wines. The wine list spans more than 200 varietals including show-off names like Petrus, Caymus and rare Amarones. The spirits list, too, is heading turning with picks like Japanese whiskies and Clase Azul anejo tequila.
Now to the main event: Walia’s team of chefs have worked with him for as long as he’s been open, and their talent shows.
The menu includes many of the original dishes from the restaurant’s debut but is constantly updated with new creative interpretations. Whether you’re an omnivore or a vegan, a meal here will leave you satisfied. Meat staples include lamb chops, lamb shank, Kashmiri goat and a Punjabi style chicken kebab.
Seafood is also a standout. While India isn’t necessarily known for its seafood, Tamarind proves that theory wrong. Walia points out that the country has numerous coastal areas such as Mumbai. “There, you can get the absolute freshest seafood,” he says. “Many of these dishes are bestsellers on our menu.” Try the Kerala fish curry, halibut with coconut and ginger sauce, the baked Dover sole or the jumbo scallops with poppy seeds. Or maybe the lobster masala is more your style.
And I can’t leave out the vegetarian specialities like the lachedar bhindi or okra with dried mango, the Baigan or Japanese eggplant with peanuts and sesame seeds and the kofta— hearty lotus root dumplings in a saffron onion sauce.
Accompaniments are a key part of any Indian meal. They’re a highlight at Tamarind. Try the spinach and garlic rice, baked basmati rice with vegetables, nuts and raisins and tandoor baked breads such as whole wheat roti and broccoli and cheese nan.
Desserts are usually an afterthought at Indian restaurants, but at Tamarind, nothing is an afterthought. The sweet endings are numerous here and all worth the splurge. Kulfi is a killer and comes in pistachio or mango flavor, the cardamom creme brulee is an on point take on a French classic, and the rasmalai— pressed cheese with milk and rose water syrup- is refreshing and indulgent at the same time.
But my praise aside, there’s a reason why Tamarind has been going strong for more than 20 years and attracts both devoted regulars and new fans. Come experience for yourself what they’ve raving about.