Junoon – the best I ever had, but… (New York City, United States)

Junoon was without a doubt the best Indian food I have ever had, but I approached the meal from a very unrefined Indian food palate.  Indian food in the states, unfortunately, tends to be almost uniform and identical in nature.  The same limited dishes tend to be pervasive amongst Indian restaurants – the same marsalas, curries, vindaloos.  And conversely, the vast majority of the Indian food I have experienced to date follows the same predictable paths.  It is as if the only hamburgers I had ever eaten came from Wendy’s, McDonald’s and the food court in the mall.  Then one day I visit Minetta Tavern for the Black Label burger.  I would be wowed, simply because I had never eaten a high-quality burger.   And while eating a Minetta Burger would be fantastic – exquisite, perhaps – I have an inkling that there would still be even better burgers out there.  And that is how I feel about Junoon.  It was great, but I have little doubt it does not represent the pinnacle – the Per Se, per se – of Indian food.

In some ways I am Satoshi (Pokémon main character) of Michelin stars – I’m trying to catch em all. My travels to Junoon started with a question as I again ordered mediocre Indian food for takeout: How would food at the “best” Indian restaurant in the city taste?  And so, I venture to my handy Michelin guide and find Junoon.

Before discussing the meal, one more thought on my notquitecoherent discussion of Indian cuisine.  The food at Junoon only deserves a Michelin star “in context.”  On an absolute basis, my meal did not outshine the numerous other starred and non-starred restaurants at which I have had the pleasure of eating. But, in the context of Indian restaurants, this one was unquestionably the best.  And so, we eat.

The meal, followed by my thoughts on each dish:

LANGOUSTINE- SEARED LANGOUSTINE WITH GARLIC BUTTER AND CRUSTACEAN CURRY EMULSION. A fine starting dish but ultimately uneventful. Tasted like two pieces of some sort of lobster/shrimp hybrid, lacking in unique texture or flavors.  I certainly would not order it again.

AJWAINI MUSHROOM- MIXED WILD MUSHROOMS SEASONED WITH AJWAIN OVER CARAMELIZED ONIONS.  Again, a mediocre dish.  The mushrooms were luke-warm.  While well-seasoned, this dish felt more appropriate as an accompaniment to a main dish rather than a stand-alone appetizer.  Pretty tasty, though again not memorable.

WILD STRIPED BASS MALVAN – SEARED WILD STRIPED BASS WITH A SAUCE OF FRESH COCONUT, GREEN CHILIES, AND CILANTRO. I am not a fish person. Holy ish, this was fantastic.  Le Bernadin-quality dish.  The striped bass was perfectly cooked, with a slightly crisp skin counterbalancing the fresh, flaky fish. The sauce was light yet flavorful and did not overwhelm the fish. Undoubtedly the standout dish of the meal.

MASALEDAR LAMB CHOPS – TANDOORI-MARINATED LOCAL LAMB CHOP SERVED WITH CURRY-CONFIT POTATOES AND ANARDANA-BROWN BUTTER SAUCE. Tender, moist, flavorful, medium-well-charred exterior lamb. Wow. If all lamb tasted like this, I would eat it everyday.  “Baby, you my everything, you all I ever wanted / We can do it real big, bigger than you ever done it / You be up on everything, other hoes ain’t never on it / I want this forever, I swear I can spend whatever on it.” (Drake)

WALNUT AND PRUNE- STUFFED NAAN – Best naan ever. Simple as that.

DUCK TELLICHERRY PEPPER – CRISPY FARM-RAISED DUCK BREAST WITH A TELLICHERRY PEPPERCORN SAUCE. A fascinating dish. Delicious little duck nuggets on a bed of dark rice with a black pepper sauce.  Tasty, but as a logistical matter, I think this dish was a bit too heavy as the final dish.

GIANDUIA PARFAIT – CHOCOLATE SHORTBREAD, HAZELNUT BRITTLE, CHILI FOAM, CHOCOLATE SORBET. This was an odd dessert.  The chocolate shortbread I think was just chocolate ice cream in between two thin layers of chocolate.  It was hard to truly understand what that was. The chili foam and chocolate sorbet were unreal.  The chili foam was exactly that – a very light, foamy topping with hints of chili.  It was a unique combination of sweet and spicy.  And the sorbet…WOW.  It had the consistency of a chocolate paste, similar to a Nutella. But it was a rich, dark, dollop of chocolate unlike almost any chocolate I have ever tried.  Combined with the chili-foam, the pair was a one-two punch that delivered the final knockout blow to my taste buds to end the night.

Junoon, an intellectually fascinating exploration of fine Indian food. Would recommend the tasting menu for Indian food neophytes, but subsequent visits deserve standalone dishes.