Tulsi, one of New York’s best Indian restaurants, serves a bargain tasting menu at $65.
Along with being affordable, Tulsi is a stark counterpoint to Sparks across the street. Hindus generally abstain from beef, so there’s no steak. But there is spinach.
Popeye would be proud of the nutra nugget tikki, a tiny green cake that looks like an edible science experiment. It concentrates the leafy greens instead of diluting them, steakhouse-style, with cream.
Guests find peaceful restraint in Tulsi’s cushioned chairs, white tablecloths, soybean sprout hors d’oeuvres and palate cleansing apple-chili granita intermezzos.
We’re accustomed to paying more for American, European and Japanese fare, less for African, Latin American and South Asian cuisines.
We hit up Per Se with our expense accounts then swing by Curry in a Hurry for a late night snack after. Maybe Tulsi isn’t expensive enough?
This is no small matter. Tabla once tried the prix-fixe-only approach to Indian, with meals easily exceeding $100 per person. It’s the only Danny Meyer restaurant ever to have closed.
And then there was Devi, whose priciest wine-paired menu topped out at $130 per person. It shuttered in early April.
Chef Hemant Mathur earned Devi the first ever Michelin star for an Indian restaurant in the U.S.
Now at his year-old Tulsi, Mathur has won his Michelin star back.
And although the chef considers himself a master of the tandoor, the superhot clay oven that makes medium-rare anything unlikely, Mathur’s magic lies in his fluency with vegetables.
Seven-course tastings ($65 for regular or vegetarian) begin with rasam, a sharp tomato and lentil soup spiced with curry leaves, mustard seeds and whole red chilis. The vegetarian menu follows up with soft slices of pumpkin bathed in coconut-curry sauce.
If you’re ordering a la carte, begin with khasta kachori ($8), a dish so light its rich ingredients -- fried lentil dumplings are topped with chickpeas, rice crisps and the triple punch of tamarind, yogurt and mint chutneys -- seem to defy gravity.
Okra is sliced thin and tossed with onions like shoestring potatoes. And Tulsi’s “plain” rice is a sublime study in cardamom and cumin.
This spicy, fragrant food should be consumed with Ommegang Witte beer ($7), Piper-Heidsieck Champagne ($22) or aromatic whites.
Tuli’s cellar boasts a number of affordable off-the-beaten track selections, including a lean, mean Vitatge Vielh De Lapeyre Jurancon Sec ($52); its austere dryness is the right foil for the sweet heat of Balchao shrimp ($12), though a puckery glass of Brauneberger Juffer German riesling ($13) is a fine choice as well.
Surf-and-turfers will find slightly overcooked boar chops ($32) or lamb chops ($36) to pair with a lobster tail ($36).
But the better call is one of Mathur’s infinite takes on fowl. Chicken thighs perfumed with onions and fennel are supremely flavorful, while achari tikka smells gratifyingly of cilantro and garlic.
Long before goat became the hip plaid-shirt of meats, the Mughals were cooking up rogan josh.
Tulsi simmers the cabrito in cinnamon, cardamom and Kashmiri chili powder ($26). The incendiary results are to be scooped up with bread. Prepare to sweat.
You will not have room for dessert. Order it anyway. Kulfi ($8), ice cream made with condensed milk, is so thick you have to cut it with a knife.
Rating: ** 1/2
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: Tasting menus at $65; most starters under $15, many entrees under $25.
Sound Level: Never terribly loud; 70 decibels or so.
Date Place: Make sure your date likes spice.
Inside Tip: The lentils have “a touch of cream,” says the chef. I’d argue the dish is pure cream. Delicious.
Special Feature: Stellar spinach-stuffed bread.
Back on My Own Dime: Especially for vegetarian fare.
Tulsi is at 211 East 46th St. Information: +1-212-888-0820; http://tulsinyc.com.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor
Sound-Level (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse. 56 to 60: Speak up. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: You’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Today’s Muse highlights include HBO’s “Veep” and a Titian exhibition.