Babu Ji is the cool new East Village restaurant with the epic photograph of the man with a turban and sunglasses that has really become an image for the brand. All the Indian food scaries and insecurities you might have had disappear as soon as you step foot inside this small joint. The conflicting characteristics give the spot so much personality, and that is why you fall in love right away. The entire staff is Indian and they sport these awesome black baseball caps with bright green writing that says “Ave B.” Definitely a cool move and a hat you’d consider wearing if someone handed it to you. The crowd is young and old, Indian and American, and the menu is authentic yet also Americanized enough for both Indian food lovers and Indian food virgins to love it. One of my favorite things about the dining experience is the silver dining bowls, plates, trays, and cutlery. You feel fancy pants as if you’re eating off a king’s plate and drinking out of royalty goblets. You get one traditional silver plate to mix and let all of your dishes sauces and flavors come together as one throughout dinner. Don’t be afraid.
Babu Ji means “the man” which thank goodness the food lives up to its name or that would be downright embarrassing. Start with the Batata Vada which is a mustard seed and curry leaf potato encased in chickpea flour pastry, topped with fresh radish, coriander and pineapple chutneys. The green sauce has a tiny bit of texture that pairs perfectly and oh, so freshly with the potato base. That silver tray I was talking about definitely comes in handy here as you want to hoard this sauce and rub it all over everything else that hits the table. This was by far one of the most pleasantly surprising dishes and best. You can’t leave here without it. My next favorite is the Butter Chicken which is yogurt marinated chicken in a garlic, ginger tomato, and fenugreek curry. All of the mains typically rest in one of those circular dishes with a fancy silver spoon. Order a side of fluffy and crunchy garlic naan to pair with this chicken. While you can eat it by the spoonful and rub it all over everything, the pieces of meat are tender and fulfilling. The rice doesn’t have much umph for me, but it’s just an excuse to have another vehicle to eat the butter chicken sauce with. Am I right? It’s also a bit deceiving because you this dish looks so little and it’s $25 so sharing this with just one other person you develop a fear that you won’t get enough; however, it somehow digs deep and you will. The Eggplant is another winner. Those peas really kill it. The lamb was indeed tender and braised, but I thought it was missing something. I didn’t love the sauce and maybe if it was a little sweeter I’d be a fan or maybe the butter chicken just overshadows it, and there is nothing to be done.
Babu Ji also offers an incredible tasting menu for $60 a person where you get to try all the popular dishes making it a pretty remarkable deal to the fact that you might think you are reading the menu wrong. We are in Alphabet City though, y’all. We deserve this. This is entire menu is a fantastic introduction to those who have been afraid to dip a toe into this cuisine. Anyone will love it here, and as your meal comes to a close the first thing you think is how soon can I come back, and do I already have plans next week or is there a way I can maneuver my way back in here again? The only issue is that the wait can be up to an hour or more. To prevent this find a good friend who lives in the East Village and pay them in garlicky naan to reserve your table for you when the doors open. This restaurant is what a lot of the New York dining scene has been missing. It’s a lesson to a not as common cuisine that appeals and teaches those who have been afraid of it to love it and try it in the most comforting, trendy, and respectful way. It’s probably not the best date spot because tables are on top of each other, and you might have a hard time keeping the food off your face throughout. However, if you want to impress someone and change up your weekly Tuesday pizza night, Babu Ji is “your man.”