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NYC’s Dhamaka lives up to the hype and reservation scams

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Most “hot” new restaurants tend to owe their buzz to boldface clientele and clever publicists. But a very few are hot merely because they’re ridiculously wonderful. Take eclectic Indian cafe Dhamaka, which is going strong a year after it opened to rave reviews and adoring crowds.

Dhamaka is the culinary jewel of the Essex Crossing development on Delancey Street which has multiple fine places to eat. But be warned, it’s hot — not only in popularity but for scorching dishes from chef Chintan Pandya that aren’t for the mild chicken tikka masala crowd.

How popular is Dhamaka? There’s an alleged 1,500-name waiting list every night. It remains so hard to book that it was a favorite on the now-disbanded #FreeRezy site, which offered the founders’ friends bookings that they poached from Resy.com until Resy shut it down, according to Eater New York.

The space at 119 Delancey Street, fronted by a giant LED sign, boasts a vivid abstract mural and a small bar indoors, and colorful random accents in a sidewalk enclosure, a total of 74 seats. Chairs and banquettes are comfortable and tables are spaced to give everyone elbow room.

Some of Dhamaka’s dishes.
Adam Friedlander
Dhamaka's interior
The interior of the popular restaurant.
Paul McDonough

Dishes that mostly arrive in clay pots and cast-iron bowls are multi-hued cauldrons of   palate-tingling surprises. There’s no effort to replicate the elegant presentations of Indian Accent or Junoon. Dhamaka’s “unapologetic Indian” dishes, as Pandya calls them, suggest country-town origins that he said inspired him.

We moaned with pleasure over most of them. Australian prawns, served in their shells, were sweet enough not to need a garnish of garlic, ginger garlic puree, black peppercorns and green chili peppers. But their mingled flavors elevated the six-inch long creatures to glory.

Ragda patties made with white peas and green chili succeeded in being sweet and spicy, creamy and crunchy, all at once. Sparks flew upward from beneath chicken pulao, conveyed by garam masala made from ground mace, cinnamon, dried chili and cardamom.

The ajwani paneer tikka
The ajwani paneer tikka.
A champaran meat dish
The restaurant’s champaran meat dish.
Paul McDonough

One of a few cold dishes, papdi chaat, reveals Padya’s gift for combining disparate elements so that all speak for themselves without any overwhelming the others.

The only letdown was mutton served in a deep bowl with red chili and a colossal head of garlic. I found the effort of extracting the meat from the bone not quite worth the effort for $36.  

There’s only the only dessert on offer — a small, piping-hot baked cheesecake made with cheddar-like Amul cheese and curds — and it’s wonderful. Just let it cool a bit lest you scald your tongue.

Service is professional and polished for such an informal place. Friendly waiters are well-versed when asked about the menu. Most remarkable of all for such an in-demand place, Dhamaka never feels frenzied or too loud. All the energy is where it should be — in those surprise-filled pots and bowls.

Chef and partner Chintan Pandya and restaurateur Roni Mazumdar in Dhamaka's dining room.
Chef and partner Chintan Pandya and restaurateur Roni Mazumdar in Dhamaka’s dining room.
Clay Williams
Dhamaka's brightly-lit exterior.
Dhamaka’s brightly-lit exterior.
Will Ellis



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