Lunch at Devi

When my friend Jess, from We Heart NY suggested we meet for lunch, one of her suggestions was Devi. I was excited about it, because I had been craving Indian food for a few weeks. I saw that Frank Bruni gave it two stars, which made the anticipation only greater. After eating there, however, both Jess and I had one thought: we were confused.

For lunch Devi offers a prix fix menu — $24.07 for three courses. How they arrived at that precise number, I don’t know. For my starter I chose Manchurian cauliflower, a dish I had actually heard of. It was actually great; crispy and salty sweet on the outside, slightly soft on the inside. It tasted of ketchup, in a good way, and I described it to Jess as “kung pao cauliflower” (which I meant as a good thing). Unfortunately it was the highlight of a slightly disappointing meal.

Then came my entree, described on the menu as paneer stir fry. Paneer, if you aren’t aware, is a firm-textured Indian cheese. In this case it wasn’t really a stir fry, it was more of a curry. It was pretty good, but I’m not sure why they referred to it as a stir fry. More troubling was the tiny pile of rice in the middle of the plate. The elaborate plating smacked of haute cuisine, and it made me realize that Devi was aiming to be an Indian fine dining restaurant. I’m not sure why. The rice ended up being a fine amount, but I was thankful for the naan bread they brought out for us to sop up the leftover curry.

For dessert I had the mango panna cotta, served with a scoop of mango sorbet. It was good, but a little too sweet. Jess’s kulfi was tasty enough, but again came plated like a tiny pyramid. Why the conceit?

The restaurant was empty, which is strange for a two-star restaurant. After lunch, Jess sent me this article from the NY Times, which may explain why the restaurant isn’t running at its most consistent. I suppose there’s no reason Indian food shouldn’t be considered fine dining, but I don’t see the point of it. The food is usually made from simple ingredients, highly spiced and seasoned; it’s a way of making a lot of flavorful food out of the humblest of ingredients. Adding the fancy element to this cuisine seems kind of beside the point of it. Still, at the end of the day, Devi satisfied my craving for Indian food. I just think that next time I’ll hit up a place with a few less pretensions.

Devi — 8 East 18th St

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