Kalustyan's Masala Café Opening in Manhattan's Curry Hill in Mid-February 2004

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World-renowned since its founding in 1944 as a market for ingredients and seasonings from around the globe, KALUSTYAN'S (123 Lexington Ave. in Manhattan; http://www.kalustyans.com) is proud to debut an ambitious new restaurant -- one worthy of being the first to bear its name: KALUSTYAN'S MASALA CAFÃ?, which is scheduled to open in Manhattan at 115 Lexington Ave. (at 28th Street; 212/686-5400) in mid-February.

World-renowned since its founding in 1944 as a market for ingredients and seasonings from around the globe, Kalustyan's (123 Lexington Ave.) has extended its offerings of prepared foods in 2000 to its Indian restaurant Curry Leaf (99 Lexington Ave., plus a forthcoming location in Brooklyn Heights) and in 2001 to its upstairs take-out area.

But in mid-February 2004, Kalustyan's is proud to debut an ambitious new restaurant whose dining room is the work of award-winning architect Wid Chapman (the former Chair of Interior Design at Parsons who also designed Tamarind and Café Spice) -- and one worthy of being the first to bear its name: KALUSTYAN'S MASALA CAFÉ, which is scheduled to open at 115 Lexington Ave. (at 28th Street; 212/686-5400) in mid-February. (In the days prior, it plans to serve lunch and/or dinner in "preview" mode.)

The café is a collaboration of pioneers: Kalustyan's owners Sayedul Alam (who was the first to serve New Yorkers Indian food from steam tables, providing an exotic alternative to McDonald's when he opened Curry in a Hurry in 1976) and Aziz Osmani are teaming up with executive chef Geetika Khanna, who was the first to introduce New York City to Indian fusion cuisine as chef of Raga in 1998, to create a restaurant showcasing some of the finest ingredients from Kalustyan's just a half-block north.

"As a chef and as a caterer, I've long been a customer of Kalustyan's for its extraordinary quality and variety," says Khanna. "Now, as chef of Kalustyan's Masala Cafe, I'm in the enviable position of having it as my own personal pantry."

Khanna, 34, is a Delhi native and a psychologist with a master's degree from NYU who followed her lifelong passion for cooking to the French Culinary Institute and briefly to the Union Square Café before making a name for herself as the chef of Raga, a well-reviewed Indian fusion restaurant in the East Village which predated other popular Indian fusion restaurants such as Tabla and Tamarind. She also teaches Indian cooking at The New School.

Kalustyan's Masala Café will offer Indian-inspired cuisine with a French accent, including some of Khanna's signature dishes such as Grilled Prawns over Corn Chowder drizzled with Green Chili Oil, Bouillabaisse with Cumin Cayenne Aioli, and Grilled New York Strip Steak with a Tamarind Port Sauce and Masala Fries. The restaurant's semi-open kitchen hosts two brand-new tandoors imported from India, which will be used to create innovative dishes such as an array of flavored naan breads, offering a subtle yet delicious twist on the traditional. Desserts will range from Western classics with Indian touches to the chef's mother's own traditional creamy and luscious basmati rice pudding. A cheese plate will also be available with accompanying Indian-spiced chutneys and jams (including a Sour Cherry Chutney). Khanna plans to change the menu seasonally, and to offer a few daily specials.

The restaurant, which has a wine and beer license and has applied for a full liquor license, will feature a list designed to complement Indian flavors which was selected with the help of a knowledgeable family friend: The 21 Club's sommelier. Wines by the glass range from $6 for a Grover Blanc de Blancs from India to $16.50 for Laurent Perrier Champagne. Its two dozen selections by the bottle fall primarily under $35.

The 70-seat dining room, awash in the colors of spices (from yellow to burnt orange), features a wooden bar with a limestone countertop and five stools, and handmade light fixtures on the ceiling. "I was interested in taking an ethnic theme and abstracting it, while adding to the vibrancy of the environment," says architect Wid Chapman. "Putting cushioned banquettes with sausage pillows along the street front puts activity right in the windows."

The restaurant will be open Monday through Sunday for lunch (11:30 - 3:00 pm) and dinner (5:30 - 11 pm). Appetizers range from $6 - 12, and entrees from $12 - 22. A lunch prix fixe menu will be offered ($8.95/vegetarian; $9.95/chicken; and $12.95/two courses). A special brunch menu will be offered on weekends featuring twists on Indian breakfast classics such as poori allu and dishes such as spicy hollandaise on poached eggs. A pre-theater prix fixe option will be available from 6 - 7:30 pm Sunday through Thursday, and from 6 - 7 pm on Friday and Saturday nights, at $14.95 including soup or salad, entrée and beverage. A special Valentine's Day menu will also be offered.

The restaurant will be run by General Manager Sangeeta K. Ahmed, who also happens to be the mother of chef Geetika Khanna -- and the maker of the restaurant's aforementioned rice pudding. Speaking as a trained psychologist, Khanna comments that "working with my mother will be challenging and exciting." And as chef-partner of a new restaurant, she adds, "It's nice to know my mom will be there to watch my back."


Praise for KALUSTYAN'S

"You never know what you're going to find at Kalustyan's, the venerable international food market."


"The mujaddara, which is practically enough for two people, may be the cheapest lunch in town.

It is definitely one of the best."

-Marian Burros, THE NEW YORK TIMES

"Kalustyan's is not a restaurant. It is, nonetheless, one of my favorite food spots."

-Sylvia Carter, NEW YORK NEWSDAY

"Just walking through Kalustyan's door is a sensory treat."

-Cynthia Kilian, NEW YORK POST

"Best Spice Store: Kalustyan's."


"The city's best-kept secrets: There has always been a deli counter in Kalustyan's, the world-class Asian spice shop…Now, the deli operation has moved - upstairs - and suddenly all the wonderful things are on full display…It's no wonder that customers are stopping in after work to take supper home."


"Kalustyan's, a 50-year-old shop, originally sold Turkish and Armenian goods. But as Southeast Asians moved to this stretch of Lexington Ave., it diversified with international spices, teas, rice, dried fruits and other goods. Now owner Aziz Osmani can tick off a list of 30 countries, in alphabetical order, from which he imports."


"The Best of New York. As much as we hate to be predictable, there's a reason why Kalustyan's has been name-checked by every food writer in New York. The owners never stop seeking out that obscure ingredient - green almonds? sumac powder? - that's going to be supertrendy next year. And all that foodie traffic means that the spices turn over fast, ensuring that anything you buy still has its zing."


"Kalustyan's has evolved from a spice shop into a comprehensive source for international ingredients of many kinds (expecially those from Asia and the Middle East), complete with a busy mail-order business. Last year they opened a café upstairs, serving Middle Eastern and Greek favorites."


"The faithful frequent this Taj Mahal of markets to choose from hundreds of different spices, condiments, and other goods from India, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean…Kalustyan's deli space upstairs serves some of the finest Middle Eastern sandwiches and spreads (falafel, labna, baba ganoush, mujaddra)."


"'Simply the best place in Manhattan for Middle Eastern and Indian' herbs and spices.'"


Praise for the Cuisine of KALUSTYAN'S MASALA CAFÉ's


"In a world where culinary borders have posed no obstacles for experimental chefs, it's hard to fathom why Indian and Western kitchens have taken so long to reach over…In Manhattan, Raga has been one of the first restaurants to explore this new territory…Geetika Khanna understands Indian cooking by way of her ethnicity; her training was at the French Culinary Institute…Seared sea scallops go beautifully with a tomato chutney, which a selection of samosas - stuffed with potato and peas, cod, or goat cheese - are wonderful, especially when galvanized by a spicy tamarind sauce. I loved prawns with a cool, minty potato salad, a perfect balance of flavors."


"A few dishes are wonderful in that never-before-experienced way that fusion chefs and epicures dream about…I'd strongly recommend that self-styled fusion chefs check the place out for a primer on the potential of Indian cuisine."

-Jonathan Bines, PAPER

"At Raga, a new Indian restaurant in Greenwich Village, the chef, Geetika Khanna, takes a classic French leek and potato soup, and adds a scattering of garam masala, a spice mix that is the grated Parmesan of India."

-Florence Fabricant, THE NEW YORK TIMES

"Like its ideological cousin Tabla, Raga is less an Indian restaurant than a Western one inspired by the techniques and ingredients commonly associated with Indian cooking…Raga aims to simply offer satisfying, bistro-style food in a warm and pleasant environment…A transcendent pistachio-crusted chicken (perhaps the best thing on the menu) makes Raga the sort of place that will quickly earn a permanent spot on your restaurant shortlist."

-Brad Goldfarb, INTERVIEW

"Fancy chefs are just discovering Indian flavors, and this bistro is in the vanguard of that movement. Inflecting standard fare with surprising spice combinations featuring mustard seed, ginger, cumin and coconut, Raga's appetizers explode on the palate."

-Robert Sietsema, THE VILLAGE VOICE

"Raga is entirely different. It has all the things I love about the new Lower East Side: The cooking is experimental, personal, cross-cultural, and delicious…Geetika Khanna, born in India and educated in this country, was a practicing psychologist until she decided she would become a cook and enrolled at the French Culinary Institute…Khanna's two main-course curries are delicious, with the layering of familiar and surprising flavors that makes good Indian cooking so satisfying."

-Jeffrey Steingarten, VOGUE

"Raga aims for a more subtle fusion and pulls it off well…We started with crab cakes. Raga's patties contained avocado and came with a cumin-mango salsa. The flavors blended seamlessly, better than at Tabla, which had also merged crab cakes with avocado…It takes a very talented cook to build heat without burning the palate."


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