Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Vermilion: Bringing The Best Of Indian And Latin American Cuisines Together In Midtown East!

By: Anne M. Raso

There's no question that there is an infinite amount of fusion eateries all over Manhattan, but few create such a heavenly blend as Vermilion (on the northwest corner of 46th and Lexington) does with Indian and Latin America cuisine. I have to be honest and say that chef/owner Rohini Dey leans a little heavier on Indian, but the results are always magical. How did she decide on creating a restaurant with this seemingly odd cuisine fusion? She says that her decision was based on history: "The Indian-Latin concept of Vermilion is also based on deep historical cross-flows and culinary influences of the Persians, Moors, Spanish, Portuguese, and waves of direct migration. Vermilion’s melding draws heavily from the tropical and geographical overlap of ingredients, herbs and spices across India, Spain & Latin America -- such as coconut, tamarind, mango, lychee, papaya, beans, rice, guava, plantain, cilantro, lime, corn, rice, beans and chickpeas, saffron -- all utilized extensively in both cuisines."

Ms. Dey and her co-exec chefs Anup and Aseema (along with sous chef Javier) recently changed the menu after 11 years but the most famous dishes including their legendary Tandoori flank steak made the cut. Dey actually has had a strictly financial career (including stints with The World Bank and McKinsey) in the past but she hit gold with her first endeavor in the food biz. Special price fixe and vegan dinners are offered and the portions are huge. (Don't be ashamed to go home with a doggy bag of all the new dishes you fall in love with Vermilion!)
Spinach Saag Arepa
The atmosphere is super-modern but not without ornamentation. Visitors are greeted with a stunning eight-foot long chandelier covered with crystals and silver mesh. There is a cutting edge downtown artist's flair to everything from the leather banquets to the art. Not a hint of kitschy Indian decor is in site. The restaurant is dimly lit, but not so much that you struggle to read the menu or see what you're eating! Ms. Dey explained the ambiance to me as follows: "I am aiming for a sensual cool sophisticated feel for dining upstairs (the femininity is celebrated by India's leading fashion photographer Farrokh Chothia's enormous B&W images) clear of obvious Indian kitsch, and a lounge vibe downstairs around the bar (FYI, all our lounge snacks and petiscos are a flat $10). It's an oasis in midtown (with the ponds, rain curtain, clean lines and cool materials)."
Mysore Lamb Chops
I sampled about several exciting dishes but not without first trying one of their much talked about "Herb & Spice" Cocktails. I had the Lychee Ginger Martini made with vodka ($12) and it was very mellow and fruity for a martini but simply knocked my socks off--and I am not a regular martini drinker because they are usually too strong for me. This drink had the perfect portion of vodka in it, which made the fresh lychee and ginger flavors come through loud and clear. It "went down" oh-so-smooth and mellow! I probably could down seven or eight of these, LOL!
Tamarind Pork Bun Bifanas
All the traditional Indian breads are on the menu, so of course I had to try the combo roti and naan (you get four pieces of each for an incredible $4). I can't start an Indian meal without them and several variations are available such as garlic and ginger mint naan (for $5 per serving). I then tried one the Mysore Lamb Chops, which are served with pickles and onions. You get a sizable portion of three medium size shops for $16 even though they are listed under Desi Snacks (meaning Appetizers). The lamb was incredibly tender with a delicate flavor and served with a side of very fresh-tasting mango mint chutney. All the meat here is grass fed and NYC four-star purveyor quality. I then checked out three Latin Indian Petiscos--Crisp Kale Salad served with South Indian lentil "gunpowder dust" ($9), Tamarind Pork Bun Bifanas, a classic Portuguese dish with tamarind pork dip ($12) and Spinach Saag Arepa served with queso and chipotle guajillo aji sauce ($10). Everything was well spiced and fresh but the pork belly used in the pork bun was some of the most flavorful and tender I have ever had and the tamarind flavoring was the perfect accent.
Coconut Rice
Next up was a dish from the Signature Preparations segment of the menu--Blackened Tamarind Ribs ($23), which are juicy pork ribs with a chili-tamarind glaze, quinoa salad and tapioca crisps. It was medium spicy and the meat fell off the bones. Then I had the famous Tandoori Skirt Steak ($24) made with an Indian marinade and featuring lovely accents of plantain chips, chorizo kale, jicama roll and raita. The Tandoori Skirt Steak is about a 14-ounce portion, enough for two people to share and be satisfied. From the exclusively Indian Entrees section, Gail and I shared "Pindi" Butter Chicken ($24) which was six or seven large juicy chunks of white meat chicken in creamy tomato hued finger-licking gravy and served with naan. This dish is a tribute to Delhi's "Pindi" dhaba, according to the chefs. I ordered a side of the subtle Coconut Rice to pour some of the luscious creamy tomato sauce over once all the chicken was gone ($5 foe about a one cup portion).
Vermilion Hedonism
For dessert, my dining partner Gail and I shared Vermilion Hedonism, which is a warm chocolate flourless cake with a molten chocolate pour and topped with chili cotton candy and Coconut Saffron Alfajores, which consists of Latin crumble cookies, dulche de leche and a dark chocolate sorbet (all desserts are $10). The portions were large and the quality was excellent. The chili cotton candy was pink like traditional cotton candy but was not very sweet--it really commanded attention and brought a bit of a wow factor to an otherwise serious and traditional chocolate dessert.

Would I go back to Vermilion? Yes--in a New York minute. There are a lot of unique twists and turns to the cuisine here and the quality gets an A+ rating. The menu is diversified and there's nothing else like it in town. The staff is attentive, affable and aims to please and they are happy to take dietary restrictions into consideration and custom tailor dishes for guests.

480 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10017
(212) 871-6600
Cuisine: Indian and Latin fusion

Vermilion on Urbanspoon

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