Photo courtesy of Vatan.Last week I ventured to Murray Hill to an Indian restaurant I’ve never been to called Vatan. The experience ended up being an absolute delight and one that I recommend to all of you.
Vatan is a traditional Indian restaurant, only it is very unique. They only offer a prix fixe thali style menu ($34 per person), which if you have never had this type of meal, it’s a series of small dishes and whatever more you like of each dish, as you can order as much as you like. The cuisine is distinct as it features only vegetarian dishes of Northwestern Indian state, Gujurat. Gujarat is located off the subcontinent’s western edge of India, bordered by Pakistan and the Arabian Sea where interesting spices, potatoes, rice, and vegies come from. It’s even Kosher! Vegetarian, all you can eat, did I mention gluten-free?, and nut free!, they offer delicous cocktails, and such tasty food which I would soon find out.
The restaurant itself adds to the authenticity of the experience. It resembles a Gujarati village with a big bunyan tree against the far wall, where a statue of an Indian elephant-headed god, Ganesh, presides over the room. The walls are hand-painted with scenes depicting Gujurat village life and tables are decorated with vivid images of Indian men and women. Our server was very clearly from Gujurat, dressed in the region’s traditional garb, with a subtle manner and extensive knowledge about the food. We felt very comfortable and very much a part of a tradition we wanted to instantly know more about.
Best of all, many Gujarati foods are also healthy and nutritious. They use moderate amounts of sugar in the food, which sets this particular type of food apart from those of other regions of India. There’s something special about Gujarati cuisine, it’s a bit hard to explain but I do know that it’s rich in proteins and is distinguished by lovely mild to spicy (your call) seasoning. Our server actually asked us our spice range, from mild to spicy, right after appetizers. Cuisine dishes of Gujarat nice balance of the spicy and sweet yet my tastebuds were on fire, in a good way. I’m a vegetarian so it was just a very interesting experience – to have so much choice.
A Typical Gujarati Thali Meal
A typical Gujarati thali meal comprises of Gujarati Kadhi, dal, shaak or subzi, aamras or mango pulp, rice, rotli or phulka or chapati and a few snacks like dhokla, muthiya, and more. I honestly think I tried all or most of these at Vatan. That’s what I liekd the most about it – all the new dishes I was experiencing in one meal. Once the food started coming out, I realized I was in for a huge, massive, tastebud mind-blowing treat.
The appetizer thali is served on a big tray and includes the following:
- Chana Masala (tender garbanzo beans spiced with onions and coriander)
- Khaman (puffed cream of wheat flour cake)
- Muthia (steamed flour with spinach)
- Mirchi Bhajia (fried hot peppers with garam masala)
- Batatavada (fried potato balls in chickpea flour batter)
- Ragda Patis (potato cutlet in white bean sauce)
- Sev Puri (crispy bread filled with potatoes, garbanzo beans, yogurt & chutney); and
- Samosas (triangular savory pastries filled with spicy potatoes and green peas).
Everything was simply divine. I devoured it all. I especially enjoyed Muthia, Chana Masala (I just love the name of that dish and everything inside it), and the Ragda Patis which were all flavorful and fresh. The muthia had the savoring taste of mint and tamarind chutney. They serve lovely sauces and spices along the side which I used as condiments (I like my spicy dishes), all recommended by my server.
Now I must add that I was not alone. My son came with me to Vatan. He’s a huge Indian food eater, and he enjoyed the meal so much and tasted nearly everything (he’s not into chickpeas). When the entrée thali came out, we were equally curious how it would go down. In addition to the food, the entrée course is accompanied by Pulao (boiled white rice with peas), Khichdi (lentils mixed with rice and assorted vegetables), and Kadhi (soup with yogurt and spiced chickpea flour). The sole add-on options are Rotla (flatbread from black millet flour served with garlic chutney) and Paani Puri (bread stuffed with potatoes, onions, chickpeas and chutney).
Also served on a large tray it included:
- Toor Dal (boiled lentils in Indian spice mixture)
- Bhaji (sautéed spinach & corn)
- Ful-Cobi (cauliflower & green pees sautéed in savory sauce)
- Batakanu Sak (potatoes cooked in mild red gravy)
- Chole (chickpeas cooked with garam masala)
- Puri/Roti (puffed whole wheat bread/whole wheat flatbread)
- Papadam (thin lentil wafers)
- Kheer (rice pudding with dried fruit)
- Aam Rus (mango pulp, available upon request)
I had opted for spicy; my son mild. Mine was definitely on the hotter side, which accentuated the flavors and brought them out even more. We each got puffy puri to fill with our rice dishes. I gently poured yogurt on everything, added sauce, and breathed in the scent of the aromas rising from my dishes. I liked the addition of the rice pudding and mango pulp, which really balanced out the taste.
For dessert, we had homemade Indian ice cream, Gulab Jamun (waffle balls in sugar & rose syrup), and Masala Chai (Indian tea cooked with cardamom, ginger & milk). It was the perfect ending to one of the most uniquely authentic, traditional meals I have ever had (outside my own home where I make many Jewish dishes). I had only asked for a refill of one dish, there is a lot of food, and didn’t leave busting. I’m not a fan of buffets and all-you-can-eat, generally, as I don’t like leaving stuffed to the rim.
Vatan is a good stop for anyone who loves Indian food, needs a dose of tranquility, and wants to try something incredibly unique.
Vatan is located at 409 3rd Avenue, New York, NY b/w 28th & 29th Street.
Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary meal to facilitate this review, but all opinions are my own.