Monday, November 18, 2013

Polash: Taking risks is the spice of Life!

By Benjamin Ramos Rosado,

Nothing is ever what it seems.  Polash, an Indian restaurant in El Barrio, is the perfect example of this truism.  With its simple façade and humble decor, Polash may seem uninteresting and easy to ignore, but those people open minded enough to walk through its unpretentious doors will find an amazing assortment of Northern Indian dishes that will satisfy the curiosity of any culinary explorer.

Located on E.118th and 3rd Avenue, Polash is a large restaurant with 16 tables, ample floor space and minimal decor.  As you walk in, there’s a lunch buffet (12:00 pm-3:45 pm) to the left and a fully stocked bar in the back.  Polash is dimly lit with glass mini-chandeliers and features an assortment of oil paintings of different landscapes along the walls.

With the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College across the street, Polash has a diverse clientele of students, faculty, and neighborhood regulars.  The night I visited, I asked a jovial and extremely loud young Mexican student sitting next to me what she recommended and she suggested I try their curries; she assured me they were all delicious.  Her drunk and somewhat coherent friends vehemently agreed with her.

My attentive and helpful server, Sanjit, agreed with my neighbor, but encouraged me to look through the rest of the menu before I made any decisions.  I asked the young Mexican student, what she thought of the service and she agreed Polash’s service is always good.

As I looked over my menu, Sanjit placed a complementary dish of papadum with three chutneys on my table.  Papadum is a thin and crispy cracker made of seasoned black gram (also known as Black Lentil) dough that is served with most Indian meals. The three chutneys were sweet tamarind, spicy mint, and an onion relish (onions in a tomato sauce). 


The papadum was wonderful!  It had a peppery and savory taste; when paired with the chutneys it was superb.  I loved the sweet tamarind and the onion tomato chutneys, but wasn’t impressed by the mint.  It was bland and didn’t add much to the papadum’s taste.

As Sanjit refreshed my water, he noticed my lacquered Puerto Rican and Cuban flags hanging from my neck and began to speak to me in Spanish.  It turned out, Sanjit loves Puerto Rican culture and cuisine.  He has visited Puerto Rico several times and eaten at many of the island’s best restaurants.  He loved the food so much he decided to save his money so he could apply to culinary school and study Latin American/Latin Caribbean cuisine. 

We spent a few minutes chatting about New York City’s best Puerto Rican and Latino restaurants.  He recommended a few restaurants in Astoria, Queens I can’t wait to visit.  Ready to order, I asked him which appetizer he thought was the most impressive on the menu.  He recommended the Samosa (a fried pastry filled with spiced meat, potatoes, chickpeas or lentils), Dal Papri (lentils and wafers served with yogurt and tamarind sauce), Samosa Chat (a Samosa tossed in tamarind sauce with diced vegetables, Indian herbs and spices) and the Chicken Chat (diced chicken and potatoes tossed in tamarind sauce with Indian herbs and spices).  Intrigued by Sanjit’s description of the Samosa chat, I asked him to bring me one; he assured me I wouldn’t be disappointed.

The Samosa Chat was delicious! The crunchy diced tomatoes, cucumber, and cilantro added an amazing savory and acidic flavor that worked very well with the sweet tamarind sauce.  The delicious samosa was full of diced potatoes cooked with various spices. It was a wonderful amalgamation of different flavors and textures.

Sanjit was pleased to hear that I enjoyed my appetizer. After sharing each others’ sofrito making secrets, he asked for my entrée order.  I was torn between the Tandoori chicken (Chicken marinated in red chili peppers, cayenne pepper, garlic and other spices cooked in an earthen clay pot called a tandoor) and the Chicken and Mushroom Curry (Chicken cooked with mushrooms, curry powder, garlic, ginger and other spices).  My drunk Mexican neighbor reminded me of Polash’s superb curries and insisted that I wouldn’t regret trying them.  Despite her revolting beer breathe and pushiness, I decided to listen to her advice and ordered the Chicken and Mushroom Curry.  Sanjit nodded in agreement and with a big toothy smile walked to the kitchen to place my order. 

Within minutes, Sanjit returned to my table and presented me what he called “Pollo Guisado con hongos en salsa de curry” (my entrée in Spanish). By then, Sanjit and I were speaking exclusively in Spanish; he even corrected my grammar a few times.  It was hilarious to hear Spanish spoken with an Indian accent.  I have to admit he spoke Spanish really well and even knew some Puerto Rican sayings as well.  It was so cool to have this cross cultural exchange.

My entree was served with a small bowl of yellow lentils and Basmati rice topped with sweet peas.  The rice was fluffy and buttery; the lentils were a bit bland, but still good.  The hearty pieces of chicken were moist and flavorful; the aromatic curry sauce was spicy, sweet, and a beautiful shade of yellow.  The soft mushrooms added a wonderful earthy taste to the dish.  The entrée’s flavors and textures were well balanced and truly delicious.

After my wonderful entrée, Sanjit asked me if I wanted dessert, but I declined.  Sanjit and I had a great chat about how he wants to fuse Indian and Puerto Rican desserts.  His idea of a Mango Lassi (a sweet or salted yogurt drink made with fruit) flavored flan sounded amazing.  Polash’s dessert menu is simple and consists of: Mango ice cream, Rasmali (fresh home made cheese balls), and Kher (Rice pudding with mango and coconut).

Appearances are often deceiving.  Polash’s simplicity might give the impression that the food is pedestrian and run of the mill, but once you give this amazing eatery a try, you won’t be disappointed.  They say variety is the spice of life, but I believe taking risks lets you sample those spices and therefore enrich your life.  Take a risk and eat at Polash!  Go taste for yourself! ¡Buen provecho!


2179 3rd Avenue

New York, N.Y., 10035

HOURS:  Mon.-Fri. 12pm-4pm/5pm-11pm  Sat.-Sun. 12pm-11pm.

ATMOSPHERE:  Causal and relaxed.

SERVICE: Excellent.

SOUND LEVEL:  Conversational.


RECOMMENDED DISHES:  The Curries ($8.95-$10.95), Tandoori ($9.95-$14.95), and Biriyani ($9.95-$11.95)

BEVERAGES:  Coffee, Teas, Cardomon Iced tea, Sodas (Ranging $1.50-$2.00)

PRICE RANGE: The menu is large, but can range from $8.95 to $14.95

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