Friday Food Porn: Chasing the Peacock at Mayuri

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"I pushed my way back through the knots of people, turning my shoulders into narrow gaps, and twisted out the door into the cold and dark of the night. The sudden quiet and the chill in the air was sudden, like a slap. I walked into the parking lot, lit a cigarette, and leaned against my car--marveling at the distance a few steps can take you, the difference between there and here.

In New York, there are pocket neighborhoods you can slip into and be 5,000 miles away in a matter of a few paces. You can live there for years and never know about them, never stumble into them. Albuquerque has strip malls where no English is ever spoken. In Denver, there are corners you can turn where, in the space of a single step, even the air is different--where it can go from winter to summer, from Colorado to Saigon or Addis Ababa or Moscow, and the smells of foreign spices can change the way you think about distance forever.

Mayuri is like that: a tesseract door, a swirl of color and spice, the smell of strange latitudes. And suddenly, you're gone."

From "Crowded House," this week's review of Mayuri Indian Cuisine.

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"At Mayuri, all that stood between the fully-committed floor and the crowd jamming the tiny waiting area was one small woman working two registers and a telephone at the same time. When she looked over the room, she did it with a field commander's eyes: merciless and calculating. And while no one (yet) looked willing to charge the floor, start grabbing idli rice cakes, utappam and rava dosa out of people's hands, and shoving them into their own starving mouths, the looks on some of the faces were not dissimilar from the ones I saw right before the fence came down, right before the mob of destitute punks poured over the wall like a wave."

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"Mayuri offers eight kinds of lamb, not counting the samosa, the seekh kabob or the lamb biryani, which is only one of five varieties. There are more than 30 vegetarian dishes, a dozen kinds of dosa, navratan korma with paneer and nuts and fresh vegetables simmering in a cream sauce with only a whisper of spice and sweetness, and channa masala (herbed chickpeas) that I could eat all day, scooping them up with torn squares of naan or aloo paratha, dipping same in the little tin cups of tamarind chutney, mint chutney, tomato curry and parsley sauce and raita, getting cleared or replenished with no rhyme or reason by a staff that sometimes moves too slow and sometimes too fast to see."

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"I push past and loop around back to my table, where more courses have arrived: lamb samosa and a Goan chicken vindaloo. I still have some ragged ends of poori left and dip them into the vindaloo sauce, which is extraordinary--red like brick dust and hot as hell, full of big pieces of chicken thigh and cubes of potato soaking in a tomato-and-chile broth with turmeric and cumin, coriander, vinegar for bite. The lamb in the samosa has been ground until it is one crank removed from a pâté. It seems to melt on my tongue, leaving only the flavor of lamb, the crunch of the samosa skin, and the texture of peas and onions sautéed in butter until they are sweet as candy."

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"I'd already eaten paneer pakora--thin slabs of house-made cheese jacketed in a too-thick chickpea batter, spiced with fennel seed, until each piece was like a pillow for a mouse, swollen and soft--and red-orange sambar thick with more lentils and vegetables and spice. The lollipop chicken (drumettes, marinated in spices, deep-fried and meant to be eaten with the fingers) were what I imagined lucky Indian children eating when their parents dragged them along to some fake American restaurant in Mumbai or Jaipur--the regional equivalent of the chicken finger.

The kabuli naan was a meal in itself--warm bread, stuffed with sweet raisins and ground, dried fruit. The pooris and potato curry were like street food reimagined for the table, offering big rounds of greasy bread, fried in oil almost like roti--but thicker, more weighty, and served with a mound of chunky curried mashed potatoes studded with cardamom seeds, peas and carrots. Fresh out of the kitchen, they tasted like eating the jumbled leftovers of a meal already finished before this new one had even begun."

Photo courtesy Joshua Huston

"In the parking lot, fathers in Sikh turbans and mothers in saris the color of Caribbean oceans stood patiently waiting, letting their kids run the crazy out of them before dinner. More men clustered in a corner, waiting with their hands in their pockets. Families walked up and down the cement course in front of the restaurant, glancing in through the windows to weigh the mass of customers waiting--the division between this world and that no thicker than a pane of glass or the width of a door.

Outside, it was Bellevue at night. Inside, it was Southern India, Northern India, or some kind of strange mash-up of the two, where the Southern idli and rice-flour crepes and tin cups of sambar collide with tandoori meats from Punjab and Bengali seafood, coconut milk from Kerala and imperial Mughal spices, kormas and biryanis. An impossible place, as invented as anything, but made real on Mayuri's menu and floor."

Check out more of this week's review of Mayuri right here.

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