Elettaria,33 W. 8th St, 212-677-3833 Price range: $40-$70
On this spot, where Hendrix himself once held court, Akhtar Nawab and Noel Cruz, both Craft veterans, have opened a genre- and mind-bending homage to the strengths of the Western canon and the flavors of India. Elettaria’s mission might seem a tad risky for a restaurant in a neighborhood known more for Gray’s Papaya and other drunkards’ fare than gastro-exploration.
The dining room remains a stage, dedicated not to the guitar god but to the kitchen, where the cooks are always performing — and which one must walk through to get to the restrooms. Bulbs set into the salvaged plank ceiling reflect off mirrors galore, exuding warmth on bare brick walls and crimson velvet curtains, with a wall of windows opening onto the street.
In this packed, clean-lined yet thoroughly romantic environment, Elettaria (the Indian name for green cardamom) serves cocktails to rival the city’s best. Take their Zombie Punch ($14) — the original tiki drink — made with three types of rum, falernum (a complex Carribean syrup of almond, ginger, clove and cinnamon) and fruit juice. It’s a relic from Trader Vic’s glory days, when men were men, and their drinks came with tiny umbrellas. And the Quimby Fizz ($11), gin with egg white, bitters and soda (and more, of course) perfectly updates 1920s favorite Ramos Fizz, swapping out the cream for lime curd, making a perfectly balanced drink, a sippable, faintly sweet key lime pie in a glass.
The food, too, harkens back, updating and refining the classics of India and Europe. Foie Gras gets a traditional French preparation as a flawless terrine ($16) graced with blood orange supremes, fruit molasses, toast and Szechuan pepper. Crab Resala ($14) also straddles mulitple cultures, with a mound of fresh lump crab enlivened by a creamy tamarind masala sauce. As an entrée, the Saag Paneer ($18) can’t be beat (though it could be larger). Luscious goat cheese gnocchi upstage mere Indian paneer, and the spinach is kept whole, adding a bitter edge to the perfect, sweet cheese dumplings.
Elettaria is one of those restaurants that you wish would come to your ‘hood, and maybe it has. If so, pull up a plush velvet stool, plant yourself at the bar and prepare to drain your bank account becoming a regular.