All across the country, it’s been the hottest summer on record—and who wants to cook? So what do you do when you don’t feel like ordering in from the usual places either? Easy: Grab a few bottles of ice-cold Albariño and head down to one of NYC’s Indian neighborhoods. On 6th Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues, and Lexington Avenue in the mid 20’s, there are a number of notable Indian restaurants, many of which ask you to bring your own alcohol.
The concept of serving wine with Indian cuisine is a relatively new one. That’s why many of the restaurants have beer rather than wine on the menu. And while the cultured yogurt drink, lassi, has been the traditional accompaniment of curried foods for centuries, it’s a crisp, fresh Albariño from Spain that will surprisingly stand up to just about any spicy Indian dish.
A traditional meal in an Indian restaurant will consist of a thali, a large platter with small servings of various curried meats and vegetables placed in the center of the table. An assortment of breads called naan, or poori, are served with a variety of seasonings, sauces and chutneys. Raita, a savory, yogurt-based sauce made from pureed vegetables—our personal favorite is cucumber and mint—is an excellent way to control the heat of some Indian specialties. With some many delectable options and a great, Spanish wine in hand, we ventured to visit some of the city’s spiciest Indian spots to discover which dishes pair best with Albariño:
We generally start with samosas, which are deep fried stuffed pastries similar to a NYC knish or turnover. In India, they’re a great street snack or chaat. Often triangular in shape, they may be filled with a variety of vegetables, meat and potatoes. We enjoyed our potato and pea samosas with jasmine and vanilla scented 2009 Santiago Ruiz O Rosal and 2009 Pazo Senorans, which rewarded us with a clean, persistent pineapple finish. The samosas made us want to get on the next plane to visit Mumbai’s markets and food stalls.
A favorite of ours, chicken pulao, a rice-based dish, paired excellently with a deliciously creamy 2008 La Val, and lychee-scented 2009 Bodega Marqués de Vizhoja Torre la Moreira. Pulaos can contain meat and seafood, and sometimes resemble a Spanish or Portugese paella. The major difference is that Indian cuisine utilizes long-grained rice, like Basmati, rather than shorter grains preferred by Iberians.
No visit to an Indian restaurant should be without Tandoori Chicken. The chicken is usually marinated for hours (or days) in yogurt that has been seasoned with tandoori masala and baked in a traditional oven. Tandoor ovens are cylindrical, with clay interiors. Although they are now powered by electricity or gas, the traditional ovens were heated by wood or charcoal. They get very hot at 900 degrees Fahrenheit, and cook rather quickly, thus Tandoori chicken takes only a few minutes and is served piping hot. It’s red-colored because of the Kashmiri red chili and cayenne pepper powder mixed with turmeric. We enjoyed ours with lemongrass and melon scented 2009 Laxas and orange marmalade reminiscent 2009 Pazo San Mauro.
Another favorite dish is Shrimp Biryani, also rice-based and similar to pilaf, which tasted even better paired with delicious, medium-bodied, guava scented 2009 Serra da Estrela and an equally delicious honeysuckle and mango flavored 2009 Bodegas Terras Gauda Abadia de San Campo. We’re both partial to shrimp, but a great vegetarian alternative is the Calcutta Biryani, with shrimp. The two Biryanis were spiced perfectly and paired well with the wines from Rias Baixas.
Two other vegetarian dishes, Chana Saag, curried chickpeas and spinach, and Saag Paneer, a cheese and spinach casserole, made you forget that you weren’t eating meat. The delicate balance of spice, creaminess and curry flavors went perfectly with a creamy and carmelized white peach scented 2007 Tvronia and delicious 2008 Zios de Lusco with a clover honey and angel food cake finish.
When it comes to meat dishes, the spiciness of South Indian Lamb Vindaloo is addictive. After mouthfuls of cucumber mint raita, we found that Lamb Vindaloo paired amazingly well with a crispy-clean, guava scented 2009 Burgans. Interestingly, the term Vindaloo comes from a Portuguese meal, Carne de Vinha d’Alhos, and was originally made with wine from Portugal. After a few glasses of Albarino, we find it more than just a coincidence that many of the white wines of Portugal are made with Alvarinho (or Albarino) grapes.
Undoubtedly, one of our absolute favorite dishes is Chicken Tikka Masala, which consists of chunks of boneless chicken marinated in masala—a mixture of spices combined with tomatoes and coconut milk, and baked in a Tandoor oven. Served with fluffy Basmati rice on the side, it was an excellent accompaniment to an elegant 2009 Condes de Albarei and citrusy, crisp 2009 Mar de Frades.
Dinner in an Indian restaurant is always a transporting experience—it’s like going to Mumbai without driving to the airport. Many have wonderful musicians playing the sitar (an Indian marriage between a violin and a guitar) and tabla drums. We never have room for dessert after a meal, but the thought of pairing some of those creamy rice puddings and ras malai, condensed milk sweets, with a fine Port intrigues us every time.