four of us had dinner last night at punjab grill. service wasn't great, but the service kinks seem like the newly opened kind that hopefully will be worked out. dinner came out to around $90/person, which was definitely expensive but not quite as brutal as i'd feared from a maharaja-inspired restaurant that offers "market price" caviar and truffle supplements. while we agreed that the food is more interesting than rasika's and most of it quite good, the overall experience wasn't one that will have any of us rushing back. i'm guessing this place will live or die based on the amount of expense account business it draws.
the first dish that i tried was the adraki tuna tartare (sago crisps), which was . . . adequate, at best. a small cylinder of ring-molded fish atop under-seasoned, possibly underripe avocado, with one crisp on top (which i didn't try, because only one). no distinguishing flavors stood out. (my internal monologue is concerned that i'm about to sit through an entire disappointing dinner.) luckily, the chana masala “hummus” (amritsari kulcha, radish achar) was much better, albeit quite small: a quenelle of spiced, creamy dip was accompanied by an airy round of kulcha that was no more than four inches in diameter, with a nice pop of acid from the pickled radishes. (luckily the four of us are all pretty close friends, as we tore apart the little disk with our fingers so that everyone got a bit.) our carnivorous friends got a meaty small plate that they seemed to really like, but i have no recollection of what it was.
the rest of our food came out basically all at once, crowding the table. the tandoori tiger prawns (moilee sauce, curry leaf, tomato jam) came two medium-sized prawns to an order (heads on, but surprisingly dry inside -- nothing to suck out). i like tandoori seasoning and the prawns weren't overcooked, so i enjoyed my half-prawn bite, but be warned that this is another small one. in contrast, the malai broccoli (amul cheese fondue, spiced churma) was basically an entire head of broccoli. childhood favorite broccoli with cheese sauce grew up and studied abroad: char on the brassica, the richly cheesy sauce given texture by the breadcrumb-like churma, all with a spicy kick. probably my favorite dish of the night, for nostalgic deliciousness. i've read for ages that jackfruit is a serviceable vegetarian substitution, but i'm not sure that i'd ever had it before the kathal kofta (jackfruit dumpling, lebabdar sauce, cilantro cress). the dumpling did have a satisfyingly dense (but not too dense, just enough to be meat-adjacent) texture, and i was sad to realize that the bowl of delicious brown sauce was cleared before i got at it with my naan. (with only four chocolate truffle-sized dumplings in the order, the ratio of sauce to dumpling had to anticipate side carbs, but with table space at a premium, the busboys were quick to clear even the not-quite-empty plates, so i see why this one got away.) at our server's urging, we ordered the burani palak paneer (spinach, tandoori cottage cheese, olive tapenade, garlic), which he assured us was different than the palak paneer with which we would be familiar. a pre-sliced (mostly -- the very bottom wasn't cut through, presumably to keep the slices together) block of paneer sat in a pureed green pool, a bit deeper and more cooked-down in flavor than i'm used to from palak. i appreciated the starring cheese; i'm that person who is constantly wondering how many cubes she can dig out of the shared dish of palak paneer before friends get annoyed. the mushroom khichdi (morels, exotic achari mushrooms, yogurt, lentil) felt more southern than indian, weirdly enough; a friend pointed out that the lentils almost had the texture of grits. along with the broccoli, this was the dish that i just kept eating: roasty mushrooms and starch are addictive in any cuisine. (i swear the lentils tasted cheesy, but i'm not sure whether that's the grits association playing tricks.) given how i usually make a meal out of rasika's sides, the baigan bharta (charred eggplant, desi ghee) and the brussels sprouts thoran (fresh coconut, mustard seed, curry leaf) were both a bit disappointing. the eggplant was a one-note mush of very cooked eggplant. the brussels sprouts were much better, the shaved sprouts warm but otherwise almost raw. the almost-salad was a light counterpoint to the rest of the tablescape, though. naan (both garlic and sundreid tomato, olive & basil) tasted nicely of its respective toppings, although the bread was a bit more crisp and less fluffy than i'd probably prefer (personal preference, not a flaw). a side of the raita never made it to the table (which i did not realize until just now, as i am looking over the menu to recall everything that we ordered).
the cocktails we tried ranged from pretty to very good; we all tried each other's. my first drink, the chaiwala (masala chai infused scotch, spiced cordial, lemon, ginger) was probably my favorite, a classic-ish, penicillin-adjacent cocktail. a friend seemed happy with her king alphonso (gosling’s dark rum, mango, pomegranate, lemongrass, mint), although such fruit-forward drinks tend not to be my favorite (unless i'm on a tropical vacation and the setting calls for it). in retrospect, i'm fairly sure my order of the kasauli 1820 (rittenhouse rye, saffron & spiced sugar, orange, smoke) was mixed up with a friend's order of the akbari (old monk rum, dry vermouth, ginger, cloves, aromatic bitters), as his smelled of smoke and mine didn't. (not sure what it says about our palates or the drinks that we couldn't be sure from the other flavors, but his drink was half gone by the time mine arrived.) both were enjoyable, although the one i drank (so probably the akbari) was a tad on the sweet side. (and i think that sweetness is what confused me as to which drink i got, as "saffron & spiced sugar" sounded likely to make a sweeter drink.) the bf's rikki-tikki-tavi (pyrat xo rum, tullamore dew whiskey, pineapple, coconut, egg white, cardamom keora water) was described as a not-too-sweet take on a pina colada, which was a pretty good description (served up but with a frothy head), although the drink could have used acid (maybe some lime) to add another note. the gt&t (mango, ginger, lemongrass & cardamom infused gin, house-made turmeric tonic) was also a bit flat and could have used acid; i think the addition of all the other flavors (especially the turmeric in the vivid orange tonic) muted the brightness that i associate with a more classic g&t.
we were seated in a little side room across from the bar, which was quite loud (although possibly less so than the main room); they seem to be going for a scene-y atmosphere with the music. service was surprisingly slow. everyone was perfectly nice when they did come by, but there were lots of noticeable lags throughout the night. i arrived earlier than the rest of my party and was immediately seated, which i appreciated, but no one asked whether i wanted a drink while i waited, which i did. two of my friends joined about ten minutes later, and we only managed to order cocktails after awkwardly calling back a somm (i'm assuming -- he stopped by to draw our attention to the wine list but walked away before asking if we wanted anything). even more awkwardly, i went to a bathroom in the back of the room where we were seated only to discover after i had a handful of soap that the sink wasn't working! (there was an out-of-order sign on a second bathroom, but the one i entered had no indication.) when i asked someone where there was another bathroom, explaining that the water wasn't working in the one, the guy's initial response was something to the effect of "yes, those aren't working, wasn't it locked?," which put me on the defensive. i was led through the main dining room to another set of bathrooms, feeling very uncomfortable the entire time as i avoided touching anything or dripping soap. ugh.