The servers at Semma wander about in extended-sleeve black T-shirts printed with a white symbol that claims Unapologetic Indian. This is a reference to Unapologetic Foods, the enterprise that runs Semma alongside with Dhamaka and Adda Indian Canteen. It’s also the group’s slogan, a vow to provide delicacies that pulls no punches.
With its sly implication that what other Indian dining places are advertising isn’t fairly the serious factor, “Unapologetic Indian” is a virtuoso piece of promoting. You could also study it as a belated clap-back again to the British Raj, which put an place with a person of the world’s fantastic culinary cultures beneath the rule of colonial directors from the place that gave us mushy peas and bubble and squeak.
But soon after rooting close to for a while in the dishes coming out of Semma’s kitchen area, which has been operating on Greenwich Avenue in the Village given that Oct, I obtain it tricky to imagine anybody on earth who would want an apology for foodstuff this fantastic.
The chef, Vijay Kumar, grew up on a rice farm outside the house the metropolis of Madurai in Tamil Nadu. At Semma, he provides the cooking of his dwelling point out in individual and of South India a lot more frequently. From the region’s long and deep vegetarian traditions — it has many — Semma has extracted a amount of dishes that seem to be much more present-day than you may possibly hope. Mulaikattiya thaniyam, a modest, lastingly spicy salad of grated coconut and mung beans bearing pale, crisp, squiggly sprouts, could slide proper into the menu at one particular of the far more major plant-based nightspots in the East Village. So could the Mangalore huukosu, cauliflower fried in a chickpea-and-rice-flour batter and then dressed with coconut chutney.
Not that Mr. Kumar does not present a several dishes that could make New York’s new vegan mayor drop his fork. But though Dhamaka double-pet dares you to try to eat goat testicles, the most eyebrow-boosting dish at Semma is probably kudal varuval, a dry curry of goat intestines. It is notable for the warm aura solid by the caramelized onions and coconut milk in its thick gravy, and for the easygoing texture of the guts, neither tricky nor mushy but carefully agency, like mortadella. You can even make a sandwich by folding some inside of a soft triangle of the kal dosa served on the exact same plate. I’d propose a person of these minimal canapés to any one with an open up intellect about having at the tail conclude of the digestive tract.
When Adda arrived in Queens in 2018, adopted last 12 months by Dhamaka in Manhattan, their placing visions of Indian delicacies appeared to be fueled by a personalized artistic breakthrough of their chef, Chintan Pandya. Instead of editing his indigenous country’s extensive repertory to accommodate American fantastic-dining values, as he experienced accomplished at Junoon, or fusing it with other influences, as at Rahi, he went again to the source, locating road treats and home-model recipes whose first electric power hadn’t been refined out of existence by specialists in white jackets.
1 thing that can make Semma so enjoyable is that it suggests that Mr. Pandya had much more than a personal epiphany. He would seem to have strike on an method that he can share with other cooks — the open up source code of Unapologetic Foodstuff. (Mr. Pandya is the company chef and a partner in the team, which is owned by Roni Mazumdar.)
Till final calendar year, Mr. Kumar was the chef of Rasa, in Burlingame, Calif., wherever the most well known menu item was a potato fritter on a bun, identified as a Bombay Slider. He described the cooking in a phone interview as “Southern Indian but with a great deal of neighborhood California ingredients and a little bit of contemporary system.” At Semma, he explained, “we are entirely focusing on accurate southern Indian foods, specifically how we grew up having it back residence.”
Not owning frequented the Kumars’ rice paddy, I can’t vouch for that. But at Semma he serves two dishes from his childhood that you’d have a difficult time getting at a different New York restaurant. A single is nathai pirattal, snails stir-fried with onions and tomatoes, soured with tamarind and served in a tiny box manufactured of banana leaves. The other is Chettinad-fashion venison, a shank braised into sticky tenderness with star anise and a lichen named black stone flower that is 1 of the prized seasonings of the Chettinad pantry.
Dosas are a great deal less obscure. Just about any nearby South Indian restaurant from Floral Park in Queens to Iselin, N.J., will make you a dosa. This does not indicate you have permission to skip the triangular gunpowder dosa at Semma. It might effectively be impossible to make a dosa with a far more extraordinary contrast involving its crisp, amber-brown griddled exterior and the tender, spongy inside it appears bodily unachievable for these two extremes to be united on anything no thicker than a potato chip. The regular filling of delicate potato masala, yellow with turmeric and freckled with mustard seeds, is launched into orbit by the thrumming warmth of a floor-chile spice mix — the gunpowder.
The enjoyment that Adda and Dhamaka produce by the uncooked ability of rustic cooking Semma will get rather from the brightness of its chutneys, the richness of its coconut-milk sauces, the dense layerings of ginger and freshly floor spices. Semma also has a lengthier, additional different menu, and pays closer focus to veggies, earning it a lot easier to fill the desk with dishes that all have some thing distinct to say.
These comparisons are not meant as criticisms. Semma is larger sized and far more costly than its Unapologetic siblings, and it is created for a more relaxed, leisurely night. The place was previously Rahi’s. The prolonged, inviting bar has stayed, but now there are woven mats on the ceiling and wicker-basket hanging lamps, a foretaste of the kitchen’s shift toward tropical areas. The inside is now brighter and far more colorful, while for sheer jumpy strength it has a difficult time retaining up with the gyrations of the South Indian pop playlist.
The wine list, an afterthought at the other two Unapologetic dining places, is concise but purposeful it appears to have been place with each other by anyone who has apply consuming Indian foodstuff with wine. There are some out-of-the-ordinary beers, together with a handful of cocktails infused with items like curry leaves and cardamom. Why you just can’t get a cup of tea is outside of me, but I’m not holding my breath ready for an apology.
What the Stars Indicate Because of the pandemic, dining establishments are not staying supplied star rankings.