Weeks ago, Vermilion restaurant in Manhattan reached out to The Daily Meal for a review. In the past, the Indian-Latin fusion restaurant, formerly known as At Vermilion, has received less-than-stellar reviews (it was once actually called a “s--tshow” in a review), but we wanted nothing more than to be swept away by the changes promised to us.
And Vermilion, too, had good reason to deliver — the restaurant is the subject of a new reality show on CNBC called Consumed: The Real Restaurant Business, which “chronicles the struggles and triumphs of various restaurants in the ultra-competitive New York Food Scene.”
The original Vermilion is located in Chicago, and this review does not in any way speak for that restaurant.
After a few tables of corporate-looking customers departed, the restaurant was ours, leaving us in the full focus of owner, culinary director, and founder Rohini Dey, who encouraged us to sample the menu. We tried to order as many of the dishes as possible to get a well-rounded experience, constantly aware that Dey was looking over our shoulders for the entire three-hour dinner. Please note that this is not standard practice for restaurant reviews. Generally, a publication decides which restaurant to review and visits anonymously.
Appetizers: Authentic Street Food versus the Bloomin’ Onion of Kale
Broken down into a few categories, such as desi snacks, which Dey refers to as part of the “hardcore Indian” selections, and the Latin-Indian petiscos, the appetizers are underwhelming. The crisp kale salad is battered and deep-fried (an interesting choice, because when simply baked, kale crisps up beautifully), and the overall effect is less of a salad and more of a bloomin’ onion. The grilled pulpo octopus is bland, but well-cooked. The alcapurria Puerto Rican croquettes are paired with a heavily ketchup-based barbecue sauce, but are a comforting snack nonetheless, as most fried potato snacks tend to be. The spinach saag arepa is more like a miniature pizza, and we can never turn down a cheesy app. The best dish on the menu is the pani puri, a traditional Indian street food that requires you to pour flavored water into hollow fried flour shells. The flavors were clean, bright, and confident, and we were excited to continue on a dinner that we hoped would deliver every plate with such intention.
Entrees: “Hardcore” Indian Meets Brazilian Stew, Inexplicably
From the “hardcore Indian” side of the menu, the “pindi” butter chicken is a classic Indian item, accurate and satisfying. However, butter chicken is such a standby — like the chicken and broccoli of American Chinese food — that its $24 price tag makes even this dish a little hard to swallow.
Caldeira de peixe, or “seasonal seafood stew,” never had a shot — because none of the seafood (shrimp, mussels, and fish) was fresh, and no amount of spices could hide that fact. Our guess is that the kitchen doesn’t move enough seafood to be able to provide it fresh without throwing anything out. Unfortunately, customers have nothing to gain from this money-saving strategy.