Badshah in Hell’s Kitchen is definitely something different.
The trademark culinary characteristics of the neighborhood are poorly lit Asian eateries with low ceilings and a high-kitsch factor litter the span of 10 or so blocks along Ninth Avenue, broken up by hole-in-the-wall to-go joints and bars you can smell without entering.
It’s a nice night out, so the doors at Badshah are open, with stool seating looking out over the bustling street. White-washed exposed brick walls, silver metallic accents like chrome-dipped light bulbs, a slate-colored bar, street art murals lining one wall, and a giant roll—think rug-sized in width—of brown paper towel hands in one corner, leftover by the barbecue restaurant that came before.
The latest venture from Abishek Sharma (Surya, Swagat) and former Babu Ji executive chef Charles Mani, the restaurant is named for the Hindi term for “King of the Village.” Badshah features inventive dishes inspired by Indian street food and signature classics updated in creative ways with spices and flavors from across Asia.
Abishek’s energy brings something more modern to the traditional values passed down by his father, who worked in New Delhi at Bukhara, which is considered one of the 50 best restaurants in the world.
If you ask Mani about his cooking style, the first thing he’ll tell you is that it’s “inauthentic.” He learned the principles of Indian cooking from his mother growing up in Chennai on the coast of India, and refined his technique with a culinary degree in India, but he prides himself on the ability to innovate and “tinker.”
Also, Thursdays to Sundays are “bright pants” days. “As a child, I was always in uniform, so I love wearing colorful shoes and pants,” says Mani. “But not on Mondays.” Growing up in India, he would go from school directly home to do homework and his relaxation time was the half hour where he would eat dinner with family and watch the news at night.
His philosophy of “tempering,” or layering and enhancing of spices and flavors, is used throughout his street-to-the-plate menu, divided into Appetizers from the Roadside, Tandoor, and From the Pots, and also includes a Chef’s Tasting Menu.
We enjoyed Gol Goppa, popular roadside snack made of crisp semolina balls dipped in tangy, savory chutney; Quinoa Tikki made with potato, black-eyed bean tikki and served with pineapple, mango and ginger chutney, Colonel Tso Cauliflower, an Indo-Chinese style cauliflower tossed with sesame, onion seeds tomato chili sauce; Southern Style Mussels made with freshly toasted Indian herbs and spiced broth.
We had virtually no room for the Chef’s Tasting Menu of curries, naan, and other mains (don’t worry, we took it to go, and of course it was just as awesome the next day), but forced our way through kulfi with pistachio and cardamom flavored Indian ice cream, because he’s just such a nice guy that as he nabs a seat next to you and asks how you like it, you can’t bear to break his heart—and you tell him it’s amazing because you just can’t tell a lie.