Trio of Eggplant at Tulsi ($18)
At Tulsi, chef Hemant Mathur is not content to give diners just one of two renditions of the eggplant in his appetizer dish. Mathur's Trio of Eggplant features masala-stuffed baby eggplants flanked by a cold eggplant salad and crispy, tamarind tinged eggplant fritters. The dish is perfectly balanced—both within each item and across the plate. The stuffed eggplant is cooked just to the point of being soft without deteriorating into mush. Its moderate heat from whole red chiles is tempered by tangy tamarind and sweet coconut. The fritters achieve that wonderful combination of crispy exterior and soft, yielding middle, while the tangy tomato chutney wakes up each bite. Somehow the light, refreshing eggplant salad steals the show with its bright flavors of coriander, yogurt, roasted cumin and the eggplant itself, which has been smoked to provide an incredible depth of flavor.
Nasu Dengaku at Zenkichi ($8.95)
Eggplant in Garlic Sauce ($9.95)
Sauteed Eggplant at Hoomoos Asli ($4.75)
It's nothing but eggplant and oil, cooked down, and it's rich and sultry with a deep, concentrated sweetness. Pomegranate molasses? Balsamic vinegar? we wondered, but no; just the veg. If we ever doubted the power of eggplant (and eggplant alone) to do amazing things, this set us straight.
Hoomoos Asli: 100 Kenmare Street, New York NY 10012 (map); 212-966-0022
Eggplant 'Caviar' at Caucasus Garden ($6.90)
Grilled eggplant at this Azerbaijani spot in Sheepshead Bay is minced and mixed with sweet peppers, onions, and fresh garlic, all swimming in olive oil; salty, sweet, and slightly spicy. Eat it with a warm, puffy lavash that'll just cost you $1 more.
Eggplant Mirzah at Persepolis ($7)
The thick spread of roasted eggplant, tomato, and garlic was rich with earthy Middle Eastern spices, and topped with a small smear of homemade yogurt; spread on pita, it's pretty remarkable.
Eggplant with Garlic Sauce at Grand Sichuan ($11)
Spicy, garlicky, sauce-drenched eggplant is just our kind of thing. Perfectly illustrates eggplant's ability to be an oil (and flavor!) sponge. Cut into long sloppy logs, they're somehow more satisfying than more predictable coins or cubes. Make sure you've got enough rice for the gooey, chili-flecked brown sauce.
Tortang Talong at Engeline's Restaurant ($7.50)
Roasted and smashed eggplant that's dipped in egg and fried so it looks omelet-y. Filipino-style eggplant omelet? We're down. Especially since you can add ground pork for a dollar.
Engeline's Restaurant: 5828 Roosevelt Avenue, Woodside NY 11377 (map); 718-898-7878
Eggplant Parmesan at Rubirosa and Parm
You can't talk about eggplant without talking about eggplant parmesan. But we can't talk about eggplant parmesan without thinking fondly of both Rubirosa and Parm, both Mulberry Street Italian-American spots that do incredible things with red sauce. We invite you to try both and pick a favorite. (We can't.)