It's been nearly five years since pastry-trained chef Jehangir Mehta blurred the lines between sweet and savory with the opening of Graffiti, a closet-sized East Village food and wine bar serving up eclectic small-plate fare. The space is still as small as ever, but that hasn't stopped Mehta from serving up dishes with big, bold flavors.
Though his inspirations are worldly, Mehta often pays homage to his Mumbai roots with Indian ingredients and spices, such as in the popular Green Mango Paneer ($7), served with warm naan. This simple dish of fried paneer and sautéed green mangos packs a punch with a mixture of turmeric, chili powder and a hint of asafoetida, a pungent spice popular in India.
Graffiti puts an Indian twist to the ubiquitous bao, serving up Cumin Eggplant Buns with thyme fennel relish ($15). Instead of pork belly, the steamed buns are stuffed with braised eggplant so rich and earthy that it's hard to tell that it's meatless. For those who can't do without the meat, Graffiti also offers Braised Pork Buns with apricot chutney ($15).
Chickpea Crusted Skate ($15) is subtler than its spicier counterparts, but still flavorful.The accompanying sautéed watercress and tangy mint yogurt sauce add an overall freshness to the dish.
Graffiti's dessert menu reflects Mehta's classical culinary training more so than his South Asian background, but his playful style still shines through in dishes such as Warm Truffle Almond Strawberries with Pepper Ice Cream ($7). Though the sweet and savory combo isn't necessarily for everyone, Mehta's thoughtfulness in juxtaposing textures and flavors is still something to appreciate.
Graffiti Food & Wine Bar
About the author: Nancy Huang, who comes to New York by way of Los Angeles, writes The Wanderist, a food and travel blog of adventures here and abroad. She loves noodles, subway maps, and word games.