Vegetable Thali Platter ($21)
Unfortunately only available at lunch, but certainly one of the best deals in the area, the Thali Platter ($21 for vegetarian) are the fancy Indian version of a bar's sampler platter. Dip the buttery herbal roti into a cardamom-scented stew of chickpeas and ginger or pile some saag aur gobi ke bhurji—that's tiny cauliflower florets and spinach flavored with fenugreek and cumin—one your rice and drizzle it with creamy raita. Go ahead and use your fingers—it's ok. If you're used to standard Indian offerings, don't be surprised when you bite down on the paneer akbari and find that it's completely free of the squeaky rubberiness that can plague the fresh cheese. A non-vegetarian thali gives you a selection of lamb, chicken, and shrimp for $4 more, and with enough food to feed two, it won't run you much more than the cost of a pre-made midtown sandwich.
Spice Trail ($14)
A simple but tasty martini made with garam masala-infused vermouth and orange bitters.
Hare Matar Ka Shorba ($12)
There wasn't anything strongly Indian about a cold spring pea soup ($12), but that didn't stop it from being delicious. It's a sweet and creamy swirl of spring that sits cool on the tongue, slowly revealing hints of ginger, mint, and a tough of green chili spice.
Pomegranata Mai Tai ($10)
Even the non-alcoholic cocktails are thoughtfully composed. Pomegranate juice comes gently flavored with almond-y orgeat and a good amount of orange and lemon juice for a virgin mai tai that manages to maintain the real drink's complexity and brightness.
Piri Piri Shrimp ($15)
There are definitely low points on the menu. Mediocre seafood seems to be a running theme. While the Piri Piri Shrimp ($15 for three—ours is pictured with a fourth) are cooked to a nice tender crunch, the ketchup-y sauce is overwhelming. Neither is the plate a completed, composed dish. We had trouble figuring out what the orange slices, avocado, and jicama added to the shrimp. It felt more like an uninspired attempt to gussy up the plating in an attempt to merit a $5-per-shrimp upcharge.
Eggplant Chaat ($12)
The food at Junoon often plays with texture in a way that you're unaccustomed to seeing in Indian food. In the Eggplant Chaat, baby eggplant is sliced just thin enough to crisp up, but thick enough to retain a moist tender core. Work fast when the plate is put in front of you. The goal is to mix together the eggplant with the yogurt and tangy tamarind and get it all in your mouth together before the sev—fried chickpea noodles sprinkled on top—lose any of their delicate crunch. I could eat a lot of this.
Spiced Lamb Burger (Part of a $24 Prix Fixe)
One of the rare dishes on the menu that shows some sort of fusion element, a Spiced Lamb Burger, available as part of the $24 lunch prix fixe, is a perfectly fine patty of black-cardamom flavored lamb meatloaf served with a chili jam that tastes mostly of tomato paste. The crisp, onion-y bhaji (err, onion rings) are the highlight of the plate.
Lamb Boti Kebab ($29)
Some of the most tender lamb kebabs I've had anywhere. Marinated with yogurt, garam masala, ginger, and mustard oil, the exterior gets that soft, vaguely chalky (in a good way) texture that keeps it soft even with a hard sear in the tandoor oven. At $29 for 8 chunks of lamb, it's a pricey entrée, particularly when you consider that it comes with no garnishes asides from a drizzle of cilantro chutney.
Sholapuri Halibut ($34)
We could find little in a dish of nicely cooked but poorly composed Sholapuri Halibut to merit a $34 price tag. With a thick, spicy tomato sauce that utterly overwhelmed the delicate white fish in both flavor and sheer volume, we may as well have been eating Sholapuri Tofu or Sholapuri Paneer.
Hydrabadi Chicken Korma ($26)
Curry-house staples like Chicken Korma ($26) are a far-cry from the steam-table curries you'll find at the lunch buffets downtown. Charred, tender bites of chicken get a kiss of smoke from the tandoor oven before being simmered in a cashew-based sauce that shows intense but balanced spicing (a tad heavy on the cardamom) and a creamy nuttiness. Chicken korma, I never even knew ya.
A rich cube of dense cardamom kulfi. Not mind-blowing, but flavorful and nicely textured.