Panic arose when Babu Ji, the super hyped Alphabet City Indian eatery closed down in March 2017, only to reopen three months later in a new, larger refined space in Greenwich Village. When Babu Ji first opened in 2015, it rapidly became the trendiest Indian restaurant in the East Village. The new location doesn’t have the unique Avenue B homey vibe, but serves the same contemporary Indian menu with an inventive westernized twist.
Chef Singh moved to NYC from Australia to open the instantly popular “gourmet” Indian restaurant with the purpose of offering a modern take on New York’s average Indian food. The restaurant’s name refers to a honorific Hindi term equivalent to “Sir” and in this case, “mayor of the block”, who “indulges in food and hospitality” – which introduces the type of dining spirit Chef Jessi Singh and his wife wanted to create, and “have you eating like a Babu Ji”.
Open for dinner only
As soon as you get in, you’ll find a cool vibe and energy in the room. When you manage to get in that is : unless you’ve booked online for the tasting menu, the majority of tables are reserved for walk-ins, so a wait is to be expected (although the line isn’t nearly as crazy as during the East Village days!)
Best seats at new location are at the bar
The restaurant has a hipster-Indian feel (yes, I just made that up) with a young and casual crowd, in a relaxed, modern space. The Greenwich Village decor is more polished but stays simple, with some cool eccentric Indian art and photographs. There’s also a projector pointed to the corner of the room projecting Bollywood movies ❗
Now onto the food. If there is one type of cuisine I am not the biggest connoisseur of, it’s Indian. However, I am pretty confident true Indian food aficionados will agree this is not authentic Indian cuisine. But this is not why you’d come here and wait an hour anyway! Babu Ji takes a subtler approach to traditional Indian recipes. The chef offers a seasonally changing menu that spans Indian street food, cross-regional curries, and Tandoori specialties with a personal twist to accommodate to our New Yorker taste buds.
For first timers, go with the $62 Chef’s Tasting Menu which is said to cover “80% of the menu”. Starters are always a hit, particularly the Papadi Chaat and the Batata Vada. The Colonel Tso’s Cauliflower is also a crowd-pleaser, the Tandoori and the Butter Chicken are perfectly executed, and the highlight remains the “main” dish, a pot tasting of different curries, with sides of naan and rice (the standout being the Scallop Coconut Curry: the scallops are actually raw, like biting into butter, in a deliciously silky sauce).
Vegetarian Tasting available
The freshness of the ingredients is apparent, and each dish is beautifully plated. However the food can be considered under-portioned for some (considering the price point!), and if you like spicy (real) Indian food, you’ll be disappointed as everything is mildly seasoned for Western palates. They expectantly accommodate for vegetarians.
You must end your meal with their signature Kulfi dessert: a cardamom and pistachio yogurty popsicle presented in a skinny tin mold you roll between your palms to warm up. Its savoring is also entertaining! 😛
Drinks wise, they have a decent wine offering, a self-serve beer fridge with a great selection, and a delicious Mango Lassi.
The service is friendly but a bit botched, and more arrogant than at the original East Village spot for some reason. In both locations, I’ve felt like they were kicking us out to free the tables. I actually don’t mind the fact that the dishes come out at a quick pace, but you know what they say: more haste, less speed!
Book online for the tasting menu to avoid a wait
So is a meal at Babu Ji enjoyable? Yes. Overpriced? Most definitely. Is it worth trying out? Sure. Will I be going back? I miss the buzzing Avenue B vibe, but will be back to East 13th street for à la carte appetizers, the butter chicken and scallop curry.
Babu Ji is definitely above your standard Indian take out place, but I’d rather pay a fifth of the price (at least) and walk a few blocks to Curry Row if I’m in the search for authenticity. Come here if you’re looking for a unique milder and trendier version of Indian food with a cool vibe.
Open for dinner daily 5pm – 12am daily
Babu Ji also has a West Coast outpost in San Francisco’s Mission District!