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Dining Review: Nirvana

November 27, 2006 - by Richard Jay Scholem

Nirvana lives! Although the exotic Indian penthouse on Central Park South that opened in 1970 is no more, a new Nirvana has emerged and a second is planned. Shamsher Wadud, who owned the original on the 15th floor of 30 Central Park South, has opened a little gem on 54th St. And although the magnificent views of the Park are a thing of the past, the colorful tapestries, artifacts, gold lanterns, and massive mirrors live on. Just as importantly, so does the consistently fine food, thanks to Rimi -- a lovely young chef from Bangladesh who strives mightily to please the patrons who are just starting to discover Nirvana 54 on the fringes of the Theatre District. Perhaps the celebrities that frequented the scene at the landmark Nirvana will soon follow their lead.

Much remains the same at Nirvana, including the made-to-order breads from the basic naan flatbread to the organic aloo of sliced potato mixed with herbs and spices in an easy-to-eat wrap. There’s also roti, paratha, stuffed paratha, and poori. The last is a warm, eye-catching, puffed-up hollow of thin, delicate bread that diners pull apart and eat with their fingers. Patrons who neglect to order breads at an Indian restaurant are missing out on one of this cuisine’s most distinctive virtues.

The extensive menu offers lunch and dinner, a la carte and two- and four-course meals, and set meals for two to ten people. There’s even a continental (or western) menu that offers everything from wraps, burgers, and sandwiches to steaks, chops, pastas, and New York cheese cake. Two diners at our table opted to mix and match starters of fried calamari and spicy coconut shrimp with Indian entrées (a tandoori mix and shrimp dopiazi). Two others chose the four-course Indian dinner that begins with an entrée-sized vegetarian appetizer platter of crisp, grease-free, deep-fried morsels.

Plan ahead at Nirvana, because appetizers are as big or bigger than main courses. Additionally, study the menu’s star system: no stars means mild, one is mildly spicy, two is spicy, and three is hot and spicy. Lamb korma or meat medallions in a creamy rich sauce and salmon maci curry with a gentle coconut spin weren’t starred, while the off-the-skewer chicken and lamb kabob from the tandoor had one, and the lively shrimp dopiazi had two. The last was alive with fresh herbs, spices, and onions.

The Indian version of rice pudding and Kulfi (intensely flavored Indian ice cream) are perfect for tingling tongues at meal’s end. 245 W. 54th St. btw. Broadway & Eighth Ave., 212-307-9797.

Richard Jay Scholem was a restaurant critic for the New York Times Long Island Section for 14 years. His A La Carte Column appeared from 1990 to 2004. For more “Taste of the Town” reviews, click here.

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