Bryan: Sometimes mistakes are made when choosing a restaurant. Not because the restaurant is necessarily bad, but because your occasion or time commitment doesn’t gel with the restaurant’s goals. In this case, Bridgid had to return a Zipcar in Midtown soon after the show we had just seen (Oh Hey Guys hosted by the amazing John Flynn) had let out. I suggested Masalawala, a new Indian street food joint on Essex just below Houston. From what I had read, it seemed like a slightly more elaborate Kati Roll Co., cheap quick Indian counter service. In and out.
Not only was this a table service restaurant, but it was a table service restaurant that had been open for three days and still working out some very tangled kinks. We were joined by the lovely Kate Hess, who later that night would be playing the Glenn Close Sr. to my Glenn Close Jr. at the UCB Three on Three tournament. (Leotards 4ever!) John was still schmoozing with his fans after the show and would show up later.
Masalawala is owned by a charming man from the city of Kolkata (Calcutta for you Imperialist pigs) who was obviously very proud of his restaurant. The exposed brick, rich brown palate, and Impressionistic painting of an outdoor market keeps the décor simple and modern but still distinctly Indian. He told us a bit of his history and flirted with the ladies, but one thing he did not do was take our order. That task was given to a friendly but sedated white dude who Bridgid commented had probably not only not waited tables before, but had no familiarity with the profession in general.
We ordered a variety of kati rolls, samosas, a lentil curry, a chicken kulcha and two chaats: one bhel for the table and one dahi for Bridgid TO GO. Because she had to GO. I’m sure some Indian food expert has described chaats more eloquently than I will, but they are basically bits of potato and crispy rice things covered with several different colored chutneys. They are messy and delicious, varied in taste, texture, and temperature. But I don’t understand how they qualify as street food unless you’re actually sitting down on a street with a spoon and a bib.
The clock ticked. John came in, happy that I ordered for him, and we sat discussing the possible fines and punishments for not returning a Zipcar on time. I don’t think Bridgid would mind me describing her as a non-confrontational person, and I could see her silently stew as we waited. As she realized she couldn’t wait any longer, the first food arrived at our table. Three kati rolls, two lamb and one potato. Bridgid grabbed a lamb one and bolted, ready to face the New York traffic and possible wrath of Zipcar. Between chews of the rolls (very tasty) we informed our bearded tortoise of a waiter that it was no longer necessary to pack the dahi chaat to go.
Eons later, after a heated customer/owner squabble over the precise meaning of “comes with rice OR naan,” a quick bathroom visit by an unverified prostitute, and several phone order pickups, we were served the chaats: Bhel and Dahi, indistinguishable from one another but both colorful and delicious. We ate ravenously, with great purpose but little focus. In seconds both plates were clean and we were sated, still puzzled but no longer annoyed at the glacial pace of the meal.
“Did you order anything else?” Joey Xanax asked sincerely, heartbreakingly.
“Yes,” I said a little too cheerfully between gritted teeth. “The dal makhani (creamy lentils) and chicken naan.”
He stared at me like I just asked him to recite the square root of James Buchanan’s secretary of State. After a pause, “Chicken naan? We don’t have chicken naan”
I grabbed a menu in desperation. “Kulcha, chicken kulcha, the BREAD with the CHICKEN in it.” My mistake. Who do I fucking look like, Indira Ghandi?
Eventually the lentils came, the kulcha came. After another inquiry we even received rice. Bridgid called. “I returned the car and am at the (Chelsea) theater.”
“WE JUST GOT OUR FOOD,” Kate answered into her phone, somewhere between laughter and tears.
Bridgid: I have never been told I’m non-confrontational, but is that a Catch 22? Well… this restaurant was a light shade of nightmare. The owner was so sweet (see: flirty) and gave us free shots of lassi. The food took so long that I my stress-flooded brain rendered it tasteless blood sugar elevation. I worry for this nice man’s future as a businessman. All I remember are crunchy sprinkly rice thangs on John’s dish and an oil painting of a chef that displeased me. Never to return!