Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on November 2007
With a restaurant as hyped and popular as Tokyo Midtown’s Nirvana NY, it’s difficult not to arrive with lofty expectations. Given that we had twice been unsuccessful at securing a reservation, we showed up for a recent dinner with high hopes. Overall, we left happy, but with a sense that this celebrated Indian restaurant had missed opportunities to outshine its army of competitors.
If you’re looking to impress a date or business associate, Nirvana NY is an excellent choice. The soundtrack is Sinatra and Co. at the perfect volume, getting into your thoughts but not interrupting conversation. The nighttime views are stellar. Thanks to a conspicuous lack of tall buildings on the horizon due east of Midtown, this is one of the few places in Tokyo to enjoy the skyline from such a low perch. The dimly lit, lavishly appointed art deco interior is exquisite. And the prices are suitably high—because hey, potential partners deserve to be spoiled.
The best item on the menu could well be the vegetable and mushroom biriyani (¥2,200). Big enough for two, this cast-iron vessel of baked rice was filled with buried treasures like cashews, peas, okra, mushrooms, carrots, baby corn and paneer cheese.
Yet it’s hard to ignore that one could enjoy all the delicacies of the ¥2,000 daily lunch buffet for less than the price of this single dish. For those of us on a budget, the best strategy for enjoying Nirvana NY is to go for either the buffet or the weekday happy hour, when the comfy couches on the wooden terrace are open (though chilly), and drinks and a selection of appetizers are just ¥500 apiece.
But back to our meal, which we began with a Mojito (¥1,050, very strong) and Lime Breeze (¥850, less so) to go with the mandatory “snack” of deep-fried roti flatbread with four chutneys: mango, coconut, mint and cayenne curry.
The salad was a toss-up (sorry) between the garden and the mix bean (both ¥1,400), and next came the biriyani, followed by an entrée of three pieces of tandoori oven-roasted vegetables (¥1,600). Here, we witnessed the restaurant’s struggle between the good and the great, as the decidedly average tomato and zucchini arrived with the stellar baked potato stuffed with paneer and green peas.
The curries and naan (¥450) arrived last: okra and onion (¥1,700) and black lentil (¥1,500). Our high hopes for the former went unmet, but the savory lentil curry allowed us to end the meal on a high note.
With so much going for it, Nirvana NY is like a sleeping giant—poised to ascend to its rightful perch in the hierarchy of the city’s dining scene, but not quite there yet.