After 20 years running a slew of successful restaurants in Toronto including Goa Indian Farm Kitchen, Popa Burmese Kitchen and Amaya Express chef Hemant Bhagwani has opened a sprawling 7,000-square-foot eatery in New York.
“This is a very big step in my life,” said Bhagwani, who’s latest eatery opened its doors on Feb. 14. “I’ve been trying for the last five or six years to open a restaurant in New York and I wanted to see how Indian food could be done here. And of course, I love New York.”
Bhagwani who owns 37 restaurants in Canada, now calls New York home — he’s purchased an apartment with plans to reside in the city until the new restaurant gets on its feet. He says that the Indian food scene in the city is quite different than the one found in Toronto.
“There’s much more of a buzz around Indian food in Toronto and I do feel the food is better here,” he said. “But I do feel that New York is just getting into it and starting to step up their game now.”
Located in the city’s Tribeca neighbourhood, the stunning bi-level space features vibrant pops of colours, custom-designed lighting, wall projections and art installations. The space also features an open kitchen, which according to Bhagwani, makes it different from the other Indian restaurants in the city.
“It’s very hip, it’s very young. In India, Goa is like Miami, it’s a party place,” he said. “I’ve created a very modern restaurant but it’s still got the authenticity of Goa.”
As for the menu, Bhagwani says it’s similar to the one found found at Goa Toronto with a more elevated dine-in experience. Guests can expect modern and playful takes on Indian cooking which reflects Bhagwani’s travels, including trips to Europe, Australia, the Middle East as well as his time spent living in Canada.
Highlights include new dishes like the lobster idli xec xec, a dish made with black pepper spice lobster in Goan coconut xec xec curry and rice cakes; village fish curry comprised of whole branzino marinated and grilled in a banana leaf with Ambotik curry featuring tamarind and Kashmiri chili poured table side; and Bhagwani’s charcoal-grilled legendary lamb chops a dish he has served for 20 years.
“The numbers have ben great, since I’ve opened we’ve been packed – it’s very hard to make a reservation,” he said. “Tribeca has treated me very well, the neighbourhood is so amazing and I’ve run into so many people from Toronto who now live in New York. It’s been an amazing welcome.”
The space, too, reflects the bohemian vibe found in the popular Western Indian state. Soaring above the entrance is a sculpture entitled “The Dance of the Peacocks” which pays homage to the Japanese traditions of origami and kirigami. And on the first floor, guests will find “The Tree of Life” constructed with white birch branches and inspired by the famous century-old banyan tree in Arambol, Goa that attracts visitors from around the world for yoga and meditation.
As busy as he is with the NYC venture, Bhagwani is not slowing down. In four months he will open Bar Goa in Toronto which will be located at 36 Toronto St., which he says will be similar to Alo Bar but with elevated, high-end Indian food.
Bhagwani applauds Toronto for the launch of Michelin Guide, and says his reason for opening a restaurant in New York was to earn a coveted star.
“Being awarded a Michelin would be my last hurrah in life. I’m striving for it, I’m going to go for it,” he said.
Goa New York is located at 78 Leonard St.