It’s with some amusement that Priya Kapoor-Salian considers the current popularity of Indian cuisine in America.
“It’s everywhere,” said the 34-year-old owner of RaaSa, a contemporary Indian restaurant in Elmsford.
From a new crop of restaurants boasting regional Indian specialties to the ubiquitous displays of ready-to-eat saag paneer and chicken tikka masala on grocery store shelves to the hot bar at Whole Foods featuring a variety of Indian dishes, the mainstreaming of food from her motherland was not something she’d predicted as a school girl in the 90’s in Chappaqua.
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Kapoor-Salian, who graduated Horace Greeley High School in 2002, distinctly remembers her friends being “grossed out” by her lunch when she brought Indian food to school.
“They’d say, ‘you smell of curry,’” she said, laughing.
Today, her curry, among other dishes, has gained a legion of fans and a “Very Good” rating for RaaSa from the New York Times.
“Whenever we go there, it’s exciting” said RaaSa regular Jim Foy, former CEO of St. John’s Riverside Hospital, St. John’s Riverside Hospital, Community Hospital at Dobbs Ferry and Yonkers General Hospital and a Dobbs Ferry resident.
Priya Kapoor-Salian, owner of RaaSa, an Indian restaurantBuy Photo
Priya Kapoor-Salian, owner of RaaSa, an Indian restaurant in Elmsford, photographed July 12, 2018. Kapoor-Salian, who grew up in Chappaqua, opened the restaurant three years ago. (Photo: Seth Harrison/The Journal News)
The initial lack of enthusiasm from her high school friends didn’t put a damper on Kapoor-Salian’s spirits as she pursued her interest in cooking.
She’d learn from her mom and cook one family meal a week in their Pleasantville home – but it would have a unique twist.
“We ate Indian food that my mom cooked every day,” said Kapoor-Salian. “So I’d try to mix it up by incorporating different spices.”
She remembers a recipe she concocted using Cajun spices with garam masala being a bit hit.
Samunder Se, which is lobster, scallops, and shrimpBuy Photo
Samunder Se, which is lobster, scallops, and shrimp in a coconut milk sauce with indian spices, is one of the items on the menu at RaaSa, an Indian restaurant in Elmsford, photographed July 12, 2018. Priya Kapoor-Salian, who grew up in Chappaqua, opened the restaurant three years ago. (Photo: Seth Harrison/The Journal News)
No one in her family was in the restaurant business (her mom works as a substitute teacher in the Chappaqua school district and her dad owns a printing press business), so she said pursuing a career as an restaurateur had never crossed her mind.
Instead, enrolled in college for a degree in education. But a year into the program, she dropped out. Her heart was not in it.
Throughout school, Kapoor-Salian said she’d always been “just an average” student. That changed when she enrolled at a culinary school in Manhattan (the now-defunct Katherine Gibbs College).
“I was passionate about it and I started doing very well,” she said. “I made the Dean’s list.”
After spending a year working at small restaurants learning the ropes, from bussing and dishwashing to serving as a hostess, she moved to Phoenix to work at the J. W. Marriott hotel.
She rose through the ranks to a supervisory role. It was there that she met her future husband, Ashok Salian, who had been transferred from the J.W. Marriott in Mumbai, India.
When an opportunity to work at Tamarind, a Micheline starred Indian restaurant in the Flatiron district came up, she moved back to New York.
There, under the tutelage of owner Avtar Walia, Kapoor-Salian said she learned the ins and outs of running restaurants.
Awadhi Dum, a roasted lamb shank, is one of the itemsBuy Photo
Awadhi Dum, a roasted lamb shank, is one of the items on the menu at RaaSa, an Indian restaurant in Elmsford, photographed July 12, 2018. Priya Kapoor-Salian, who grew up in Chappaqua, opened the restaurant three years ago. (Photo: Seth Harrison/The Journal News)
“Mr. Walia knew my goal was to open up my own place one day, and so he would find opportunities for me to train in all the different areas of the business,” she said. “He was a perfectionist and I learned a lot from him.”
She continued with the restaurant at their current location in Tribecca, serving as a hostess and supervisor.
By now, her husband also had started working at Tamarind Tribecca. Soon the two were scouting locations for their own place.
|by Steve Radcliffe; The New York Times|
In 1998, when Peter Beck was the chef at the Indian restaurant Chola in Manhattan, Ruth Reichl, then The New York Times’s restaurant critic, regarded it highly enough to give it two stars.
In 2010, when Mr. Beck was the chef at Tamarind Tribeca, the Times critic Sam Sifton gave that restaurant two stars.
This column does not use that rating system, but the Very Good for RaaSa in Elmsford, where Mr. Beck is now the chef, is undoubtedly two-star territory.
“One of the most appealing aspects of Chola is the sheer breadth of the menu, which allows you to take an edible tour of India,” Ms. Reichl wrote in her review, and Mr. Beck has carried that concept to many of his kitchens (he also was the chef at Benares in Midtown Manhattan, whose website still credits him with its menu).
At RaaSa, he said on the phone after my visits, “I’m trying to bring regional food from every state so that people know there is another side to Indian cuisine” beyond the more familiar dishes from the northern part of the country.
Mr. Beck is particularly interested in seafood. “I try to promote the coastal regions” of India, he said.
So let’s start there, with perfectly seared kalonji scallops, their natural sweetness balanced by a tomato chutney made with peppery onion seeds (the kalonji of the title). Or begin with one of Mr. Beck’s signature dishes, Chennai jhinga, with flavorful shrimp atop a pancake made with rice and lentils and dressed in a sauce of coconut and avocado that somehow manages to be simultaneously light and rich. (There’s no reason I can think of not to order both.)
For a seafood entrée, Mr. Beck marinates branzino and cooks it on medium heat on a griddle called a tawa, which gives the fish a crisp exterior while keeping it moist; he serves it with a lively tangle of peppers and onions along with haricots verts and roasted potatoes. It’s a terrific plate of food.
There’s more of that good shrimp in one of the biryanis served here (prepared in the traditional Hyderabadi way, with a pot-pie-like dome of pastry over the fragrant rice), and on a substantial mixed tandoor plate that also features salmon, lamb sausages, and chicken (boneless pieces of which had a mealy texture usually attributable to too much time in a marinade).
Mr. Beck also emphasizes vegetarian dishes at RaaSa, including his bright version of lasoni gobi (cauliflower florets in a bustling sauce) and ambiya tikki, the tasty cakes of roasted beets and mango that have been an essential entry on a number of his menus (the recipe is his creation). The sauce for the former includes ginger, garlic, green chiles, roasted cumin powder and, for a hit of sourness, a little vinegar; the latter is seasoned with coriander, ginger, garlic and ajwain, a sharp counterpoint to the lush fruit.
Mr. Beck is a spice maestro who seems to know exactly when to turn up the heat. Case in point: the eggplant dish from Hyderabad called baghara baigan, the sauce for which includes peanuts, fenugreek seeds, sesame — so far, so good — and, playing the role of an accelerant, roasted whole red chiles.
A friend I was dining with took several bites and appreciatively proclaimed, “This is another level.” (I believe the technical term would be: Smokin’!)
Other enjoyable entrees are not as bold, though none I had were shy: the moderately hot lamb dish aatu kulambu, in a gravy with red chiles; the korma lazeez, chicken in a sauce with saffron and crunchy cashews; and a delicious version of the Mangalorean dish kori gassi, buttery chicken cooked with coconut, curry leaves and star anise.
This incarnation of RaaSa opened in March; Priya Kapoor-Salian and her husband Ashok Salian are the owners. She grew up in Chappaqua; he grew up in a restaurant family in India. They met Mr. Beck when all three worked at Tamarind Tribeca. Much of the remodeling of a building that housed a restaurant called Malabar Hill was done before Ms. Kapoor-Salian and Mr. Salian took over; they redid the chairs and got rid of the wallpaper save for the stuff that looks like bookshelves (and which could be the library if you want to play an outsize edition of Clue).
It’s a comfortable room with well-spaced tables and plenty of light from large windows (though it should be said that service does not yet match the quality of the food — it’s friendly but jumbled).
There’s roster of pleasant wines by the glass, beers on tap and, to start a meal, a very good ginger-lime martini (the cocktail list is the work of Mr. Salian).
To end, there are Mr. Beck’s takes on traditional Indian desserts, including the deeply sweet yogurt dish called shrikhand. He also turns out a delightful disc of kubani double mitha, the Hyderabadi apricot bread pudding, here served with whipped cream and dabs of apricot jam.
It’s nothing really complicated, but after a meal of memorably vivid flavors, it’s the right kind of cool.
A Michelin-starred chef makes the Elmsford Indian restaurant a destination—even without a buffet.
|by Leslie-Anne Brill; Westchester Magazine|
Indian restaurants that don’t offer a buffet have to be especially good. The new owners of RaaSa, Ashok Salian and Priya Kapoor-Salian, have put the kibosh on the buffet, but brought in Michelin-starred Chef Peter Beck (he scored his stars at Benares and at Tamarind Tribeca, which they helped launch). Wisely, they kept the décor from the previous incarnation. That restaurant with the book-spine wallpaper and hanging birdcages we wrote about last year? That’s the one.
Our vegetarian entrée, malai paneer, was superb (and even better as leftovers the next day. Or was it that same night?). Paneer is an ensemble player in deftly made balls submerged in sauce whose cream, spices, and vegetables speak out in equal turns. Pomegranate-infused chicken kabobs over green masala sauce were not the skewers we envisioned, but a stack of puck-shaped kofte-style meatballs, beautifully spiced. (Next time we will avoid getting two meatball-type dishes and try something like lamb chops tandoori.) Sea bass simmered in onion, tomato, coconut, and chili sauce is also on the lunch menu (the highest-priced item, at $14) that, unlike dinner, includes a dosa platter and entrée salads.One might be perfectly happy with a small-plates dinner. We didn’t expect to tussle over lasoni gobi, batter-fried cauliflower infused with garlic, ginger, jalapeño, and black pepper, surprisingly mild and ever so slightly crispy under tangy sauce—one of the best iterations we’ve tried. We were charmed by the Chat Corner—a section of the menu devoted to the street foods of India—and enjoyed a samosa-based chat. Less common choices include roasted beets spiced with ajwain (an herb) and stuffed with fresh mango relish; lump crab meat tossed in roasted coconut with black pepper, mustard, and curry leaves; and minced lamb with green herbs and pineapple. Captain Lawrence on draft (though they never did get back to me about which one), size small or large, seals the deal.
Our vegetarian entrée, malai paneer, was superb (and even better as leftovers the next day. Or was it that same night?). Paneer is an ensemble player in deftly made balls submerged in sauce whose cream, spices, and vegetables speak out in equal turns. Pomegranate-infused chicken kabobs over green masala sauce were not the skewers we envisioned, but a stack of puck-shaped kofte-style meatballs, beautifully spiced. (Next time we will avoid getting two meatball-type dishes and try something like lamb chops tandoori.) Sea bass simmered in onion, tomato, coconut, and chili sauce is also on the lunch menu (the highest-priced item, at $14) that, unlike dinner, includes a dosa platter and entrée salads.
I will pause now to tell you to get the mango shrikhand dessert—strained yogurt made with mango pulp and cardamom, topped with sliced mango—whose mouthfeel goes into some stretchy, chewy realm not entirely familiar to Western palates. Ten desserts, several house-made, include another pleasing palate stretcher, kulfi falooda (an Indian adaptation of a Persian dessert): pistachio ice cream (the kulfi) garnished with vermicelli noodles (the falooda), tapioca seeds, and rose syrup. In future visits we would certainly get to the apricot bread pudding, chocolate soufflé with rose petal ice cream, and orange-flavored panna cotta, with a cup of masala chai.
145 Main St, Elmsford
(914) 347-7890; www.raasany.com
Link to original article: http://www.westchestermagazine.com/Blogs/Eat-Drink-Post/August-2015/RaaSa-Has-New-Ownership-But-Same-Upscale-Indian-Dining-And-Flair/
(Elmsford, NY) – The name RaaSa is soon to be on the lips of every foodie in Westchester, as the restaurant in Elmsford nears its May 12th Ribbon Cutting date. The event will make official the re-launch of the business under new ownership, and with a Michelin Star awarded, and James Beard Foundation recognized executive chef at the helm.
The restaurant on East Main Street in Elmsford has worn the name RaaSa since Spring 2014, succeeding the former Malabar Hill that occupied the same space. Though the name will be unchanged, the menu, the décor, and the restaurants mission are all new. In this incarnation, RaaSa stands poised to join the highest echelons of Westchester’s fine dining establishments.
RaaSa’s new owners, Ashok Salian and his wife Priya Kapoor-Salian have very lofty goals for RaaSa indeed, goals that are brought well into reach by the addition of the renowned Chef Peter Beck to RaaSa’s kitchen. Ashok, speaking about Chef Beck, shared:
“We brought Chef Beck in because of his flavors, because of his incredible skills, but also because his vision and our vision for RaaSa fused so well.”
Chef Peter Beck was born in New Delhi, India, and has excited palates around the globe, with stops in the U.K., Singapore, Hong Kong, and Thailand, among others before settling here in the United States. Chef Beck has been responsible for elevating Indian Cuisine in New York City, where he was noted as one of the James Beard Foundation’s “Top Chefs of 2002”. Chef Beck is a culinary innovator whose restaurants in New York have garnered numerous accolades, including elusive Michelin Stars at Tamarind and Benares.
Chef Beck speaking of his vision for the future of RaaSa in Westchester, said;
“At RaaSa I want to do something different. India is very big, and most Indian restaurants focus on the food of one region. I want to bring together flavors and ingredients from across the many regions of India. I want to bring together the ingredients of a Michelin Star restaurant to Westchester. It’s not just about the food, it is about the plating, atmosphere, the service, it is about creating an overall experience,”
RaaSa’s husband and wife ownership team have a background in hospitality and specifically in fine dining. Ashok attended culinary school in India, before moving to the U.S., his wife Priya studied culinary arts in New York. The two first met while working for J.W. Marriott in Phoenix, and were later part of the team that launched highly acclaimed Tamarind Tribeca, where they first met Chef Beck. The couple works closely to manage RaaSa, and each plays to their individual strengths. Priya manages the front-of-house and oversees RaaSa’s catering program, while Ashok is responsible for back-of-house operations, as well as being RaaSa’s mixologist, creator of their fantastic cocktail menu.
The restaurant is currently in a soft-open, as Chef Beck and his team prepare for RaaSa’s re-launch on the Westchester dining scene. The Ribbon Cutting will be on Tuesday, May 12th from 6:00 to 8:00 PM, and will be emceed by radio host and food writer Kate Schlientz.
Media and public are welcome; RaaSa is located at 145 East Main Street, Elmsford NY.
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