Throughout the year, Restaurant Editor Bill Addison will travel the country to chronicle what's happening in America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
It's time for an enterprising chef or restaurateur to rise up and popularize the more pungent regional flavors of India. In the way that Pok Pok's Andy Ricker and others—like Kris Yenbamroong at his Night + Market restaurants in Los Angeles—are moving our notions of Thai food beyond pastel curries and spring rolls, we need some front-and-center restaurants that revel in Indian cooking's feral edges. We taste such an insignificant sliver of the subcontinent's vast cuisines in this country. Most menus cleave to the dairy-rich dishes refined by the Persian-influenced Mughal Empire, which ruled India from its northern roost for four centuries. It takes hunting, usually through an Indian neighborhood in a major city, to find the humble places that serve Kerala dried shrimp curry in coconut gravy, or fish cooked with heady mustard oil from Calcutta, or the Mumbai version of the street snack pani puri—fried shells filled with cubed potatoes and black chickpeas and doused with a green liquid hinting of sulfur from kala namak, or black salt.