NYCReview

Dhamaka review image

Dhamaka
8.6

Indian in Lower East Side

$$$$

Get Directions  |   212-204-8616  |  Website

    Perfect for
  • Birthdays
  • Date Night
  • Dinner with the Parents
  • Impressing Out of Towners
  • Vegetarians

Can one of the most memorable meals of your year possibly take place in a food hall? Who’s to say that goat kidneys can’t garner mainstream fangirl-ing on the Lower East Side? Or that a whole yogurt-marinated rabbit inspired by a Rajasthani hunting dish won’t be booked by a party a month before dinner? These are the questions that eating at Dhamaka triggers, and then, maybe a day or so after your meal, implicitly answers. A lot of New York restaurants serve exciting food, but few hack away at what you know to be true about Manhattan’s dining scene. That’s the phenomenon of Dhamaka, an Indian restaurant that says, “I’ll see your butter chicken and raise you one goat testicle.”

This spot in Essex Market is from the team behind some of our other favorite Indian restaurants in the city, Adda in Long Island City and Semma in Greenwich Village. The menu pieces together regional specialties from all over India, and, in one meal, you could very well try dishes associated with four or five different areas of the country. Some of them will be virtually impossible to find elsewhere in New York City, let alone in many other American cities — and that’s kind of the whole point. Dhamaka’s website claims, “This is the other side of India, the forgotten side of India.” You won’t see the predominantly-Northern dishes you may be used to ordering at your neighborhood Indian restaurant on the menu here. You won’t miss them, either.

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One of the things that makes Dhamaka so special is the cumulative effect of zig-zagging from bright, chutney-kissed seafood to garam masala-heavy stews and tandoori meats. Start with chaat that’s popular in Maharashtra, then move onto Goan-influenced grilled tiger prawns and fried pomfret. Next, split a goat belly seekh kebab and a bath of paneer methi from the North, and round things out with a subtly-sweet, baked chenna poda from Odisha in the East. If you’re with a big group, get your table committed to tender goat kidneys and testicles served in a fragrant onion and tomato gravy alongside ghee-shimmering pao. You’ll want to ping pong between all of these things and then take a couple minutes to spill your secrets to the crunchy whole paplet dusted in cumin, too.

But, wait, there’s more. To skip out on Dhamaka’s family-style claypots and rice dishes would be like taking the time to train a dog only to realize it’s actually a hamster: you’ve come so far only to miss something pivotal. We especially love the soft blocks of housemade paneer in a creamy cashew-fenugreek bath, as well as the murgh kofta — a baseball-sized hunk of ground chicken with a hardboiled egg hiding in the center. Cutting into the rich eggy interior might make you feel temporarily responsible for reuniting mother and child. If that tickles you, wonderful. If not, just eat it and forget we said anything.

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Dhamaka — along with other impressive food hall restaurants like Kelewele in DeKalb Market and Peoples Wine Bar on the basement level of Essex Market — proves that you can in fact have an incredible meal in a space next to a closed florist stall where a security guard is playing games on their phone. It’s also worth mentioning that a meal at Dhamaka will cost you considerably more money than you’ve ever spent in a food hall — or even on a regular old Wednesday night. (In our experiences, meals here have totaled roughly $100 per person, including tip and drinks). Treat dinner like a feast, rather than a casual catch-up meal with a friend, and be aware that there’s nothing too sexy or intimate about Dhamaka’s jumbo, color-blocked dining room. You should bring people here for beautifully-cooked goat and paneer, not to be dazzled by the space.

New York has plenty of restaurants serving regional Indian food. You can eat Southern-style dosas and rasa vada at Ganesh Temple Canteen in Flushing, vegetarian Gujarati thalis at Vatan in Kips Bay, Chinese and Nepalese-influenced noodles at Delhi Heights in Jackson Heights. But few NYC restaurants make such an obvious effort to take on India’s unfathomably wide array of specialties like Dhamaka does. And even fewer do it with a packed dining room every night of the week. Here’s to hoping there are more to come.

Food Rundown

Beguni

This mustardy beguni dish makes a compelling case to replace all the world’s triangles with fried eggplant. Each piece melts and mushes like it’s a parent watching their child run the New York City Marathon. You’ll get plenty of face-tightening kasundi in the actual fry batter, as well as in the bright yellow dipping sauce.

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Paplet Fry

The other fried starter we can’t endorse highly enough, this crispy whole white fish is roughly as large as Big Bird’s hand. It’s one of the milder things you can eat at Dhamaka, but that’s not to say it’s flavorless. Add some marinated and spiced red onions along with a slap of green mint chutney to each forkful.

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Gurda Kapoora

Regardless of whether or not you already lead a life chocked full of balls, get the gurda kapoora. This goat testicle and kidney dish exemplifies Dhamaka’s best cooking qualities: balanced food that you’re probably not eating elsewhere. It comes in a chunky tomato-based sauce full of ginger and garlic that you’ll want to soak up with buttery pao buns, as well as iron-y rich testicles and kidneys in a thin casing. Our only regret is not ordering rice on the side.

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Doh Kleh

Between all the tiny green chili coins, crunchy raw red onions, and fatty pieces of pork, this lime-heavy Northeastern Indian dish might remind you of laab. Which makes sense, since Meghalaya (the Indian state where the dish is popular) is geographically closer to Myanmar and Thailand than it is to many major Indian cities. This is one of the spicier dishes we’ve eaten here, but it’s a completely different kind of electric heat than the warming slow burn of most of Dhamaka’s food.

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Bharela Marcha

Three bright orange peppers are stuffed with a thick paste made from cinnamon, peanuts, ginger, and chili peppers. The pepper itself tastes as mild as a bell pepper, but the inside will start to torment your throat after a couple seconds. If you enjoy spicy food, consider this an unmissable order.

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Goat Belly Seekh

Each order comes with one crumbly log of fatty, cumin-spiced goat belly wrapped in torched bamboo (and some of the profits from this dish benefit City Harvest). If you’re with one other person, splitting a single order should be just fine. This dish is pretty savory and filling.

Tabak Maaz

Meet our favorite grilled meat at Dhamaka. These dry-rubbed lamb ribs are slow roasted for six hours, with tons of fennel seed and Kashmiri chilis. You can try to pick these up, but the meat is going to flail off of the bone. That should give you a sense of how tender these are.

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Paneer Methi

Dhamaka’s soft, salted paneer made us realize how unimpressive the paneer of our past has been. Sort of like when you invest in a bathrobe, then notice how scratchy your Mets pajama t-shirt feels by comparison. They make the paneer in house, then drop the rectangular blocks into a tangy cashew cream with fenugreek, which lets the cheese soak up all the cumin flavoring of the vegetables and sauce. If some monster made us choose only one of Dhamaka’s entrees to offer a rose to, it’d be this one.

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Murgh Kofta

This egg-in-the-center Mughlai dish (also called nargisi kofta) allegedly inspired the British to go bonkers over Scotch eggs. Dhamaka’s version arrives with a singular ovoid of coriander-packed minced chicken sitting in a tomato-based curry made with onions, bay leaves, and a big ass cinnamon stick. Your server will cut the egg open in front of you like they’re performing a party trick. Yes, you should ohh and ahh when this happens, as it will scientifically enhance the taste of the dish.

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Pressure Cooker Chicken Pulao

Dhamaka serves two large-format rice dishes, and we think you should pick one rather than go for both (unless you’re dining with a herd of ravenous teenagers or a professional hockey team or something). We’re marginally more excited about the bone-in chicken pulao than the goat neck biryani — the dough-blanketed biryani reminds us of (albeit delicious) dishes we’ve had in the past at Adda and elsewhere around the city. This dish is served directly from a pressure cooker, with long grains that have absorbed a whole pot full of chicken fat and cardamom pods. (There’s also a vegetable option available).

Chena Poda

Dhamaka’s only sweet dish and one of our favorite desserts we’ve had in the last year. This baked cheese has the consistency of a souffle, with a burnt caramelized sugar top. It’s made from a fresh milk base that’s just about to curdle and baked until it’s cake-like in a little clay pot. If you like not-too-sweet desserts, you’ll want to order two.

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Rajasthani Khargosh

You probably can’t eat this 48-hour, yogurt-soaked whole rabbit. Doesn’t that make you want it more? We’ve tried to get our hands on it several times — always unsuccessfully. Dhamaka only makes one a night, and apparently they deny some parties whenever they don’t think they’ll appreciate it enough. If you want to play the $190 rabbit odds, you can pre-order this dish on Toast up to two months in advance. But then you’ll have to successfully book a table reservation for your rabbit dinner day, and Dhamaka only releases tables a month out.

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