Masalawala & Sons
At this point, Unapologetic Foods, the team behind Dhamaka, Semma, and Adda, knows their brand. They serve hyper-specific regional Indian food that you can’t help but describe in great detail to everyone you know for months after you eat it.
The bar is set (very) high, and their latest spot, Masalawala & Sons, unsurprisingly meets it. This time, they reimagine some of their childhood staples from Kolkata and the surrounding region of West Bengal, and, with a little more breathing room in Brooklyn, the space is also fun to eat in.
Of all of their outstanding restaurants serving food reminiscent of Indian homestyle cooking, this is the only one where you actually feel like you’re eating in someone’s home. It’s like you’ve been invited to a special family function where you’ll sit under a wedding party’s worth of gajras next to a mural featuring the man who inspired much of the food on the menu (the owner's father). In the back, more rainbow-bright murals surround an outdoor patio, where the people next to you won’t mind if you join the audience watching a waiter shave fresh coconut meat into the shrimp curry at their table.
Masalawala's inventive, mostly Kolkata-inspired dishes deserve a mural of their own. Focus on the first two sections of the menu packed with small and midsize plates that all seem to be competing for best in show. When it comes to Bengali food, fish is king, and the spicy biyebarir fish fry, incredibly airy steamed bhetki, and small bowls of smoky macher dim are all really special. If you want to venture out of the sea, order the keema kaleji. The cardamom-spiced goat and lamb becomes three times silkier after a fresh egg is mixed in tableside.
You’re going to have a memorable experience at every Unapologetic Foods restaurant. But of all of their spots, this one feels the most mellow, like the kind of place where you could pop in once a week and ask a the server how their dog is doing. Masalawala & Sons not only serves spectacular food. It's also a great hang.
This dish involves some ceremony. Your waiter brings you half of a hollowed-out young coconut full of fragrant green curry, then proceeds to peel the last of the meat off the coconut's walls. The result is a spice-packed curry with strips of coconut that have texture of fresh noodles. Eat the shells and heads of the prawns for maximum flavor and some added crunchy texture.
Consider yourself lucky if you manage to get the macher dim. The kitchen makes just a few orders a night, and it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll find this special dish at another restaurant. A sack of fish roe is poached in a smoky, mustard-spiced tomato curry and served with kalajeera rice. We’re not sure when we’ll get to have this again, and we’re already referring to it as “the one that got away.”
After one bite of this, you’ll kick yourself for filling up on too many small plates. The kosha mangsho comes with tender, smoky braised lamb in a thick, concentrated masala sauce in which you’ll find cardamom, bay leaves, and the occasional bit of bone marrow. Get a side of puffy luchi to eat it with.
Order the keema kaleji and you'll get a super hot plate with minced goat and liver in a thick, silky sauce that gets some smokiness from black cardamom and cloves. Stir in the freshly cracked egg that’s been slowly poaching in the sauce for a super creamy spread to slather onto a buttery pao.
You’d be surprised at how many tapioca pearls they can fit into this vada, bound together by potatoes and given a good fry to make a very dunkable snack. You get a nice crispy outside and gooey inside, with some cumin-spiced yogurt for dipping.
Unwrap these banana leaves to find a chunk of barramundi that’s been slathered in a spicy mustard paste and steamed until it feels airy, almost whipped. The fish is full of flavor and melts like butter.
Compared to all the special seafood dishes on the menu, this red chile chicken seems like a boring choice, but it’s really freaking good. We’d order rarer finds first, but if you’re in the mood for chicken, you won’t be disappointed by this.
Light, airy, and not too sweet, this rose milk will surprise you when you taste the bit of masala mixed in. It's got a unique flavor that isn't at all what we expected, and it's more memorable than any of their cocktails.