Though vegetarian cuisine is becoming more widespread throughout the American culinary scene, the experts at Vatan Indian Restaurant in Murray Hill have been touting it since 1996. Rooted in the traditional cooking of Gujarat, the dinner-only restaurant serves a prix-fixe menu in the Thali style. At an extremely reasonable price point, a selection of individually portioned appetizers arrive on a segmented silver tray, followed by a second selection of entrees with the same set up. Within each course, each dish can be refilled in the manner of a classier all-you-can-eat meal.
The interior of the restaurant itself is impressive, with enormous vaulted ceilings featuring hand painted murals that stretch to the floor. Water jugs and cups are gilded, giving the whole restaurant a majestic feel that transports you off Third Avenue and into an exotic scene from the Gujarati countryside.
There’s a reason a restaurant like Vatan has been a neighborhood institution for more than 20 years, especially considering that it’s a vegetarian restaurant: the food is authentic, and it is excellent.
Here are some of my favorites:
This version of chana masala was different from any I’ve had before – the chickpeas were crispy, and the onions and coriander were fragrant and flavorful. It was one of the best things I ate.
On the menu, this was labeled “steamed flour with spinach”, but had more of a mashed potato consistency, and was a bit of a palette cleanser from the spice of the other dishes.
I’m yet to meet a samosa I don’t like, and these were no exception. These mini versions were wonderful because you can take them down in 2 bites.
Describing something as a “potato cutlet in a white bean sauce” may sound less than appealing, but this dish was anything but. The potato stayed crispy even as it was submerged in a delectable bean dip.
There’s something about spinach at Indian restaurants that is extremely satisfying. This particular dish was served with corn as opposed to paneer, which I’ve never had before, but it was an interesting take on saag.
Though cauliflower is no longer something mushy and bland that your grandmother forces you to eat, it should be said that that was never the case in Indian cuisine, and the ful-cobi at Vatan is a great example. The cauliflower is slightly crispy, served with peas, and doused in a savory tomato-based sauce.
Overall, Vatan gives vegetarian cuisine an excellent name, and at $34 (with free refills!) it’s one of the best deals in the neighborhood. There’s a reason it’s been open since 1996, and its a place I’ll definitely revisit.