Desi Shack Has Awesome Paratha Rolls
Meanderings in Midtown East brought me upon Desi Shack (39th and Lex) last week; it caught my attention because the Indian restaurant I’d planned on going to that day was more expensive than I thought and I had to wing it. Last year, Brian compared Desi Shack to an “Indian Chipotle” where the environment is clean and minimalistic and you craft your ingredients to order. At that time, it had only been open a short while, and I thought it deserved a revisit.
I was inspired to order a paratha roll because a few months ago, my coworkers and I tried out the Kati Roll Company and I thought the rolls were too dry. Then I tried Biriyani Cart’s and they were too greasy. A ML reader poll last year gave Biriyani Cart top honors, so maybe I got them on a bad day… but Desi Shack wasn’t on the list, perhaps because they were so new at the time of the poll.
Indeed, the feel was Chipotle-esque. Even more so because the first thing they did was warm the paratha on the open-and-shut flat grill, then they passed the paratha down the assembly line and asked for my advice at each stop. Exact same model.
Prices were a bit steep at $5.00 or more per roll, but you get $1 off the rolls if you order 2. This equates roughly with Kati Roll Company, although KRC has more options to choose from, thus a broader price range. But the difference with Desi Shack is that individuality — you get to decide what goes in the roll. You know what you like, and you’re the only one who’s gonna to eat it, so go crazy.
Your choices are chicken tikka, paneer (cheese), aloo (potato), and lamb. Then you can add up to two veg: mixed salad, sauteed peppers and onions, corn salad, hot green chiles, and thinly sliced red onion. Finally, you’ve got a choice of sauces. Cucumber yogurt is mild, cilantro mint is medium, green chili coconut is hot, and red chili is extra hot. (There’s more fun stuff besides rolls available, and the full menu on their website.)
I ordered the paneer with sliced onion and cucumber yogurt and the chicken tikka with sauteed peppers and onions and green chili coconut. They were reasonably sized rolls.
I’m not sure if it was just the quality of the ingredients or the control I had over the ingredients that went into the roll, but I was very pleased with the meal. Number one, the chicken and cheese were the opposite of dry. The chicken was cooked the way tikka should be–nice and soft with no toughness about it.
The paneer was really something special. The flavor was stronger and in much bigger cubes than any paneer I’ve tried. Delightful.
There might also be something to the practice of preparing the rolls in front of you that makes them taste better. Perhaps because they know you’re watching, so they put on lots of sauce and veg, and the happy consequence is a plump, flavorful roll. The service was quick and friendly, but I’m pretty sure they messed up my sauce, because my green chili coconut sauce tasted awfully minty… if it wasn’t a sauce mix-up or the coconut was undetectable. Either the yogurt sauce on the paneer roll had a cumin flavor or the paneer itself was marinated in it. The paratha roll was very dense and filling but not greasy, and I loved it.
Now, I’m not going to pretend I don’t enjoy me some middlebrow styles now and again. But there’s one thing about Desi Shack that really leaves me scratching my head. Someone forgot to give the place any character. Yep, they swung a little too far to the Chipotle side, in my opinion, and really missed an opportunity to share the true story behind the restaurant. On their website, they’ve tried to craft a narrative to tug at our heartstrings, but it falls flat… and they say they give five cents to every roll, plate, or bowl they sell… admirable, but they fail to mention any nonprofit organization the extra money goes to. In short, they’ve applied corporate PR principles in a half-ass way and very early on. I think they’ve jumped the gun by giving restaurant #1 that kind of feel.
Yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if a place like this, or a place with a similar business model, could be successful as a national chain. It could even be a gateway restaurant to Indian-Pakistani food for people who have never tried it before. I think they could make some headway with the (my estimate) 70% of the US population that has never tried the cuisine or anything like it.
All my best wishes, because the food is really good, and according to their wall-o-praise, others agree. Have you been to Desi Shack yet? What do you think? How do they compare to the other kati rolls around?
Desi Shack, 331 Lexington Ave., 212.867.3374