The Drunken Munkey, like its odd-spelling name, is a quirky, cozy, and charming cocktail restaurant that serves delicious food based on Anglo-Indian recipes from owner Arun Mirchandani’s mother’s kitchen. The word is already out on this little gem, a bright spot on a quiet street in the East 90s, a neighborhood whose dining options have shrunk since construction began on the Second Avenue subway. The place hummed with families and couples the night we were there, amid a general atmosphere of informal bonhomie.
The restaurant is the culmination of a childhood dream of Mirchandani, to open a craft cocktail bar in New York, one inspired by his family’s Anglo-Indian culture and cuisine, as well as the cafes and bistros of Old Bombay.
Immediately noticeable in this relatively small space is the large, impressive and well-stocked bar. It dominates the room. And Mirchandani’s two-page “East India Beverage Selection” boasts a wide variety of exotic Spirits (Fine Rums, over a dozen Single Malt Scotch varieties, Cognacs, Digestifs) plus specialty cocktails and wines. If you’ve been hankering to order a Singapore Sling, a Hemingway Daiquiri, a Pimms No.1 Cup, an Aviation Cocktail, Mulled Port – or the restaurant’s “Paanch of the Week” (the world’s first “documented,” five-ingredient cocktail, which we call Punch, invented in India in the 1600s,) — this is the place for you.
Then there are the restaurant’s distinctive decorative touches, including cricket-ball door handles and elephant coat hooks. Mirchandani has been collecting vintage cocktail glasses and monkey-themed artifacts – from chandelier to wallpaper – ever since he envisioned the restaurant, all of which add to the interior’s unique charm.
The menu is relatively small and well curated. It focuses on classic home-style dishes, some of which are not often found in Indian restaurants. “We wanted it to reflect the way we ate at home,” says Mirchandani, whose mother still stops by once or twice a week, to make sure Executive Chef Derek Alfaro and Chef de Cuisine Chetan Patil, are hewing to her recipes satisfactorily. She is affectionately nicknamed, “The Tongue.”
On the evening we were there, courtesy of the restaurant, we ordered as a first course with our drinks, breaded Tiger Prawns ($12), and a fabulous dish I’d never had before – Crispy Okra ($5) – that turned out to be thinly julienned strips of okra. They are flash fried, with tomatoes and onions, then placed in a napkin to absorb extra oil. What appears on the table is a heaping plate of perfect finger food: light, greaseless, delectable nibbles that are impossible to stop eating.
Of all the main courses we ordered, the Butter Chicken Tikka Masala ($17), cubed tandoori chicken with creamed tomato sauce, was a standout. The smooth, silky sauce, not spicy but well seasoned, was perfect. It was my favorite dish. I also very much enjoyed the spicier Bagara Baigan ($16), coconut curry baby eggplant in a dense peanut sauce. For those whole love shrimp, the Malabar Coastal Shrimp Curry ($19) is terrific. The shrimp were fresh, succulent and plentiful, and the sauce fairly mild. To me, the Braised Lamb Shank Rogan Josh ($19) was good but not great, with the lamb on the dry side.
Dishes are served a la carte, and our entrees came with wedges of delicious Naan bread, an excellent Raita (yoghurt sauce) and buttery ghee rice.
It’s always difficult to choose a wine that works well with Indian food. At the suggestion of the restaurant’s manager, Adrian, we chose a 2011 Argentinean Malbec ($10/40), which went beautifully with our meal.
I couldn’t resist trying one dessert, Gajar Halwa ($6), an unusual carrot pudding flavored with cardamom, rosewater and pistachio. It was delicious.
There are a number of dishes that I’d like to go back and try, among them, one I spotted at the next table, a Chicken Biryani ($15) that looked like Pot Pie, with Naan as the crust.
The Drunken Munkey is a great addition to the Upper East Side, especially to those who crave a place to enjoy quality food and drink late at night, say, after a movie, the theater or a long night at the office: the restaurant is open until 2 a.m. weekdays and 3 a.m. weekends. An ideal hangout for night owls as well as the rest of us.
The Drunken Munkey
338 East 92nd Street (Between 1st and 2nd Avenue)
Open 7 Days A Week: 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. (3 a.m. on weekends)
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag
The post The Drunken Munkey: Anglo-Indian Family Recipes and Craft Cocktails on the Upper East Side appeared first on Woman Around Town.