Hell's Kitchen, NY -- short of visiting a Dhaba in India for authentic Punjabi fare, simply hop aboard a train to Penn Station for a trip to Patiala. Nestled comfortably along the hustle and bustle of 34th Street and 9th Avenue, Patiala is Hell's Kitchen's newest takeout restaurant offering home-style Punjabi cuisine that's big on flavor but small on price. Slow-cooked is the name of the game, but convenience reigns supreme -- the lightning quick service here ensures that little time is wasted not enjoying your food. But don’t let the fast lines fool you; the attention to quality and emphasis on both freshness and flavor is evident from the moment you walk in.
Behold the enormous tandoor oven, flamingly hot, and aptly suited to cook each made-to-order Naan (leavened flat bread) in 2 minutes flat. A variety is offered here (plain, garlic, and onion), but we sampled the traditional plain Naan, and found its crisp shell, (highlighted by a welcome smothering of butter) and soft pillowy interior impossibly delicious all on its own. It’s a taste and texture that can only come from fiery hot temps, so an authentic tandoor oven ensures optimal cook-time, accentuating the many nuances and flavors of something so inherently simple.
It’s earthy, neutral flavor and perfect form made it our go-to utensil for scooping the juicy chunks of chicken in our Tikka Masala. While ubiquitous, Patiala's manager Govind assured me their Tikka Masala was the real deal; creamy, smoky, with a whisper of heat, the tart from the yogurt paired well with the sweetness of the tomatoes. It's no wonder chef and owner Darshan Kaur Puri takes 3 painstaking hours each day just to make the sauce. The accompanying side of Saag Paneer (spinach & cheese) was equally flavorful. Much like creamed spinach, the density makes it hearty, and with chunks of cheese suspended within, we quickly forgot our carnivorous ways.
The décor is appreciably minimialist, with a large wooden table (seating 10) reminiscent of the plethora of Dhabas all over India. For a cool $8, you can build your own boxed lunch from a host of options, including vegan, chicken, tikka, biryani, and more. With a rotation of weekly specials and quick take-out service, Patiala ensures midtowners are treated to a delicious slow-cooked meal any day of the week. And for those thinking dinner, the same boxed sets are available until 9:30PM everyday. It's one of the better Indian restaurants outside of Curry Row with a low price of admission that reflects little on the quality and taste of the food.