18 Below Falls Short in Authenticity

Sakshi Venkatraman
18 Below is a new dining hall underneath Torch Club with fancy features such as a flavored water station.

On Tuesday, NYU Dining debuted its newest space located on the lower level of the Torch Club. 18 Below, stylishly named for its address on Waverly Pl., is open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and boasts seasonal, authentic cuisine for the cost of a meal swipe.

The small dining hall is restaurant inspired, featuring tables draped in white cloths and a waitstaff dressed as they would be at an upscale establishment. The walk-in hall offers three themed menus — grain bowls, barbecue and Indian — rotated biweekly. Food is pre-prepared and served upon order from a small window near the back of the room.

In its first week in business, the hall is serving Indian cuisine with the tagline, “Republic of Spice.” The menu consists of dishes such as channa masala, pork vindaloo and tandoori chicken, along with the customer’s choice of rice, naan or greens and a mango, mint or tomato chutney.

As a first time visitor to the establishment, the menu options seemed rather narrow but I was hopeful that the quality of the food would make up for the lack of variety. Unfortunately, what the restaurant claims to be “authentic Indian” fell far short of my expectations.

Renditions of Asian cuisine in the United States often fall short of satisfying the Western palate. They lack the rich flavor and spice that sets Indian food apart. The tandoori chicken salad — a dish that is not normally consumed in India — tastes hardly seasoned, making it a normal grilled chicken salad with a exotic name tacked on it. The channa masala lacks punch as well.

This is not to say the meal was wholly bad; the chicken was perfectly grilled and the salad greens tasted fresh and pair well with the chutney and raita.

What makes the dining experience seem incomplete, however, is the lack of beverage and dessert options. For Indian food, specifically, there is a variety to choose from. An ice-cold mango lassi would have been the perfect companion for the savory dishes, and the dessert options could have been endless.

Overall, the restaurant dining experience was unique and enjoyable, but NYU Dining has shied away from spice and variety in this week’s past menu.

Although the Indian food was lacking, 18 Below’s potential seems promising. I am looking forward to trying out their grain bowl, the extent of their menu and what sides, drinks and desserts they include.

I would definitely recommend this location to someone looking for a formal, restaurant-style setting with an inexpensive price tag and an atmosphere distinct from other dining halls. For authentic Indian, though, maybe look elsewhere.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 11 print edition. Email Sakshi Venkatraman at [email protected]

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1 COMMENT

  1. This article reminded me of my arrival in NY City from Bombay in 1984 and my foray into the city looking for any place that served Indian cuisine.

    In those days, finding an Indian restaurant, even in NY City, was not that easy. And after a lot of inquiry, I found the Madras Woodlands which was located right across from the United Nations. The Iddly, Vadai and Dosai I had there were completely authentic – speaking as someone who had just landed in the US from India. And not surprisingly, they are still in business http://www.madraswoodlands.com/home.html.

    In this review about 18 Below, the author states “Renditions of Asian cuisine in the United States often fall short of satisfying the Western palate. They lack the rich flavor and spice that sets Indian food apart.”. I think what she means is that in an effort to “Americanize” the cuisine to suit the local palate, the Indian chefs tone down the spices making the food somewhat inauthentic, especially to those who know how the food tasted “at home”.

    However, nowadays, with the proliferation of Indian restaurants in all major cities in the US (especially NY City), it is very easy to find all types of authentic Indian cuisine. So 18 Below needs to serve reasonably authentic Indian cuisine to ensure that students who are in a mood for some Indian food don’t decide to just step out and go instead to any of the dozen or more Indian restaurants in the area.

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