When Ayesha Kiani opened Chal Chilli, a Thai-Indian fusion restaurant tucked among the paan shops and puri houses of Murray Hill, she was on a mission. She wanted to fulfill her Pakistani mother’s long-time dream of opening a restaurant in Manhattan, a place that represented the pinnacle of all things American to her.
A year passed after launching and Kiani wasn’t getting the footfall she wanted, so she called on chef Ching-He Huang and crew from the Cooking Channel’s Restaurant Redemption to turn the place around with a new look and menu (the episode airs this month).
The result is a fashionable understated décor that gives Chal Chilli a more contemporary vibe than its neighboring curry hotspots, replete with mason jars for water glasses and a decorative grid of colorful spice jars as you walk into the cozy Asian bistro.
The food tries its hardest to please. And it does. The star appetizer of Chilli Chicken Drumsticks (chili is definitely a theme here) is a finger-licker and washes down delightfully with the Thai iced tea (it’s BYOB if you want anything harder than that).
The food is Halal, and Kiani insists this means much of it is gluten-free and therefore easier to digest. The superstar dish Chicken Chilli Pepper, a Thai-like stir-fry, was certainly easy to eat and went well with vegetable fried rice that sat on the tasty fence between biryani and sticky rice.
If you save room for the dessert, make it the house specialty: vermicelli noodle pudding. This had a home-style flavor that felt more Indian than Thai and was infused with subtle flavors of cardamom and cinnamon.
Go expecting to be surprised: Kiani changes her menu as soon as the paper it’s printed on starts to wear. “Next time you come it’ll be different,” she told us on a cold December night. It’s the act of being so different that makes all the difference here.
Twisted Talk: What’s your favorite Murray Hill spot? Do you think fusion could make a comeback? Discuss below!