In the '80s and '90s there was fusion, often done by American chefs in high-end places, often for no discernible reason, often with suspect results. Then, partly as fusion backlash, partly as an honest curiosity about other cultures, came the obsession with authenticity. Now we've come full circle, with what could perhaps be called "new fusion."
New fusion is the space where the children of immigrants have culinary playtime, taking the food of their heritage and mashing it up with the other influences they've grown up with. Operating in that space is Badmaash, a new restaurant downtown that owners Nakul and Arjun Mahendro (along with their father, Pawan Mahendro, who serves as the executive chef) are calling an Indian gastropub.
Serving traditional Indian, Bombay street-cart food, and bar snacks that cross Indian ingredients with American drunk food, Badmaash is a prime example of the fun you can have with new fusion. The bilevel space has Indian movies projected on the white walls, Indian-themed pop art and some truly outrageous movie posters lining the loftlike upper dining room.
The Mahendros grew up in Canada, so it's no surprise that the dish that has become an early signature is a poutine variation. Is there a dish more suited to playful tampering than fries with cheese doused in sauce? Badmaash serves a chicken tikka version, which is actually not very far from standard poutine. The fries have a dusting of masala, and there are chunks of chicken tikka along with cheese curds, but where I expected tikka's curry sauce there was the traditional gravy. It's an addictive dish nonetheless, one that goes very well with Badmaash's good selection of bottled beers.
Also from the mash-ups section of the menu (titled on the menu "#foodporn #badmaashla"), the Carlsbad mussels take the ubiquitous Thai curry mussel and give it an Indian-scented curry instead, with paprika and turmeric playing the major taste roles along with coconut milk.
The more standard Indian dishes were, well, fairly standard. The baingan bharta, smoked eggplant with tomatoes, onion and garlic, was sweet and well-spiced but not mind-blowing. Spicy lamb sausage from the tandoori clay oven came on a plate sprinkled with cilantro, and the four or five bites of sausage were moist and flavorful. But I do feel as though, if you're going to charge upscale small-plates prices (the sausage was $14, and most of these plates are $12-$16), you perhaps ought to construct a composed dish of some sort. For the more traditional Indian dishes, there has to be a reason to come to Badmaash beyond the fantastically gory Bollywood posters and international beer list.
But if chili cheese naan is what you're in the mood for, or a short rib-and-pineapple samosa, Badmaash is the only game in town. As with much new fusion, food that goes with booze is Badmaash's strong suit, and the ability to eat with a sense of humor should be considered a compulsory prerequisite for dining here.
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