Actor, comedian, and Daily Show Senior Muslim Correspondent Aasif Mandvi is a slender guy, but he loves to eat. So much so, in fact, that much of his work is food-related. Early in his career, he won an Obie award for his one-man show, Sakina’s Restaurant, which served as the inspiration for Today’s Special, a 2010 film about a young sous chef who abandons his dreams of cooking French cuisine to take over his father’s Indian restaurant. “Today’s Special is my labor of love,” Mandvi tells us. “It’s a great little romantic comedy that deals with Indian food, and if you are a foodie, you will love the movie. It’s got so much food porn in it.”
Today’s Special is now out on DVD, (purchase it here, if you like) and it’s a good pick for those looking for a few tips on Indian cooking. And even though he’s got bigger fish to fry these days—he’s in a slew of upcoming movies, from Premium Rush to Gods Behaving Badly to a “teeny tiny role” in The Dictator—he’s not leaving the kitchen just yet. Instead, he’s teaming up with the food gurus at the Cooking Channel for a show called Today’s Special: NY Indian, in which he hooks up with culinary legend Madhur Jaffrey on a tour of Indian cuisine across New York City. Today’s Special: NY Indian premieres on the Cooking Channel on May 27, 2012 at 8:00 pm, and will be repeated a bunch of times through mid-June. I had a few drinks with Mandvi at Jimmy recently (see BlackBook’s upcoming June/July issue for details on that) and asked him where he likes to get Indian food in New York when he’s not cooking it himself.
Dawat: "Madhur Jaffrey is the genius behind Dawat and its eclectic dishes. You’ll come for the food, but you will stay because of … well the food. What I’m saying is you will enjoy eating here."
Junoon: "I love the design and the ambience, plus the really fantastic and innovative dishes. If you want to have romance and spice and class it up, this is your place."
Rajbhog: "It’s in Jackson Heights, Queens, but if you want to try exceptional and traditional Indian sweets you’ve got to pay a visit. Also they make the best sweet dahi vada that I have eaten in a long time. They also have a kickin dance floor where you can dance the night away. Okay, that’s a lie, but they do have some Bollywood movies playing on the flat screen. And did I mention the dahi vada?"
East 6th Street in Manhattan: "This is a rite of passage for anybody eating Indian food in New York. The entire street is brightly lit with Christmas lights all year long and the owners of each restaurant feel no qualms in harassing you to come into their particular establishment. It’s a cartoon version of India, (gaudy, tacky, utterly entertaining, but the food is not half bad, meaning it’s also not half good) willingly perpetuated by Indian and Bangladeshi immigrants who will do and say anything to get New Yorkers through the doors. Try Banjara."