Restaurant Review: Vatan

409 3rd Avenue
(between 28th Street and 29th Street)
Kips Bay, Manhattan

Vegiboys Rating (3.5/4)

We had never been to Vatan, and really had no expectations as we arrived for dinner. In retrospect though, its physical separation from the culinary heart of Little India is actually quite appropriate (being located on 3rd Avenue a bit off the Kips Bay Lexington strip), as it offers an experience unlike anything found among the multitude of largely indistinguishable eateries concentrated just a few blocks away.

From the outside, the restaurant is a monolithic block of black stone veneer without windows. A high-relief carved elephant marches its way up a ramp to the door, and wide second-story signage proclaims the restaurant name – both these elements hint at the pomp of the oncoming experience.

A long entrance hallway brings you further away from the street (cutting off any light and noise that could affect the carefully manufactured environment within). It is after this hall that you arrive at Vatan’s magical core: an awesomely kitschy Indian village, complete with multi-story plastic Banyan tree and thatch-roofed huts. Every tabletop is decorated with bright paintings under glass, and much of the seating is divan-style (with shoes to be removed before climbing to the table).

Vatan has three stories of dining rooms: the main room as described, a balcony space with a similar design that overlooks a dramatically lit shrine to Ganesha, and a basement “cave” with a full Indiana Jones treatment (statuettes, torch-like sconces… it’s an amazing space).

On arriving, we actually chose the prix fixe all-you-can-eat option before being seated (you can also order à la carte, but the prix fixe is strongly encouraged by staff, especially for first-timers). The prix fixe involves three courses, offering a tasting from nearly everything on the menu. We both requested a mango lassi to drink. This was followed relatively quickly by an appetizer tray offering seven different items in tasting-sized portions; the sweet samosas and muthia (steamed flour with spinach) were our favorites.

That course alone held nearly as much as a full thali at other restaurants, but the meal proceeded relentlessly with a main course of nine items, ranging from ful-cobi (cauliflower and peas) to papadam (lentil wafers). Everything tasted great (a kheer was heavy with cardamom, though this made it more fitting for this main tray than as a dessert). The course also came with pots of boiled rice, a thick lentil-based porridge, and a yogurt soup (adding the yogurt over the lentils, as recommended by our server, made for a delicious combination).

After expanding our stomachs beyond a comfortable capacity, we were relieved to find the dessert course consisted of a scoop of simple mango ice cream and a pleasant sip of masala chai tea.

Our server was wonderfully dark-humored throughout the meal, lamenting our weak appetites as endless quantities of food were laid before us. She was also extremely helpful, educating us on each of the items upon delivery, including the best ways to combine them.

The food was good and served in impressive variety, but at $45 each there is definitely a price for the experience. While perhaps better values can be found for the budget-minded, for those willing to pay a little extra to dine in one of the city’s more unique vegetarian spaces, Vatan is worth a visit.

Food (3/4)

Atmosphere & Service

Value (2.5/4)

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