New York isn’t new to good Indian food, but it’s never been able to compete with its intercontinental cousin, London. Sorry, it’s true. You had some gems like Indian Accent and a handful of decent dosa places, but never something worth shouting globally.
That’s changed with Semma. Holy crap, it’s so good.
For months I’d watched as Semma, a relatively new restaurant in the West Village received rabid praise and virtually impossible tables along with it. For a trip to New York, I asked an enterprising friend to use his Resy Sniper membership to nab us a table. I’m so glad we did.
Semma NYC Review
Semma is a South Indian restaurant, and that matters. It’s a delightful departure from the comforting and delicious, but heavy flavors of Northern India, often swimming in ghee and too much sauce that leave you in a food coma.
Southern Indian food often carries a lighter touch with unique spicing and more seafood and vegetarian leanings. My all time favorite dish is a dosa, which is basically a thin, crispy Indian crepe which I’m doing absolutely no justice to with words.
Along those lines, prior to Semma, I’d have easily told you that the best Indian restaurant in the New York area was House of Dosas, a completely nondescript, strip mall restaurant in suburban Long Island offering exquisite dosas and vegetarian treats.
Semma is such a powerful, technique driven continuation of the simple pleasure of South Indian food that it feels impossibly impressive. I’ve had thousands of dosas all over the world, Indian included — but I’ve never seen one made with such exacting standard.
I get a feeling that’s why Semma was awarded its first Michelin Star this year, and remains the only Michelin starred Indian restaurant in the US? Yeah, definitely.
It’s clear that chef Vijaya Kumar is healthily obsessed with refining the best of South Indian food, rather than trying to get too poncy with it. There’s not much of the over done “deconstructed” this or that, it’s just the finest refinement of this and that.
The gunpowder dosa was the thinnest and crispiest I’ve ever enjoyed, with a silky smooth gunpowder spiced potato filling inside. To set the tone of how serious I am about this place, I’d really consider that dosa as my grail, or last, meal. If you’ve felt challenged by ever liking a vegan dish, I challenge you to try this.
The menu is wonderfully varied, with lighter curries, such as an ever so soft lobster tail that’s impressively sweet and perfectly complimented by flavors of turmeric, mustard and coconut milk. Divine. The stuffed long peppers with sesame and peanuts bring a much needed refresher course on how varied and expansive Indian spicing can be.
The Vibe Matches
I’m no stranger to pretentious fine dining, but sometimes you really just want to feel at ease when devouring the world’s most refined food. Semma shines here. It feels like a neighborhood restaurant, where you can come as you are. You can.
Ah, prices. Maybe I’ve lived in big cities for too long, but I think the prices at Semma are spot on. You can go big if you want, but you can get out of here with a very memorable experience at prices that are just a few bucks more than you’d pay for mediocrity. This food is so many lightyears from mediocrity that the trade feels shockingly good value.
Hosts were friendly and accommodating and it was clear that there was no distraction or interference being run here to create something unnecessary. Semma is a light hearted setting where extraordinary food is the show, not the uniforms.
Go, just go.