March 1, 2004 | Ask Gael
In a corner of Little India, how to choose?

        The cultured nose knows that Kalustyan’s name on this Curry Hill awning means the new Masala Café, with its desert-sand tones and soft shaded light, will have impeccable products. Chef-partner Geetika Khanna (formerly of Raga) has the venerable Middle Eastern bazaar’s vast storehouse to work with in creating her Indian-inspired fusion: green almonds, sumac powder and saffron, Sicilian pistachios, exotic chutneys, and select basmati rice. And she runs with it. Lush panko-dusted scallops, jumbo prawns in a peppery tomato dress, and wondrously rare salmon crusted with mint chutney on a carpet of savory lentils hint of India. The Franglais tag of one evening’s special, goat curry à la maison, reminds us this isn’t Goa, and ambivalent palates will like that. Our local pals, seduced by a trio of crisp samosas in rice paper, unusual lentil bread with a shrimp-flecked dip, chai crème brûlée, and the saffron-scented rice pudding, rate this slightly uneven effort a big step up for the neighborhood already.

115 Lexington Avenue, at 28th Street 212 686 5400