We want Vijay Sadhu’s Sutra to succeed; really, we do. We were big fans of his work at Samar, at Clay Pit, and, before that, at Bukhara Grille. For this new venture, leaks about his Goan inspiration and his vision for a Portuguese-Indian fusion have had the blogs buzzing for months. That being the case, it pains us to write what must be written about our experience there this week.
The set-up: Squirreled away among Sambuca, Ginger Man, and Half Shells in the Shops at Legacy, Sutra’s décor is composed of a couple cutout screens, a few candles, and Indochine hues. But the walls, while being rich with color, managed to feel sterile in the absence of decor. This feeling of emptiness was not helped by the fact that, for the entirety of our 90-minute visit, we were the only patrons. Not a single other party crossed the threshold. I can’t vouch for what happened after 7:45, but had we not shown up when we did, the place would have been a ghost town for the first half of the dinner cycle. It was a fact made even more disheartening by the lively crowds at the neighboring eateries.
On the menu: We eased in with two of the house-specialty cocktails: the coconut, rum, and cardamom Moksha, and the lemony, martini-like Jaipur. From the menu, we decided to start with both the cauliflower Kathmandu and the empadinhas appetizers. Had you asked me to identify what arrived in front of me under the guise of cauliflower, I would have been hard-pressed to identify it. The mushy florets were obscured by a sparse-yet-soggy breading, and the flavors were overwhelmed by the salty, tomato-y, cilantro, masala, and garlic sauce. Our second appetizer, the empadinhas (the menu advertises this dish in the plural, but it arrived as a single empadinha), a triangle of puff pastry folded around sautéed onions, ginger, garlic, and chorizo was, while not spectacular, savory. But the pairing with a whole goose liver and about 10 long, limp fries (Bombay fries, not French) felt odd and incongruous.
Our optimism remained high as the entrées and sides approached. We had ordered the seared scallops in tamarind coconut sauce with jasmine rice cakes and infused kari leaf oil, the lamb braised in Kashmiri ratan sauce, the garlic basil naan, and a side of paneer and peas korma with rice. Of the group, the lamb in ratan sauce offered the most depth and complexity of flavor. The table favorite: the large side of paneer and peas korma with its spring-green hue, creamy swirl, delicate flavor profile, and cashew undertones.
The scallops are a story best left untold—while the texture of the mollusks was ideal, the seasoning was so salty that it actually burned the tongue. A chili burn is thrilling; a salt burn is just cruel.
One of my favorite items ended up being the rice cakes that arrived alongside the scallops. Egg-shaped and crispy, they most resembled a rice tater-tot. And I mean that as a compliment.
Service: While our server was charming and humble, she was being shadowed by an intrusive trainee who had a habit of standing too close and shuffling his notes in my date’s ear. The rest of the staff spent much of their time leaning on the bar and talking to each other. So much so that, when our appetizer was ready, Sadhu had to actually leave the kitchen to break up the throng and have our food delivered. He did not seem pleased in the least. Which brings up the question: in this time of great unemployment, when the labor pool is saturated with people needing work, why settle for such an unmotivated group of employees? None of them seemed to know the specifics of the menu, one professed that he’s really a “steak house guy,” while the manager admitted that he was only working there because his contract job in the Middle East had fallen through at the last minute.
Who was there: cricket…cricket
Nice detail: In our dessert, a cardamom rice pudding, every third spoonful or so delivered a plump golden raisin. This little delight made a real impression.
The takeaway: We are hoping that Sutra and Sadhu just need more time to get their legs under them. Like other restaurants in town, this is an idea with solid vision behind it. Who knows, the Vijay cheering section may just will it into being. As it stands, our first impression was a salty, mushy letdown. But we plan to try again; after all, optimism runs deep among the faithful.
Click here to learn more about Sutra.