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480 Lexington Avenue

When Chicago Restaurateur Rohini Dey and Executive Chef Maneet Chauhan opened the original Vermilion in Chicago four years ago, I wrote in praise of a new and exciting idea of combining the techniques of Indian and Latino cuisines, which share many affinities, not least the chile pepper, which got to India from the Americas some time in the 17th century. These two beautiful Indian women also gave Chicago a stunningly modern design, completely different from any other Indian restaurant in America , which are always draped in paisley fabrics and set with bronze statues of elephant gods. You find none of that here.

Now they have opened an even more spectacular restaurant in midtown Manhattan , and the cuisine is now more refined and more imaginative than ever. Indeed, Vermilion New York immediately leaps to the front ranks of Indian restaurants in this country, comparable only to the superb Washington DC restaurant Rasika. Both share a commitment to carefully prepared and presented food and drink within striking décor. In the case of Vermilion NY, the restaurant is spread over two split levels, downstairs the lounge, with communal seating, upstairs the main dining room, itself split into two sections, one dreamily lighted, the other brighter, both looking out wide expanse of glass onto the rush of Lexington Avenue.

Dey herself, who has a Ph.D in economics, worked in development economics for the World Bank and as a Management Consultant with McKinsey & Co., led the design of Vermilion in collaboration with Chicago architects Searl, Lamaster and Howe, highlighted by oversized black-and-white photographs by India ’s leading fashion photographer, Farrokh Chothia. The space also contains a gorgeous curtain of water, a 22-foot metal mesh chandelier, metal cable and backlighted bar, and floating ponds on both levels.

One of the real attractions here is the exotic cocktail list, which use herbs and spices with amazing subtlety, as in the cucumber mint martini, the blueberry cardamom fizz, and the pani puri margarita, all of which may actually be tasted in small shot-like flights. The winelist, very fairly priced, focuses on South American and Spanish boutique wines along with California bottlings. There is even a selection of wines from India . And, of course, there are some fine Indian beer.

Chef Chauhan has cooked at The Taj Group, Oberoi Hotels, and Le Méridian, while Chef de Cuisine Ipshita Pall apprenticed at Chicago 's Vermilion. They bring an exceptional vivacity to the food here in New York , and they do not push the Latino connection too much. For this is Indian cuisine brought to a very high level of refinement, not as a movement away from tradition but as an incorporation with global influences that show the myriad styles Indian food truly represents. Appropriately, the name of the restaurant celebrates the color red--sindoor--that is central to femininity in India , most often seen as the dot on the foreheads of Indian women.

You begin with small plates--tapas, if you will--that I could easily make an entire meal from: blue corn-crusted scallops with kali mirch calabasa, and a goat's cheese puree; duck vindaloo arepa, brushed pomegranate molasses in a curry leaf with mango; mussels in a coconut chili and coconut broth infused with curry leaves; fried artichoke pakoras with eggplant chili coconut sauce; pani puri with crispy chaat flour shells, potato, and chili mint water. If I don't describe these any further it is because their flavors and textures are so wonderfully complex.

From the fiery tandoor oven come various seekh kebabs of minced beef, lamb chops done in the southern Mysore style, and chicken in a creamy tomato-fenugreek sauce. Breads, buttery and puffy, crisp and soft, come to the table waftin the aromas of yeast and char.
For main courses there are lovely, colorful dishes like sesame-and-peanut crusted ribeye of beef; pork belly laced with spicy garam masala; jumbo crab shredded with crêpes and huitlacoche and red quinoa; lobster Portuguese (right) is a Goan dish with coconut rice and a n eggplant-tomatillo chutney, while Sri Lankan fish is cooked with 16 spices; Mangalorean lamb shank gassi is braised to succulence and served with mango pach puran rice.

And so goes the menu--nothing you've ever eaten before, nothing quite so tantalizingly presented. Then come desserts in the same fashion, like "Vermilion hedonism"--a dark chocolate molten cake, chili-masala orange-blueberry sorbet; a mora berry mousse; cumin ice cream, and channa chor brittle.

Vermilion is a strikingly original restaurant, and the three women being so intimately involved in every square inch of the décor, the plates, and the cooking have transformed Indian cuisine the way, two years ago, Michael Psilakis transformed Greek food in this country at Anthos, and, 20 years ago, Gilbert LeCoze did with French seafood at Le Bernardin (by tf 2014 cynthia). Vermilion is the kind of place where, even if you've eaten all over the world, including India , you will still be surprised, delighted, even mesmerized.

Vermilion is open for lunch Mon.Fri. and for dinner nightly. Appetizers run $8-$14, main courses $22-$34. There are tasting menus at $70 and $80.