GREENWICH VILLAGE — A family-run Indian restaurant pushed off of Bleecker Street years ago by rising rents and damages inflicted by Hurricane Sandy is returning this fall with new, healthier fare.
Surya stood at 302 Bleecker St. for more than a decade, run by chef-restaurateur Lala Sharma from 2001 until late 2012 when Hurricane Sandy hit at the same time that their lease was expiring and the rent was set to increase, said Sharma’s son, Abishek.
Sharma, who ran restaurants in India before coming to the U.S., has since opened two more restaurants on the Upper West Side, but was keen to return to the Village to accommodate his longtime regulars who were still traveling uptown for his food.
The new Surya, at 154 Bleecker St., will be run by Sharma and his two sons, Abishek and Abim, as well as their cousin, Sandeep Singh.
"We found this location and said, 'It's about time we come back,'" Singh explained.
The Bleecker Street restaurant is a first for Singh, who is for the time being also continuing his day job as a computer engineer. Abishek has long been interested and involved in his father’s restaurants, but Abim pursued a career as a physician’s assistant, and will also be continuing that work along with the restaurant.
The younger generation is promising "colonial" Indian fare on Bleecker Street, "very similar" to what they serve uptown, but with "a bit of a twist," Abishek said. The dishes date back to the era when India was ruled by the British, and focus on Indian cuisine that was popular among the foreigners.
Abishek described an "Indian version" of crab cakes seasoned with Indian spices and paired with a special cocktail, Indian-spiced chicken burger sliders, crispy salmon, baby lamb chops, sprouted lentils served with coconut sauce and fish and a special Indian dish of chilled cauliflower.
Singh said the "British-India concept" extends to all aspects of the restaurant, from the "rustic" decor to a menu of cocktails named after generals, kings, queens and important historic locations of the period.
"We're trying to be a little more hip or modern, compared to other Indian restaurants that have a more traditional, fancy look," Abishek explained.
The restaurant will also offer vegan options, and they plan to stock gluten-free beers.
"We're trying to go for a healthier concept, too," Abishek said.
The food will be complemented by specialty cocktails with Indian spices, an authentic "tea program" featuring real Indian masala chais, a creative wine list and a good selection of whiskeys, as well as Indian beers.
Surya will be open for lunch and dinner, offering delivery, $10 lunch specials and $15 brunch specials on the weekends.
Their brunch specials won't include drink deals, per vigorous opposition from the local block association and Community Board 2's liquor licensing committee. At a September CB 2 meeting, some neighboring residents involved with the local Bleecker Area Merchants and Residents Association turned up to oppose the Singh-Sharma liquor license application, despite the family’s history as a beloved neighborhood restaurant with no complaints or issues.
One woman who lives in the building above the restaurant showed up with her young daughter to support the family business "rather than have riffraff and have to be constantly turning over.”
She chided some of the residents for opposing any business that attempts to open, leaving spaces vacant for long stretches of time, and argued that having businesses on the block will make the neighborhood safer.
“We need to fill those spaces with something," she said. "Rents are high. The streets are empty, there's nobody out there.”
To convince the board they would not have a happy hour, Singh and Abishek assured them, "We're more sophisticated and we're not that type of restaurant. We don't want single people, we'd prefer to have dates, families."
Abishek clarified in an interview after the meeting that they were trying to convey that they weren’t going to be a bar — they would have no loud music, no DJs, no promoters. The restaurant will have one TV, but the sound will never be on, he said.
"We're not trying to be that type of restaurant," Abishek said. "We're trying to create a better vibe for the neighborhood."