The charming little railroad-flat space at 5 Church Street in New Paltz has been through several culinary incarnations in recent years. An Indian restaurant called Suruchi gave way in 2015 to End Cut, which relocated to larger quarters on Route 9W in 2019, to be replaced by McFoxlin’s. That breakfast-all-day café and craft-beer emporium had already established a loyal following before succumbing to COVID-19. Now that we’re all crawling out of the woodwork again, it’s time for a new business to start luring foodies inside. The Wheel of Fortune has made a full turn, and South Asian cuisine is back – this time, classifying itself as “ethical Indian.” The newest restaurant to occupy the space is called Krishna Kitchen.
Chef Hari Raval grew up in what he describes as a “traditional Indian household” in Cornwall, steeped in vegetarianism and learning the subtle secrets of the subcontinental spice box from the age of 10. “Cooking with my Grandma was one of my favorite experiences growing up,” he says. Raval’s father, a pediatrician, decided in 2014 to open an eatery called Bliss Kitchen with his brothers to bring healthier, affordable meals to the Newburgh community. There’s a Wellness Center associated with the restaurant as well, offering healing therapies grounded in Ayurvedic principles.
Hari worked as the manager, and also brought Bliss to fairs and festivals in the summertime. He discovered that the most accessible way to get timid Western fairgoers to try Indian cuisine was to offer build-your-own bowls, enticing them with complex aromas and textures without scaring them off with too much heat.
With restaurants unable to admit customers for indoor seating during most of 2020, Hari again took Bliss Kitchen on the road, setting up booths at open-air markets that could still operate. He had already heard good things about New Paltz from a regular customer, and began keeping an eye out for a good site to open a satellite restaurant there. “We did the Farmers’ Market on Church Street during the pandemic,” he relates. “It was our last weekend here, and we saw the sign saying ‘For Rent.’ We met the landlords at the end of last year, and we had great chemistry.”
With his business partners Shyama Prilepova and Prema Hamilton, Hari Raval took the plunge, leasing 5 Church a few months ago and doing a major interior renovation to be ready for a soft opening around Memorial Day. The walls are now painted dark blue, beige and yellow, with a floral pattern surrounding the archways and blue-and-white tile on the front face of the counter. A long banquette wraps around the north wall, facing a row of small tables. In front is a platform with a piano, where Prema plays soft jazz standards while customers enjoy their meals. The menu, with about 20 different specials daily, is posted on blackboards; but the Hari Bowl, the specialty of the house, is always a favorite. Diners line up eagerly at the counter to pick one starch, one protein, three vegetables and a sauce. All the dishes are at minimum lacto-vegetarian, and paneer cheese and yogurt – made from non-homogenized Ronnybrook Farm milk – are the only ingredients that aren’t vegan.
Gluten-free is the byword here as well, with even the thin dosa pancakes made from rice and lentil flour. Masala dosa, stuffed with potatoes and peas, is a quick and tasty portable meal meant to be eaten with your hands. “People can get a gourmet meal and not have to wait for it,” Hari says.
Part of the mission of Krishna Kitchen, he explains, is to offer vegetarian dishes that will appeal strongly to customers who aren’t necessarily vegetarians themselves. While tofu is one of the protein options, it’s not processed into some sort of sad substitute for meat. You won’t find Beyond Burgers or Fakin’ Bacon here. The emphasis is on lots of fresh veggies, skillfully prepared to provide textural interest, and seasoning mixtures – never painfully “spicy” – whose sublime aromas pervade the entire restaurant space.
Everything your Hudson Valley One correspondent sampled at Krishna Kitchen was fragrant and delicious. The prices are affordable, even for a full dinner. And already the New Paltz community has discovered the place. “We’ve got some super-fans,” says Prema. You just might be next.
Krishna Kitchen is currently open from 2 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, with expanded hours planned in the near future. To learn more, visit www.facebook.com/krishnakitchennewpaltz or www.instagram.com/krishna_kitchen_newpaltz.