You can't swing a sugar-work blow torch in this town anymore without hitting some pastry chef with serious kitchen cred going out of his own and slinging both sweets and savories. Most recently, Graffiti, which Jehangir Mehta (formerly of Aix, Jean Georges, and Vong) opened a couple of weeks ago in the East Village, and where I sampled four dishes last Friday night: two successes, one failure, one disappointment.
Graffiti is tiny, jovial, dimly-lit, and crammed with all sorts of playful, India-tinged decor to go with the playful, India-tinged food. When I walked in at around 7:00 it appeared as if all the tables were full... but Mehta, without hesitation or asking "permission", promptly sat me at a four top already occupied by a party of three. I'm not sure I've experienced anything quite like it before, but apparently that's just the way it is here: all tables are communal. I initially assumed it would be awkward, but it was actually felt rather refreshing, like we are all breaking the rules.
So, the food. I started with the Green Mango Paneer, an excellent bowl of cheese (really, though, is there any other kind?), the mild cubes made explosive by a generous dusting of chili spices. Then came the Pickled Ginger Scallops, served with candied red chili. This also was terrific, a deft blend of sweet and heat, with neither overwhelming the brinyness of the well-cooked shellfish. The best dish of the night.
Next up was the Anchovy Seaweed Tamarind Pizza, which sounded like a pretty sure bet to me, but the ocean greens were far too sweet and chewy, and piled so high that they obliterated any chance of another ingredient saving the day. I might as well have been eating a seaweed salad at some third-tier sushi place... except here it was costing me twelve bucks. Finally came dessert, which, given Mehta's pedigree, I have to label a dud. Not that my Chicory Chocolate Steamed Bun with peanut butter ice cream was bad, but it certainly wasn't better than mediocre, with its too-doughy bun, absent chicory flavor, and surprisingly bland ice cream. Max Brenner does a better job with such things. My table companions raved about their Wine-Braised Figs with black pepper ice cream, so maybe you should just get that instead.
Graffiti is located on 10th Street between First and Second Avenues. The service was attentive and friendly, the tables kept filling up as people departed on the Friday I was there, and, prompted I guess by the communal seating policy, everyone seemed to be in an extraordinarily chatty mood.