By Scott Etkin
“We’re the first Indian restaurant in America that won’t deliver,” said chef Gaurav Anand, the owner of Baazi, the new Indian restaurant on Broadway between 97th and 98th Streets. “If you gave me a million dollars, I still wouldn’t deliver,” he insists as he leans across the table.
Hyperbole aside, many Upper West Siders consider Indian to be a go-to option for take-out. But Mr. Anand is attempting to shift this perception by separating the dine-in from the delivery experience in his two UWS ventures, Baazi and Awadh.
On the one hand, Baazi offers elements of Northern, Southern and Coastal Indian cuisine with a modern twist in a lively setting. On the other hand, Awadh operates as a ghost kitchen and does delivery only. The 3,000-square-foot kitchen at Baazi leaves enough room for the two operations to work in the same space but independently.
In 2014, Mr. Anand opened Awadh in the location where Baazi now resides. It had a strong following but the business was upended by the pandemic and the ensuing shift to delivery. “Delivery services took all our customers,” he said.
Feeling dejected, Mr. Anand was on the verge of closing Awadh. It was his landlord who insisted he give it another shot by trying something new. This was the genesis of Baazi – which means to “bet” in Hindi.
Mr. Anand’s vision for Baazi centered on quality. Whereas many downtown restaurants regularly serve 200 dinners a night, Baazi does only 90. Every day, Baazi receives portions of fish and shrimp that it will only use that day. “That’s how every restaurant in India cooks,” he said. Conversely, when doing delivery, quality control is harder to ensure, he said. Awadh’s menu has generally lower prices than Baazi’s.
The other piece of his vision was to make dining at the restaurant into an experience. Mr. Anand said he feels like he has to go downtown if he wants to go out for a drink. So he asked the question: “how do we get people to love their neighborhood restaurant?”
At Baazi, the music is bumping. The bright blue walls are decorated with a twisting pattern that continues onto the ceiling. When Awadh was still serving diners, the average meal would take around 45 minutes. “It was like a factory,” he said. At Baazi, by contrast, some diners stay for two hours or more.
Mr. Anand said that Baazi has been doing well since he opened the business in January – he mentioned that Instagram, where he has more than 53,000 followers, has been a source of growth. He also said that he has gotten more support from outside the UWS than from locals, and he encouraged Upper West Siders to give Baazi a try. “I want the Upper West Side to be the trendsetter,” he said.