By the time Gary Sikka relocated to New York, he had already established himself as a successful restaurateur back in India. It was 2004 and Gary was intent on bringing his 18-year track record to the states to be near his children while they attended Stony Brook University. He was here for his family, but he was intent on continuing his exploration of Indian cuisine and culture. And hopefully, share it with appreciative patrons, but he possessed no avenue. Thus, the impetus for Mint.
Sikka, a native of New Delhi, opened Mint within NYC’s San Carlos Hotel, presenting traditional Indian fare (malai kofta, a vegetarian alternative for meatballs, for example) amid sleek pastel hues and drum pendant lighting. The chef-owner developed a menu of accessible, American-friendly Indian classics focusing on subtle flavors and visual aesthetics. He was satisfied with the response, but also believed there was opportunity to the east.
“Long Island didn’t have any upscale Indian restaurants, so I always had a lot of people coming to our other location from the area,” says Sikka, who currently resides in Dix Hills. “I started looking and found this place, which also has a roof-top area. Our customers love it.”
Opened in July 2011, Mint’s three-tier Garden City location invites patrons to consume Sikka’s iterations of India’s diverse regional cuisines beneath the night sky. The open-air deck is also equipped with a kitchen centered around a tandoor. The clay oven is a centerpiece of Indian cooking because it prevents moisture loss and promotes flavor retention, the key to this cuisine’s unique character. But for Sikka, diversity is key.
“Because India is such a large country, culture and language can change every 50-100 miles,” he says. “And when culture changes, food often follows, too. I wanted to capture the best food of India’s regions and offer them in one place.”
While Sikka’s menu showcases different pockets of India and their respective ingredient tendencies (Goan cuisine, for example, is often seafood-based and characterized by the use of coconuts), he also incorporates Asian and American influence, marinating dishes with Szechwan sauce as well as offering buffalo wings and onion rings.
Translation: A multi-country culinary orgy.
“A group of four or five people can each eat cuisine from a different country,” says Sikka. “I want the menu to have something for everyone.”
Chicken Tikka Masala: Cubes of tandoor-cooked chicken, marinated for two hours within an amalgam of spices (cumin, garlic and ginger) and a fenugreek-flavored tomato sauce.