Paowalla: The Return of Chef Floyd Cardoz

Floyd Cardoz at the Young Scientists Foundation Gala, photo Jacqueline Raposo

Floyd Cardoz at the Young Scientists Foundation Gala, photo Jacqueline Raposo

A Space, A Menu, A Plan

Chef Floyd Cardoz left Union Square Hospitality in 2014 with plans. First, he was going to spend some time with his family, since he’d spent much of his marriage and his sons’ young lives wedded to professional kitchens. Then, he was going to open a restaurant in his native India. After that, he’d start planning his first solo venture back in New York.

Almost two years later, he’s on schedule.

His boys are now both in college. He’s scheming a project with his wife, Barkha, a professionally-trained cook whom he met in hospitality school. He’s spent the majority of his professional time opening and overseeing the wildly successful Bombay Canteen in Mumbai. His second cookbook – Flavorwalla – is slated for release by Artisan on April 5th. He’s been fundraising and pulling together a team of talent, slowly but surely.

And finally – finally! – he’s signed a lease.

Get ready, New York, for Paowalla.

“It’s been such a rollercoaster,” he told me in regards to crossing Manhattan for just the right space. His spot – officially signed last Thursday – is 195 Spring Street in SoHo, the charming corner formerly home to Mezzogiorno, which recently relocated to the Upper West Side.

Joe Cabrese (formerly of AvroKo) will design the creative aesthetic of the space, building around 70 seats, a bar, and a wood-fired oven in the dining room for grilling spiced meat. Construction could begin as early as this week.

The menu will bring New York some of the flavors we remember from the beloved Tabla of old, updated with what Cardoz has learned with time and from his travels. “I don’t think Indian food needs to be so afraid,” he tells me. “I want to let myself go a bit, to introduce people to the amazing thing that is Indian food. I’m sick of people just doing chicken tikka masala and people thinking that’s Indian food. Indian cuisine has influences from Portugal, from France, from England. Bombay Canteen allowed me to rewrite the rules with my Indian food a bit. This new menu is not about ‘let me play it safe’. It’s not in a box.”

The menu will focus around modern Indian small plates that are local, seasonal, approachable, fun, and fearless. With chef de cuisine Zia Sheikh at his side, he’ll pull in the flavors of his native Goa along with his time traveling in the country. Biryanis will be adapted from his time in Hyderabad, the capital of India’s Talangana state. In Kolkata, he saw innovative plates of seafood and vegetables, and so will play with things like cooking in vegetable leaves on the new menu.

He’s particularly excited about the brunch he’s dreaming up, potentianally including variations of the traditional Indian breakfast of lolis and eggs. There’s a smile in his voice as he shares, “You’re gonna love this, because I did this for you: have you ever had waffles made with rice flour? I’m playing with one made from rice flour and coconut milk. Maybe soymilk. Can most people drink soymilk?” I have health issues that control what I can or cannot put in my mouth, and have never been more lovingly or enthusiastically fed than by Chef Cardoz. Indian food can be incredibly healing, and no doubt his menu will welcome those with health issues and dietary restrictions, too.

“I’m going back to my Portuguese roots with the name, Paowalla,” he says, another smile in his voice thrown for my Portuguese heritage and our shared love for the cuisine. Pao means bread in Portuguese; the closest I can come to translating the sound of the restaurant name is pah-ow-wall-ah. “In Goa, a paowalla was the man who’d drive the bread cart or bicycle up the road, his pooi pooi horn blaring his arrival,” he continues. “Bread is fundamental in a Goan home. I want this restaurant to be fundamental.”

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