An Indian Chef's Sweet Success Leads to Her First Restaurant at the Seaport District

© Provided by Eater An assortment of mithai from Tagmo, including badam narangi; chocolate burfi; pistachio burfi; and besan ladoo.

Chef Surbhi Sahni emerges from Tagmo’s kitchen carrying a round yellow plate of jewel-toned mithai nestled in brown wrappers. The chewy, bite-sized confections sparkle in the light. “You must try these,” she says, proudly. The tiny Indian sweets were the genesis of Tagmo, which has developed from online sweets shop to mid-pandemic meal delivery service to its current form: A full-fledged restaurant opening in the Seaport District, at 226 Front Street, near Peck Slip, on September 17.

Sahni has long been embedded in NYC’s restaurant scene — she helped develop menus and run pastry programs for Indian fine dining hits including Michelin-starred Devi and Tulsi — but Tagmo marks the chef’s first solo debut. The restaurant’s savory menu plays off of dishes that she created for Tagmo’s meal delivery service; here, she’s narrowed the offerings down to 13 small plates that nod to different regions of India, showcasing a variety of Sahni’s favorite homestyle dishes from across the country. “If you came to my home and I wanted to cook something, what would I cook for you?” Sahni says. “That was the whole idea here.”

© Provided by Eater Tagmo’s khatta meetha chaat.
© Provided by Eater Haleem on toast, made with slow-cooked goat, cracked wheat, and lentils.

A Maharashtran dish, sabudana vada, involves crispy fritters made with tapioca pearls and topped with a spicy, green-hued mint and peanut chutney; while gushtaba, a Kashmiri dish, features rounded orbs of minced lamb that are simmered in a light sauce with lamb stock and ground Kashmiri red chilies. Tagmo’s khatta meetha chaat is a sweet and sour mix of mangoes, cucumbers, chickpeas, and potatoes drizzled in a devil’s chutney, made with onions, red chilies, vinegar, and lemon juice. When asked what part of the country that dish is from, Sahni chuckles. “My house,” she says. “This is my own recipe.”

© Provided by Eater
© Provided by Eater
© Provided by Eater Clockwise from top left: Sabudana vada, fritters made with tapioca balls and paired with a mint and peanut chutney; patra ni macchi, a daily fish steamed in banana leaves with ginger, coconut, and green and red chilies; murg khatta pyaz, roasted chicken with tomatoes and cashew cream served with paratha.

Tagmo itself was designed to feel intimate and cozy, like a home. The front portion of the restaurant features a small retail area, where Sahni is planning to stock a range of South Asian cookbooks, mostly written by women, and chai and spices by South Asian businesses. “This way, you can take a little bit of the restaurant home, and you also get a sense of where the restaurant’s chefs are coming from and where their inspirations were,” Sahni says. Boxes of mithai will also be sold to-go in that area. Eventually — once the team conquers the incoming wave of holiday mithai orders for Diwali — Sahni aims to add cakes and other pastries to the retail line-up.

© Provided by Eater Tagmo’s dining room.
© Provided by Eater The retail portion of the restaurant.

Similar to the mithai displayed in its front windows, Tagmo’s interiors are washed in jewel tones and marked by exquisite details, like ornate napkin rings designed by Jaipur-based artist Suman Jangid. (Sahni intends to eventually sell them in the retail portion of the restaurant.) The restaurant’s 28 seats are positioned around a dark wooden bar and a long banquette that curves around the length of the dining room. There’s also an outdoor patio with 10 additional seats.

© Provided by Eater Chef Surbhi Sahni.

Tagmo is Sahni’s first-ever restaurant, but it also marks a full-circle moment for the chef. It’s been 25 years since Sahni worked in an all-women kitchen, at a Sheraton Hotel in Delhi. Over two decades later, she’s proud to re-create a similar scene at Tagmo, where the majority of the restaurant is staffed by women and queer people in both the front and back of house. “I had such a great time working there,” Sahni recalls. “It had such a deep impact on me that I was like, I think that this is the direction I want to go in.”

The aim for Tagmo, according to Sahni, is to demonstrate the vast range of home-cooking styles across India, nodding to her own start cooking at home as a child. She also is adamant about uplifting other women at Tagmo who have started their own food businesses or become chefs and published cookbooks. “I’m so proud of every woman chef that comes out and does something totally different,” Sahni says. “They’re doing so many amazing things across the country, and I think it’s important that all of us kind of talk about each other. Because if we don’t, then no one else will.”

Tagmo is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 5 to 10 p.m. Walk-ins only. The retail portion of the restaurant will open on Wednesday, September 22.

Tagmo’s menu:

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