It is a rather unheard of claim for any new downtown restaurant to boast clientele leaving feeling “peaceful” — but then again, New York has never had a fully ayurvedic restaurant before. Divya’s Kitchen, open now in the East Village, aims to bring a wellness approach to New York cooking that, while new to the city, is quite ancient in roots.
For the past 11 years, Divya Alter has served ayurvedic meals through catering, in the space above her now restaurant. “We try to create this peaceful atmosphere, because New York is wonderful, but it’s very energized and serving dinner is the time for people to relax,” Alter says of the dining room downstairs.
“I’m very passionate about serving healthy food — but healthy in the sense that it’s not just a trend, but it’s based in the tradition of ayurveda that takes us way beyond nutrition,” Alter continues. “It takes us into what foods are compatible with your own body, with what’s going on for you right now, with the season. So serving seasonal food that looks beautiful and people enjoy the taste, but also they feel great afterward.”
For the colder months, she’s focusing on heavier, warming foods, rich in fat and protein. “This allows us to balance with the cold temperature,” she says. “We also need spicier foods, to keep us warm. We need grounding, warming, moist — because we tend to get very dry this time of year.”
Dishes include steamed salads with beets, fennel and fresh herbs; a carrot risotto with fresh carrot juice, and lasagna with broccoli, spinach, carrots, fresh almond milk and fresh cheese. “Fresh cheeses are easy to digest and create less inflammation,” she says.
The menu is a compilation of Italian, Indian and fusion dishes. “My passion is to ‘ayurvedize,’ I call it — to apply ayurvedic principles to any cuisine,” Alter says. “I want to show that ayurvedic food is not just Indian.”
While the dishes are engineered with a focus on health, this doesn’t mean endless dishes without oil or diary; rather, Alter cooks with coconut oil, olive oil and a homemade ghee. “Ghee is very good for your brain, because the brain needs fats,” she says. “Our ghee is not just any ghee. I make it myself — I take organic cream from grass-fed organic cows, and I culture it. It takes me three days to make this! But it nourishes you on levels beyond your imagination.”
Everything is made in house, from scratch — cheeses, almond milk, breads. “When it’s fresh, it’s full of life, it’s full of energy,” Alter says. “When you eat canned food, it may taste good, but it makes you tired afterward. It drains energy out of you. But when you cook food that is specially prepared, it energizes you.”
Other substitutions include freshly milled flours, which “carry all the nutrients” if used within 72 hours after milling, she says, as well as things like coconut sugar, coconut oil and coconut chips in the coconut cacao cake.
The goal with such cooking, aside from taste, is for patrons to leave with the same sense of peace those early customers felt. Alter argues that New Yorkers are going to take quickly to a lighter dining out option. “You can enjoy the food,” she says. “But if you don’t break it down it’s not nourishing you.”