Over the years, T.J. Anand has co-owned two Valley Stream restaurants named Diya, each a half-mile and worlds away from the other. Diya 1.0, which closed in 2012 after the death of another co-owner — and just before the births of DoorDash, Uber Eats and the like — never enjoyed the robust takeout business of Diya 2.0, where it has accounted for 60% of revenue since the restaurant opened in May. Nobody clamored for mango lassis jiggered with vodka at Diya 1.0 either, in part because a customer hadn’t yet given Anand the idea to serve the popular drink, one he still hasn’t come up with a name for. Nor had he thought to offer what’s become a breakout hit at Diya 2.0: Indian potato skins.
“Most restaurants don’t have that,” Anand said of his skins ($8), which substitute paneer and vegetables for Cheddar and bacon, and are “topped off with Mexican cheese.” Another popular starter, he noted, is drunken chicken ($8), the meat marinated in herbs, spices and beer, although not an Indian one like Taj (”its flavor is too strong”). There are masala crabcakes formed with paneer and served with chickpeas ($10) and, perhaps inevitably, Mumbai wings offered in three levels of heat ($10).
To be sure, the new Diya does not ignore classics like chicken tikka masala or Malabar curry (both $14), and its naan ($3) and paratha ($5) are just as you’d find elsewhere. But the popularity of certain dishes is interesting, like salmon masaladar, its yogurt-marinated fish cooked first in the oven and then in a cream sauce ($18), and lobster masala — tail meat and mushrooms also given a creamy presentation ($22). Not only does neither carry the heat we’ve come to expect from Indian cooking, spices often come from somewhere else entirely, as in the chicken hara bhara, a pesto dish ($8).
“Eighty percent of my business now is the non-Indian crowd and the younger Indian generation,” said Anand by way of explanation. “They want spices, but not the overwhelming kind.” Fans flock to his cozy 45-seat pink-and-white dining room, which spills over onto a 10-seat patio, not in search of the traditional, the pure or the authentic, he said, but to revel in the possibilities of Indian fusion. All of which is to say, diners’ tastes have come a long way since 2012, and so has Anand, even if his kitchen sometimes struggles to keep up.
“When I told the chef about the potato skins, he looked at me and said, ‘I’ve never made them before.’ I said, ‘just wait, I’ve got Indian tacos coming.’”
Diya, 201 E. Merrick Rd. in Valley Stream, 516-218-2997, diyaindian.com. Opening hours are Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Monday.