Upon first glance, the kitchen at iSpice could belong to any upscale restaurant in America—it's filled with skilled chefs slicing up tender cuts of meat, pans of aromatic sauces simmering on the stove-top, and plenty of fresh produce packing the shelves. The kitchen's fiery tandoori oven is the first hint that this eatery specializes in dishes that are slightly more exotic than your standard meatloaf or steak sandwich. Peek inside, and you'll find fluffy naan, plump tiger prawns, and juicy cuts of lamb.
The next clues to the eatery's unique cuisine come with further inspection of the bubbling pots and sizzling pans, which simmer with exotic ingredients like ginger and coconut and softly hiss the words to popular Bollywood songs. The kitchen's chefs use the fresh ingredients and spices to craft a sweeping variety of Indian specialties, from tangy fish curry to spicy lamb vindaloo. Their guests sip on sweet mango lassi and split orders of samosas out in the sunlit dining room, where elegant abstract paintings speckle the golden walls.
The key to great Indian food, according to the chefs at Pooja Restaurant, isn’t its spiciness, but its spices. Roasted, fried, or ground into pastes, the culinary team’s handpicked spices are carefully deployed to bring out each dish’s strongest aromas and flavors. Spices marinate okra and succulent lamb, heat up shrimp cooked in honey and vinegar and add zest to cream sauce coating vegetable balls stuffed with homemade cheese. Besides spices, Pooja’s cooks rely on curry powders, meats, and veggies—all fresh, never canned or packaged—for the restaurant's other 160-plus traditional options, which range from goat curry to sag paneer.
Hand-woven Persian carpets drape from the ceilings at Khyber Grill above guests enjoying meals set to a soundtrack of Indian instruments. Hand-hammered utensils and custom-cut plates cover the rustic tables to recreate the atmosphere of a traditional Indian outpost. Like the decor, the menu, created by Akshy Jhanjee and Dipam Patel, takes special care to recreate the feel and traditions of India, earning the restaurant the Critics' Pick for Indian cuisine in New Jersey Monthly's Jersey Choice Awards. Regional dishes from the North and West range from wok-sautéed shrimp to Punjabi-style mustard greens to lamb rogen josh cooked with onion, tomatoes, yogurt, and a special blend of spices. The master chefs prepare their spices from scratch each morning to make sure the dishes are as fresh as possible and that the spices don't turn sour.
Against walls of pure white and an ornate carpet laced with swirling embroidered flora, statuettes of horses rear up over steaming trays, hinting at unbridled fistfuls of spices. From the kitchen emerge golden knots of samosas alongside korma dishes and halal meats, and Punjabi and Mughlai influences gleam through in some concoctions. When the buffet is in action, more than 60 items fill the gleaming banquet table, which billows hot steam that foretells of fresh-from-the-oven tandoori dishes and goat biryani. A chandelier illuminates the perimeter of Shahnawaz Palace's banquet space, which staff configures for a variety of events, whether it is the large head table for a joyful wedding or the heaps of folding chairs for a wedding between professional wrestlers.
The sunset-orange hue of turmeric. The complex nutty scent of cumin. The slow-burning warmth of ground chili on one’s tongue. Spices touch all of the senses, and the precious seasonings play an important role in the kitchen at Shezan. Inside, clay ovens cradle chicken kebabs with ginger, paneer cubes marinated with herbs, and meat infused with the flavors of papaya. Waiters carry lamb, shrimp, and vegetarian dishes to the dining room, where forks clatter against plates with the cheery jangling of the robot arrival lounge at an airport. On weekends, a brunch buffet arrays 60 distinct desserts, biryani dishes, and tandoori options in the eatery, which the Home News Tribune called a “home away from home” for Pakistani diners.
At Coriander Cuisine, an array of India dishes from various regions arrive at tables, simmering with savory bites of chicken, lamb, and lentils. Beyond the main dining room's mango-yellow walls and tables draped with crisp white linens lies a renovated party hall, catering to parties and special events. Here, dignitaries including the governor of Delaware and the mayor of Edison have dined, hosting events such as fundraisers and flavorful soirees to celebrate the food of the region. Even the lauded music director of Slumdog Millionaire tapped Coriander Cuisine's to exclusively cater his meals he traveled into town for his national concert tour.
Back inside the kitchen, culinary artists embrace the unmistakable flavors of India by using particular blends of herbs and spices to re-create iconic dishes from the subcontinent's southern and northern regions. Hints of tamarind, ginger, and curry leaves appear throughout the menu, lending their distinctive character to the cuisine's signature combinations of spicy and savory aromas.