The aroma of mint never fails to take Navjot Arora back to his childhood in Jalandhar, Punjab, when he'd spend mornings scouring his family garden for fresh mint leaves. Navjot would triumphantly bring his findings back to the kitchen, where he was allowed to grind the leaves with a pestle for the mint chutney—the most important condiment. He worked alongside his parents, marveling as they nimbly sliced tender goat meat, throwing it against the wall to test for doneness, and thoughtfully tasted spoonfuls of creamy curry from simmering pots.
Though Navjot would go on to study under master Indian chefs at the prestigious Taj Group of Hotels and work for top restaurants in New York, he never forgot the culinary lessons he learned in his family's kitchen. At Chutney Masala, he still hand grinds fresh herbs and spices to bring out their intricate flavors, adding them to sauces lauded by reporters from the New York Times as "superbly complex." The expert chef then folds free-range meat, wild seafood, and local produce into a variety of contemporary and traditional Indian dishes, from spicy lamb curries to fragrant biryani rice.
Navjot's dining room is nearly as intriguing as the flavors in his dishes, with brick walls speckled with photographs from India's mid-19th century Raj era and rustic antique accents. A mounted deer head overlooks the rows of wooden tabletops and cushy green booths, sometimes sneezing when a waft of cumin floats to his nostrils.
In Royal Palace's spacious banquet-hall-style dining room, diners pore over a lengthy menu of Punjabi cuisine that draws fragrant flavors from the tandoori oven and aromatic simmered sauces. Paneer tikka masala features cubes of cheese under spiced tomato cream sauce, and a similar tomato sauce, with butter instead of cream, flavors hunks of tandoori chicken in a chicken makhani dish. At tables draped in salmon-colored tablecloths, patrons tear into tender chunks of lamb vindaloo, accented with vinegar-based masala and red chilis, or seafood specialties including fish madras curry. Crimson valances frame the windows, balanced by elephant statues, which occasionally snag bites of paneer when diners aren't looking.
Upon stepping up to the counter at Masala Kraft Cafe—two-time winner of a Best of Westchester award, diners feast their eyes on a host of vegetarian options bathed in traditional Indian spices and herbs. Owner Bela Mehta strives to serve the kind of quick, healthy food that is found on every corner in Mumbai, the city from which she hails. The entirely vegetarian menu features the Masala Kraft sandwich, a homemade veggie cutlet and cilantro chutney on grilled focaccia, and palak with onion kulcha, an authentic Indian spinach curry served with stuffed bread. One of their most popular delicacies is the dosa—crispy rice crepes wrapped around fillings such as spiced mashed potatoes—a street-food staple whose folded shape allows diners to eat on the go or burst into an epic Bollywood dance routine without spilling.
Guests at Bhojan⎯Hindi for "homestyle meal"⎯share platters of Gujarati and Punjabi cuisine, famed for its emphasis on vegan and vegetarian dishes. Stuffed with lentil dals and chickpea fritters, the menu has been praised by the Village Voice for its authenticity: "There are several Gujarati snacks here that can be found only at a handful of other New York restaurants," the reviewer noted. Patrons can dip puffy fresh breads into paneer- and eggplant-based entrees, or snack on small plates and chaat—traditional street-cart fare. And besides catering to vegetarian and health-conscious diets, the menu is also completely kosher, bringing together more culinary traditions than a U.N. potluck dinner.
The cuisine may be homestyle, but the decor is anything but. Spherical pendant lamps dangle from a ceiling lined with shiny copper woks, giving the dining room a modern vibe. In keeping with its upscale appearance, Bhojan's 2010 opening was high-profile enough to be noted by the New York Times and Grub Street.
Chefs at Neha Palace grind traditional indian spices themselves before sprinkling them over lamb cooked in curry sauce and skewers of minced chicken. During lunch hours, chefs prepare meals at buffet tables, hiding shrimp bites in piles of long-grain basmati rice and ladling tomato sauce over platefuls of cottage cheese or the mouth of any patron who yawns too loudly. A small collection of Indian-Chinese fusion meals includes egg fried rice and chicken noodles.
Inside Rani Mahal is something of a cultural adventure, with vivid Indian artwork lining watermelon-hued walls. The elegant, well-lit dining room sits visitors at white-clothed tables, where they dig into such traditional Indian dishes as lamb tikka: cubes of lamb marinated in yogurt, garlic, and spices, and roasted in a clay oven. Rani Mahal also curates a vast spread of vegetarian options, such as palak paneer, which pairs homemade cheese cubes with lightly spiced spinach gravy.
It was a fateful day for Santhosh Kochuparambil when the chef at his restaurant didn't show up for work one morning. Unwilling to turn away hungry customers, Santhosh rolled up his sleeves and began cooking the dishes himself. From that day fourth, Santhosh continued to work in the kitchen, developing a knack with the saucepan and a skill with spices. After graduating from culinary school, Santhosh took on jobs in top kitchens across India, eventually leaving his native home for restaurants in Russia and New York.
Today, Santhosh brings his years of culinary experience to his own restaurant—Karavalli Regional Cuisine of India. Deep in its kitchen, the skilled chef stirs pots of spicy curries and bakes lamb, seafood, and breads in a traditional tandoori oven. He whips up his authentic Indian dishes using only fresh herbs and fiery spices, eschewing pre-made sauces or counterfeit magic beans. When discussing his dishes with reporters from The Saratogian, Santosh maintained, "after you eat, you feel something. Your taste buds are up. Once you start eating Indian food, then you like it. Plus, the spices are very good for the health".