Every morning at Jazmin Restaurant, chefs load morsels of freshly kneaded naan dough into the tandoor oven. The aroma of baking bread soon fills the dining room, mingling with the heady scents of curry and cumin that waft from grills sizzling with halal chicken and lamb. Chefs also flaunt seven vegetarian entrees that swap meat for lighter ingredients such as homemade cheese and lentils. To contrast the savory dishes, dining companions can share traditional Indian desserts of mango ice cream and mango custard, which stand as evidence of the mango’s worth beyond its inclusion in fruit hats.
Executive chef and owner Bharat Luthra named his restaurant Khajuraho after a town in Madhya Pradesh, India—a town famous for a series of Hindu and Jain temples filled with erotic monuments. Like those iconic statues, the sights, smells, and tastes of Luthra’s Indian cuisine create a vivid statement in support of sensuality and the enjoyment of life. His restaurant's elegant white-clothed tables, great enough in number to seat up to 120, stage feasts fit for mild to spicy palates and carnivorous to vegetarian appetites. Luthra bakes succulent marinated chicken inside a tandoori clay oven, spikes fresh seafood with garlic and ginger, and keeps vegetable balls from rolling off the plate with a smooth cream sauce and repurposed bowling-alley bumpers.
Shere-E-Punjab owner and chef Zail Singh Shergill has more than two decades of cooking experience packed into his apron. Even with all that wisdom, he still counts on those around him—family, especially—to keep the restaurant’s spread fresh and exciting. Zail’s son and Shere-E-Punjab co-founder, Pushpinder Singh, consistently concocts recipes for new dishes—an ongoing effort reflected in the lengthy and varied menu, which includes fresh naan, chicken tikka masala, and barbecue lamb kabobs cooked in the clay tandoor ovens. The restaurant also carries a selection of Indian beers, wines, and cocktails.
The masala maestros at Cafe Spice Express prepare an expansive and omnivorous menu of upscale Indian takeout. Rumbly tummies can be hushed by arsenal of appetizers, including a trio of potato-packed samosas ($4), boneless chili chicken ($7.50), and the yogurt-coated salmon of saloni machi ($8). The lamb madras marries the sweetness of coconut and tanginess of mustard ($13), and the shrimp vindaloo dips tiger prawns in a hot-and-spicy sauce ($14). Crop-based eats from the vegetarian menu include bhindi masala, a sautéed okra dish with julienned ginger and cumin ($9.95), and malai kofta, featuring vegetable dumplings steeped in cashew-almond gravy ($10.50) until as rich and tender as hug from Bill Gates.
"Pretty damn incredible"—the first words that Philadelphia Weekly's Brian Freedman chose to sum up the cuisine at Tashan. Philadelphia magazine's Trey Popp was also wowed by the restaurant's unique culinary balancing act, stating that the food was " …a potential minefield, but executive chef Sylva Senat dances through it without dropping much more than a teaspoon’s worth of his 51-spice arsenal." The Haitian-born chef—who was a James Beard Award semi-finalist in 2012 and 2013 and who is beloved by area food critics and his mother—certainly does his best to help Tashan redefine Philadelphia's Indian food scene.
Drawing from extensive culinary experience—time spent in the kitchens of Trump Hotel Central Park and Buddakan—and traditional Indian cooking methods, chef Senat melds classically Indian flavors with culinary styles from around the globe. His small-plates-focused menus feature inventive takes on familiar dishes, such as organic chicken-vindaloo sausage, tandoori free-range butter chicken, and masala-dusted lobster. The food pairs well with cocktails that also incorporate Indian spices and fruits.
Though chef Senat's cuisine is the star, Tashan's decor has also garnered praise. Designed by New York-based architect and interior designer Winka Dubbeldam, the dining room surrounds visitors with tables made from hand-carved wood, as well as with statues and furnishings from India, Spain, and Mexico. Ebony wood takes on a subtle dark glow, and polished steel accents reflect the low, sensual lighting. The result is a physical space that, according to Brian Freedman, takes on an air of “crepuscular sexiness."
Voted top five in the Best Indian category of the 2011, 2012, and 2013 CityVoter awards, Laxmi's Indian Grille serves a range of dishes?from spicy meats to subtle vegetable stews?designed to please all palates. A perfume of fresh ginger, rose water, and house-made cottage cheese drifts from the bustling kitchen out into the dining room of the Main Street location, where vibrant paintings provide an elegant contrast to walls of rustic exposed stone. At both Main Street and the newly minted Tilden Street eatery, a clay tandoor oven is kept aflame throughout the day, enabling chefs to bake breads, meats, and underripe bananas to a golden patina.