For centuries, the diverse cultures of Asia have been borrowing culinary traditions from their neighbors, transcending borders to swap cooking techniques and seasonings. At China Spice, chefs that hail from locales such as China, Nepal, and Tibet illustrate these time-honored pastimes on plates, harmoniously uniting the spices and styles of Indian, Sichuan, Thai, and Nepalese cuisines. Flecks of coriander and turmeric—hallmarks of Indian and Thai kitchens—might pepper dishes doused in classic Chinese soy sauce. Provincial Hakka specialties, such as chili chicken, neighbor dishes from cosmopolitan Shanghai. Ample rice and noodle dishes, vegetarian fare, and seafood populate tables next to long banquettes, which unfurl amid low lighting and deep earth tones.
A plush, scarlet-accented interior welcomes diners to Nanking, whose namesake city—plotted equally between Canton and Peking—boasts a strong history of mingling Chinese, Thai, and Indian flavors. The fusion fare descends on appetites as natural light from a wall of broad windows washes over gleaming wooden floors, punctuated by a long bar stocked with wines, cocktails, mocktails, and ice sculptures chiseled by a famous cubist. Velvety, modern red chairs support diners as they feast on everything from spicy seafood to rich goat-meat curries and numerous vegetarian options that offer protein in the form of chickpeas, paneer, and tofu.
Named for the Spanish word for nostalgia, Añoranzas Colombianas helps diners to understand Columbia’s culinary history with traditional recipes. As the restaurant's televisions play salsa and cumbia dance videos, affable waiters ferry plates of shrimp in lemon sauce and chicken fajitas. The Bandeja Paisa, or country platter, mingles chorizo and fried pork belly with marinated steak, sunny-side-up eggs, avocado, and rice and beans served atop a 4-H manual. Not to be outdone by the main courses, cups of strong Colombian coffee and plates of flan add their own complex flavors each meal.
Buffalo chicken tortas. Cajun burritos. Tofu fajitas seasoned with curry and cumin. These aren't your average Mexican dishes, and Boca Grande Cantina Mexicana isn't your average Mexican restaurant. There's a playfulness to the menu here, brought on by the chefs' willingness to experiment with ingredients from around the globe. They've found Indian food to be especially compatible with Mexican preparations; for proof, see the vegetarian burrito with red curry sauce or the lentil-stuffed pi?ata.
As a boy, Michael Colletti watched his immigrant father and grandparents prepare age-old family recipes they brought with them from their Sicilian home. He watched them in awe as they used ingredients, such figs and cardoons, from their own backyard to craft an array of traditional Italian dishes. Needless to say, this early fascination led him toward formal training as a grown-up, which launched him into a career as a chef and restaurateur. Since graduating from the Culinary Education Center, he has worked in restaurants lauded by the New York Times, helped found Good Stuff Eatery, and won the "Rachel Ray Burger Bash" contest at the 2009 Food & Wine Festival. After all this success, Chef Colletti decided to go back to his roots. To do this, he opened VB3 Restaurant, where he blends the Sicilian flavors of his youth with the wide array of culinary techniques he mastered as an adult.
Since opening, VB3 Restaurant has really become two restaurants in one. On the one hand, the dining room makes for an excellent place to enjoy a romantic meal featuring the chef’s roasted branzino or seasonal penne primavera, as well as live music and dancing. On the other hand, the take-out line provides easy access to the eatery’s Italian-style pizza—a specialty based on dough recipes a young Michael learned from his cousin, who came up with them during his stint living in an Italian oven.
Though Mantra Head Chef Purvesh Patel is known for his creative takes on Indian cuisine—including chaat, or snack food, garnished with tender lobster meat—his careful, French-inspired cooking also leaves its mark on the menu’s traditional entrees. "Each ingredient seemed to have bathed for just the right number of hours in its yogurt marinade; each was precisely cooked; and each carried a heady overtone of spices," a New York Times food writer recalled of a tandoori dish in 2008. In contrast to these subtle flavors, Mantra’s presentation often has theatrical flair; chefs chop chaat dishes tableside and set a banana flambé dessert ablaze with rum.
Both locations’ sleek dining rooms also go for drama with bold, modern decor. In Jersey City, red accents simmer against warm-toned walls. Next to the Paramus spot's mosaic-tiled bar, live flames dance on the low wall between the dining room and lounge, upping the “amazement factor” for Cody Kendall of the Star-Ledger.