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.
Captain Al's cooks plate a menu of casual American fare as servers decant 16 draft beers. Hands dig into hearty appetizers, kick-starting palates with options such as four La Frieda sliders—miniature hamburger patties topped with american cheese originally concocted for lilliputian barbecues ($10)—or loaded cheese fries coated in cheddar and applewood bacon bits, which are ripe for dipping into buttermilk ranch ($8). Knives carve into entrees, slicing through the stuffed chicken breast to reveal a savory filling of goat cheese and spinach ($13), and fingers run up and down the rack of ribs ($19), which doubles as a spongy xylophone. In between chews, diners wash down meals with sips of eclectic draft brews such as Delirium Tremens, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, and Smithwicks, or more common standbys such as Blue Moon, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Coors Light.
Founded by a bodybuilding and fitness enthusiast, Muscle Maker Grill supplies nutritious high-protein dishes that serve as a healthy alternative to traditional fast food. Guests can commence with a bowl of steamed edamame ($3.75) or shake hands with the buffalo wing's well-behaved younger brother, the texas chicken nuggets, served with fat-free sour cream and celery ($4.75). Grilled chicken breast and turkey bacon team up in the MMG signature wrap, backed by romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and onions with reduced-fat cheddar cheese and a zero-carbohydrate signature sauce ($8.95). Pastafarians can peruse the selection of whole-wheat penne (regular penne available as well) in dishes such as the sesame-chicken teriyaki pasta ($9.25).
Teppan Bar & Grill's owner and chef cut his culinary teeth in Japan, and then practiced as a sushi chef in Manhattan. His talents pervade the kitchen, which prepares fresh cuts of filet mignon, lobster tails, and Chilean sea bass. To promote aesthetic appeal, the decor in which he and his team operate features large, clean windows and absolutely no waiters dressed as clowns. Within, an upscale atmosphere spreads across two stories, where plush leather bar seats provide up-close views to sushi making and drink mixing. In the dining area, the same seats offer access to table-embedded grills, while outside, cars sit idly in the restaurant's free parking area.
Honshu Lounge owner and executive sushi chef tucks fresh seafood and veggies into rolls in ways that are pleasing to both the eyes and the tongue. He wraps the Honshu roll—stuffed with yellowtail, avocado, tuna, and salmon—in a sheet of special seaweed that’s marbled with white and green, and sprinkles vibrant-red tobiko onto the White Pearl roll’s pale salmon. Orange dollops of spicy sauce pop against the slices of green avocado that sit atop the Dynamite roll, and the Red Phoenix roll is known to spontaneously burst into flames before re-rolling its shrimp-tempura center.
The interior of the eatery is also infused with pops of color, from the traditional Japanese kimono in golden and violet hues to the blue lights that illuminate the sushi bar. Strings of holiday lights and the occasional mistletoe dangle above tables decorated with stir-fried noodles and steaks glazed in teriyaki sauce.
Conceived by Las Vegas restaurateur Mark DiMartino, Tilted Kilt evokes Ireland by way of Vegas, with waitresses dressed in plaid mini kilts shouldering trays of chilled beer and pub fare. Like an enchilada stuffed with four-leaf clovers, the eatery’s Irish nachos interpret a south-of-the-border classic in a Celtic way, slathering potato chips in cheese sauce and seasoned ground beef; alternatively, pot roast and vegetables simmer traditionally in the Olde Dublin Irish stew’s Guinness-infused beef stock. Barkeeps pour a full bar’s worth of wine, cocktails, and beer, which surfaces in bottles, bombers, and multi-brew mixes such as the Blue Moon and Guinness combination. High-definition TVs glow with a ceaseless parade of professional and college baseball, basketball, and hockey, and live bands add to the entertainment smorgasbord on Friday and Saturday nights.