According to staff at Pakwaan Indian Cuisine, the word pakwaan once referred to dishes that were served only to royalty. Today, it's used to describe dishes crafted from the finest ingredients for celebratory meals. Chefs keep this festive definition in mind as they bring together classic Indian ingredients, such as fenugreek, tomatoes, and coconut, to create a wide-ranging menu of traditional Indian and Indo-Chinese dishes. These include tandoor-baked meats, sizzling goat, lamb, and chickens curries, and plates of piping-hot samosas. The regal yet festive vibes extend to the décor, as well; in the dining room, round mirrors dot the walls and gilded ties hold back burgundy curtains from dipping themselves in the sauce.
Aashirwad Palace & Martini Lounge’s gastronomic alchemists transmute the recipes and ingredients of subcontinental cooking to timelessly flavorful Indian dishes. Culinary adventures begin with bites from one of more than 20 appetizers such as the the chicken pakora’s spicy garlic-laced fritters or the Paneer Tika Sizzler’s homemade cheese-and-tandoori masala marinade. Entrees run the gamut of mealtime matter, ranging from vegetarian chana masala to spinach-packed lamb saag. A mild yogurt sauce and fresh coriander envelop the boneless-chicken korma, while the shrimp baigan's baked eggplant sizzles in a blend of herbs, spices, and fire-breathing shellfish. A dried-fruit garnish tops the navaratan korma, buttressed by mixed vegetables in a rich sauce made from members of the leafiest food groups. Grapes get tipsy in two glasses of wine, which quench throats and ably complements dishes.
Tradition meets innovation at Diwani Indian Restaurant. Some dishes are absolute classics, and the chef is determined to soar past other restaurants' takes on tradition. For instance, every entrée emerging from the clay oven, or tandoor, is consciously designed to be a juicy and vividly flavorful alternative to what Diwani's chef has diagnosed as the sub-par tandoori cuisine found at many establishments. Other chef favorites include fried vegetable fritters and chickpeas prepared with cumin and pomegranate seeds, which rapidly sprout into a tree diners can take home in a to-go pot. And then there are the menu's completely unexpected dishes, like venison and wild boar chops. But what all the dishes have in common is that each is made to order, with heat levels that can raised upon request.
BHOJ Indian Restaurant presents a bounty of dishes from across India, including tandoor-baked meats and a wide selection of vegetarian curries and biryanis. Chefs stuff crispy lamb samosa appetizers with spiced ground lamb and green peas, and their papri chaat’s spicy beans and chopped onions come with a selection of chutneys. The egg curry entrée flaunts hard-boiled eggs cooked in a mild herb-and-curry sauce, and the tandoor-marinated shrimp sizzles after a session in the traditional clay oven. The kitchen’s dedication to healthy dining is reflected in their decision to cook with cholesterol-free corn oil, as well as in their vegetarian dishes such as chana masala: chickpeas cooked North Indian–style with herbs and spices. The dining room’s décor reflects the bold simplicity of the Indian flag, with bright green accents peaking out from beneath crisp, white tablecloths. An orange buffet stands before a green wall, which strikes against the three remaining white walls and their colorful, yet sparse paintings.
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.