Purple tablecloths bloom with vases of cut flowers as petal-like fans whir overhead. Their regal hue symbolizes one of Zaroka Bar & Restaurant's guiding principles: that guests are akin to royalty. Inside the dining room, traditional Indian meals unfold amid ornately carved picture frames, vibrant music, and colorful conversations. To explore India's nooks and crannies, chefs craft dishes from far-flung regions such as Punjab, Gujarat, and Bengal. House specialties range from spiced chicken kebabs baked in a clay oven to curried shrimp simmered in a coconut pot. The kitchen also prepares an array of vegetarian dishes, such as savory garlic naan and three types of lentil dal. An ideal dessert or palate cleanser, the rosewater lassi teems with sweet, floral hints, like a game of charades with a potpourri sachet.
Glowing sconces line the crimson and cream walls inside Namaste India, where traditional Indian dishes adorn linen-topped tables and fill the air with spiced aromas. Marinated lamb, chicken, and seafood slumber inside a clay tandoor oven until they're mildly smoky and tender throughout, while other proteins and vegetables steep in rich curry sauces, aptly scooped up with fresh-baked naan bread or ladled over delicate basmati rice. Patrons can wash down meals with sweet, salted, or mango-flavored lassi drinks, or snatch a classic dessert such as gulab jamun—deep-fried milk dumplings that are soaked in syrup and delivered to tables via an air gun.
The chefs at Saffron Place take spices seriously. Drawing on shelves of cumin, curry, fresh ginger, and garlic, they craft each dish individually to account for each person's preferred level of spiciness, be it mild to smoking hot. The individual preparation of each order ensures that their traditional north Indian and Bengali dishes arrive at tables still steaming from the stove or easily startled dragons. Servers carry goat curry, chicken tikka masala, and vegetarian platters to tables or customers waiting for takeout orders.
India Kitchen—deemed Hartford County's Best Indian Restaurant in 2011 by readers of Connecticut Magazine—piles family-style offerings from North and South India onto its menu, concocting entrees with imported ingredients and an authentic tandoor oven. Patrons can play games of solitaire with 11 types of traditional breads, such as the raisin- and nut-filled khandari kulcha ($3.95). Jumbo shrimp slip into robes of lemon juice, yogurt, and spices before sizzling in the clay oven, only to emerge as tandoori shrimp ($15.95) or, in rare cases, a single giant shrimp with crime-fighting ambitions and mastery over fire. The chicken chutney wala surrounds poultry morsels with tangy pools of curried mango and mint sauce ($12.95), whereas cashew-and-almond sauce varnishes vegetable-and-cheese dumplings in the vegetarian malai kofta ($11.95).
In addition to its classic menu offerings, India Kitchen hosts a daily all-you-can-eat lunch buffet seven days a week as well as a Wednesday and Sunday night dinner buffet. Featuring a catering menu for larger groups, the restaurant's chefs portion out party-sized servings from a limited menu that includes naan ($32+) and vegetable biryani ($40+). For heartier mealtimes, they also simmer orders of lamb or fish curry ($90) that can either feed 30–40 people or one insatiable garbage disposal.
Kokum takes its name from a berry that's specific to South India, a nod to the regional cuisine that stands out as this restaurant's specialty. The recently opened space may be new, but the cooking traditions are time honored, drawing specific inspiration from India's Kerala region. Favorites include spicy chicken masala kalumbu and vegetarian-friendly theeyal, which features a mix of green bananas, yam, and coconut. Top off your meal with one of the bar's craft cocktails, which include the signature Kokum, a mingling of vermouth, pineapple juice, and lime. The dining room keeps things simple, with exposed light bulbs and natural wood accents alongside paintings of boats with hulls colorful enough to rival the stains on the sauce chef's apron. Kokum is a member of the Fine Indian Dining Group.
Curry Kebob House expands beyond the bounds of its name with a diverse menu of beef, chicken, and lamb dishes, all made with halal meats. Helmed by chef Sameer Ahmad, the kitchen team slow-cooks shredded beef and lentils for a dish called haleem, dappled with blackened onions and lemon, as well as whips up plates of creamy and tangy chicken tikka masala. Delicately spiced Pakistani specialties include karahi gosht—goat cooked in a thick tomato sauce with chilies—and chicken karahi, which is cooked in an iron wok with ginger and spices.
The Indo-Pak restaurant is modeled after the casual eateries in India and Pakistan, with red tablecloths draped over petite tables and traditional artwork adorning the exposed-brick and wood walls. Strings of twinkling lights dangle at the entrance, signaling to diners that they’ve found the right place and confirming that fireflies are very cooperative after being fed kebabs.