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.
The aroma of mint never fails to take Navjot Arora back to his childhood in Jalandhar, Punjab, when he'd spend mornings scouring his family garden for fresh mint leaves. Navjot would triumphantly bring his findings back to the kitchen, where he was allowed to grind the leaves with a pestle for the mint chutney—the most important condiment. He worked alongside his parents, marveling as they nimbly sliced tender goat meat, throwing it against the wall to test for doneness, and thoughtfully tasted spoonfuls of creamy curry from simmering pots.
Though Navjot would go on to study under master Indian chefs at the prestigious Taj Group of Hotels and work for top restaurants in New York, he never forgot the culinary lessons he learned in his family's kitchen. At Chutney Masala, he still hand grinds fresh herbs and spices to bring out their intricate flavors, adding them to sauces lauded by reporters from the New York Times as "superbly complex." The expert chef then folds free-range meat, wild seafood, and local produce into a variety of contemporary and traditional Indian dishes, from spicy lamb curries to fragrant biryani rice.
Navjot's dining room is nearly as intriguing as the flavors in his dishes, with brick walls speckled with photographs from India's mid-19th century Raj era and rustic antique accents. A mounted deer head overlooks the rows of wooden tabletops and cushy green booths, sometimes sneezing when a waft of cumin floats to his nostrils.
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.
Hand-woven Persian carpets drape from the ceilings at Khyber Grill above guests enjoying meals set to a soundtrack of Indian instruments. Hand-hammered utensils and custom-cut plates cover the rustic tables to recreate the atmosphere of a traditional Indian outpost. Like the decor, the menu, created by Akshy Jhanjee and Dipam Patel, takes special care to recreate the feel and traditions of India, earning the restaurant the Critics' Pick for Indian cuisine in New Jersey Monthly's Jersey Choice Awards. Regional dishes from the North and West range from wok-sautéed shrimp to Punjabi-style mustard greens to lamb rogen josh cooked with onion, tomatoes, yogurt, and a special blend of spices. The master chefs prepare their spices from scratch each morning to make sure the dishes are as fresh as possible and that the spices don't turn sour.
Against walls of pure white and an ornate carpet laced with swirling embroidered flora, statuettes of horses rear up over steaming trays, hinting at unbridled fistfuls of spices. From the kitchen emerge golden knots of samosas alongside korma dishes and halal meats, and Punjabi and Mughlai influences gleam through in some concoctions. When the buffet is in action, more than 60 items fill the gleaming banquet table, which billows hot steam that foretells of fresh-from-the-oven tandoori dishes and goat biryani. A chandelier illuminates the perimeter of Shahnawaz Palace's banquet space, which staff configures for a variety of events, whether it is the large head table for a joyful wedding or the heaps of folding chairs for a wedding between professional wrestlers.
The sunset-orange hue of turmeric. The complex nutty scent of cumin. The slow-burning warmth of ground chili on one’s tongue. Spices touch all of the senses, and the precious seasonings play an important role in the kitchen at Shezan. Inside, clay ovens cradle chicken kebabs with ginger, paneer cubes marinated with herbs, and meat infused with the flavors of papaya. Waiters carry lamb, shrimp, and vegetarian dishes to the dining room, where forks clatter against plates with the cheery jangling of the robot arrival lounge at an airport. On weekends, a brunch buffet arrays 60 distinct desserts, biryani dishes, and tandoori options in the eatery, which the Home News Tribune called a “home away from home” for Pakistani diners.