As the major riverine port of a nation that's home to more than a billion people, Calcutta hardly lacks for culture. The city's cuisine—a multicultural mishmash of Indian, British, Jewish, Chinese, and other culinary traditions—is but one example of its stunning diversity. A Calcutta Affair's menu captures this diversity in dishes such as the fish fry and the Calcutta Chow, the latter a mixture of noodles, veggies, and meat that's reminiscent of stir-fry.
Despite the competing influences, Indian traditions still hold the greatest weight in the Calcuttan kitchen. This explains why many of A Calcutta Affair's dishes are prepared with Bengali flavors such as five-spice (a mixture of cumin, fennel, fenugreek, kalonji, and mustard seed) and freshly ground mustard paste. The tandoori dishes are billed as the restaurant's specialties, and one taste of the chicken marinated in sour cream and spices will tell you why. An exotic selection of beverages includes mango lassi and litchi juice with rosewater, though guests can also bring their own beers, wines, and nonalcoholic bathtub gin.
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.
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.
At Coriander Cuisine, an array of India dishes from various regions arrive at tables, simmering with savory bites of chicken, lamb, and lentils. Beyond the main dining room's mango-yellow walls and tables draped with crisp white linens lies a renovated party hall, catering to parties and special events. Here, dignitaries including the governor of Delaware and the mayor of Edison have dined, hosting events such as fundraisers and flavorful soirees to celebrate the food of the region. Even the lauded music director of Slumdog Millionaire tapped Coriander Cuisine's to exclusively cater his meals he traveled into town for his national concert tour.
Back inside the kitchen, culinary artists embrace the unmistakable flavors of India by using particular blends of herbs and spices to re-create iconic dishes from the subcontinent's southern and northern regions. Hints of tamarind, ginger, and curry leaves appear throughout the menu, lending their distinctive character to the cuisine's signature combinations of spicy and savory aromas.
A union of Middle Eastern and Western cultures, Fire N Ice Hookah Bar combines the laid-back charm of a hookah lounge with the music and swank of a nightclub. Customers roam through the electric bi-level space flooded by soft colorful lighting before picking their poison—hookah, drinks, food, or all three.
In the hookah lounge, they curl up on plush sofas cushioned by satiny pillows and reach out every so often to grasp the hookah pipe as it’s passed around, inhaling any one of 25 exotic hookah flavors. The smoke spirals up toward Middle Eastern tapestries hanging overhead or snakes around the top-shelf cocktails perched beside the pipe. It even intermingles briefly with the aromas wafting from Middle Eastern dishes—such as chicken tikka, korma sliders, and kebabs—before vanishing into the air as quickly as a magician at a science fair.
As the night lingers on, Fire N Ice begins its transformation into a full-blown nightclub. Belly dancers take to the stage first, twisting and shimmying across the spacious dance floor. By 11 p.m., the club's three DJs begin spinning top R & B and hip-hop hits intermixed with a few Arabian jams, signaling to guests that it's their turn to hit the floor.
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 chef at Zaika Barbeque & Grill pulls 14 years of experience out of his hat as he prepares traditional Pakistani dishes cooked- and spiced-to-order with halal ingredients. As he barbecues chicken, lamb, and beef, he locks spices and flavors into kebabs, whereas his tandoor oven slowly lets juicy chicken tikka stew and gather up as much flavor as it can. Waiters guide diners through the wide selection of entrees, which includes vegetarian curries and rice dishes. A petite menu of Pakistani desserts coddles sweet teeth after dinner, assuaging their ever-present, irrational fear of the tooth fairy.