Hand-carved Cambodian bas-relief sculptures line Chakra's palatial, softly lit space, accenting silk-tented bungalows, teak flooring, and a low-lit stone water wall that oscillates between the colors of the seven chakras. Amid this earthy, intricate decor, Executive Chef Thomas Ciszak Chakra crafts eclectic fare with a simple philosophy, which he related in a New Jersey Monthly article: “I don’t get stuck in cuisine labels … I want to focus on what people love to eat. I just want it to taste great.”
He delivers on that philosophy with a seasonal menu of sophisticated yet accessible dishes, which may include selections such as a parma ham sushi roll, rack of lamb, or a hot dog masquerading in a top hat. His meals pair seamlessly with the bar’s specialty cocktails, as well as with selections from an extensive wine list, which Gayot included on its Top 10 Wine Lists in Northern New Jersey. For a sweet finale, the chef concocts a dessert menu that is chock full of gourmet, sugary delights such as homemade Tahitian vanilla ice cream or chicory iced coffee paired with fresh-baked donuts and police-siren sound effects.
Inside the Garden State Plaza mall lies a gateway to the past, where flickering flames illuminate the charred interior of an oak-burning pizza oven, and the aroma of bubbling sauce made with freshly crushed tomatoes mixes with wisps of Frank Sinatra's silky voice. The charm that surrounds the rituals of Italian cooking drifts into Papa Razzi's dining room from an open-air kitchen, where cooks bustle around steaming pots of pasta. The culinarians use only fresh and imported ingredients when cooking, just as Old-World chefs did before they took jobs fixing the cleaver-wielding robots that would replace them.
Behind a wood-accented, 15-foot bar, mixologists sling a list of libations that includes mimosas, sangria, and wines selected to complement meals. In the dining room, fresh flowers sit atop white tablecloths, and celebrity photographs line the walls, reminding guests of treasured nuggets of pop culture.
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.
In 1988, Auntie Anne's founders Anne and Jonas Beiler purchased a Pennsylvania farmers' market stand, where they experimented with dough until they created a pretzel that seemed to strike the perfect chord with their customers. Today, at their more than 1,150 locations worldwide, the pretzel makers still hand roll the original recipe but have added to the menu with inventive options, such as the pepperoni pretzel and eight signature dipping sauces. The team constantly explores new uses for the pretzel dough, such as wrapping it around hot dogs, slicing it into bite-size nuggets, or using it to build historically accurate Austrian villages. To transform the snack into a meal, they accompany it with specialty drinks, including frozen-lemonade desserts.
When not twisting dough, Auntie Anne's team partners with the national charitable organization Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which raises funds to fight childhood cancer. They also reach out to the community through fundraising opportunities.
Though the staff at French Fry Heaven believe the best way to serve a potato is fried, they're not in agreement about how they should be seasoned. That's why they cut, fry, and flavor potatoes and sweet potatoes into 50 styles of french fries—some of which, like Napoleon, aren't even French. For more traditional serving versions, they offer slightly salted fries served Dutch-style with a dollop of mayonnaise, British-style with a splash of malt vinegar, and Utah-style with pickle-laced ketchup. But once the chefs veer from the traditional style fries, things really start to get interesting.
The team can season fries in a range of infused salts, from the rich black truffle salt to the mouth-searing ghost pepper salt. To enhance the natural sugar of sweet potatoes, chefs sprinkle those fries with a choice of dessert toppings. These can include options such as blueberry sauce or cinnamon and brown sugar. They can even blend secret ingredients that mimic the flavors of a funnel cake. Their signature fries drip with a range of sauces, from the Canadian poutine to Cajun remoulade.
There's always a flurry of action behind the counter at Crêpes Cêlestes. That's because the chefs don't hide behind kitchen doors. Rather, they showcase their crepe-flipping, sauce-spreading, and egg-cracking skills directly in front of customers. They create a range of internationally inspired crepes, whether it's a simple version with cane sugar, butter, and lemon juice or a decadent dessert layered with Nutella, coconut, bananas, and a splash of Bailey's. For a special treat, they can even add scoops of ice cream that melt over the still-warm batter.
They don't just fill their crepes with sweet ingredients, however. They also create a full roster of savory crepes influenced by different world cuisines, from sautéed vegetables in a spicy chipotle sauce to pesto chicken with red peppers. But whether they're whipping up a sweet or savory concoction, the chefs customize the batter with gluten-free flour on weekends to accommodate food allergies. Additionally, gluten-free macarons are available daily in a variety of flavors.