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.
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.
the scent of cumin, curry, and chilies immediately meets the nose when the doors open to Clove Indian Cuisine. Chefs cook up the traditional dishes of cuisines throughout India, from lamb chops sprinkled with black cumin and nutmeg sizzling in the tandoori oven to biryanis tossed with a choice of meats. The menu features vegetarian-friendly options, as well as exotic meats that are used to create dishes such as savory fish tikka and spicy goat vindaloo. To cool down the spice of these dishes without mapping out the nearest fire hydrants, guests can snack on syrupy gulab jaman or glasses of mango lassi.
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.
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.