Minar Palace traces its roots to 1991, when it served the community with a fast-food dynamic. Now, its recently opened current location offers a updated, intimate presentation. This new location boasts a clay oven ready to cook baked-to-order tandoori breads. Steaming dishes of vegetarian and meat Indian dishes line the buffet, so you can get as many vegetables as you need to build a decent replica of Mumbai's airport at your table. Along with the lunch and dinner buffet, the kitchen prepares goat, chicken, and seafood specialties from its menu, which also features vegetarian entrees. For dessert, thickened milk dumplings soaked in rose-flavored sugar syrup, rice pudding with pistachios, and mango ice cream satisfy sweet cravings.
While it certainly goes to great lengths to ensure a delicious food roster, the restaurant's staff tends to more than its menu; the interior's rich orange walls backdrop high-backed booths and glossy, elegantly finished wood tables. Track lighting dots a dark ceiling, and stainless steel underscores both the freshness of the food and the modernity of the fixtures with which guests interact.
The masala maestros at Cafe Spice Express prepare an expansive and omnivorous menu of upscale Indian takeout. Rumbly tummies can be hushed by arsenal of appetizers, including a trio of potato-packed samosas ($4), boneless chili chicken ($7.50), and the yogurt-coated salmon of saloni machi ($8). The lamb madras marries the sweetness of coconut and tanginess of mustard ($13), and the shrimp vindaloo dips tiger prawns in a hot-and-spicy sauce ($14). Crop-based eats from the vegetarian menu include bhindi masala, a sautéed okra dish with julienned ginger and cumin ($9.95), and malai kofta, featuring vegetable dumplings steeped in cashew-almond gravy ($10.50) until as rich and tender as hug from Bill Gates.
Cherry-colored curtains swoop across the inviting picture windows of Mood Cafe, an Indian restaurant situated on the ground floor of a loft apartment building. Inside, red remains prominent, splashing across walls and framing the restaurant's dark tables. When visitors arrive, those tables transform into stages for colorful arrangements of Indian delicacies, from various forms of fresh naan to chicken, lamb, and seafood entrees. Some dishes, specifically the barbecue tandoori specials, start out in clay ovens, such as the garlic-and-ginger-chicken kebab. Meals conclude on a high note with traditional Indian desserts, such as the carrot-based gajar halwa.
Black-and-white wedding photographs of owner Kayur Popat's parents beam down from Jalsa's walls, a nod to the restaurateur's Indian roots. After all, it was Kayur's family that first proposed he begin serving Indian food at his suburban pizzeria, Friends & Family Pizza Buffet, according to a profile on Philly.com. With the success of that venture—redubbed Bombay Junction & Pizza Buffet—Kayur decided to open a more upscale location downtown. And thus, Jalsa was born.
In the kitchen, a Goa-native chef captains the culinary crew members as they whip up curry sauces and homemade Indian ice cream, and a clay oven glows with tandoori dishes and fresh breads. Indian artwork and dangling chandeliers join the family photos on the walls of the dining room, where plates pair with cups of mango and strawberry lassi on sleek black tables. Strings of white curtains shroud the cushy white booths amid colorful walls and elegant exposed brick. After nightfall, the upstairs transforms into a dance floor where a live DJ spins tunes before turning back into a jukebox at the stroke of two.
"Pretty damn incredible"—the first words that Philadelphia Weekly's Brian Freedman chose to sum up the cuisine at Tashan. Philadelphia magazine's Trey Popp was also wowed by the restaurant's unique culinary balancing act, stating that the food was " …a potential minefield, but executive chef Sylva Senat dances through it without dropping much more than a teaspoon’s worth of his 51-spice arsenal." The Haitian-born chef—who was a James Beard Award semi-finalist in 2012 and 2013 and who is beloved by area food critics and his mother—certainly does his best to help Tashan redefine Philadelphia's Indian food scene.
Drawing from extensive culinary experience—time spent in the kitchens of Trump Hotel Central Park and Buddakan—and traditional Indian cooking methods, chef Senat melds classically Indian flavors with culinary styles from around the globe. His small-plates-focused menus feature inventive takes on familiar dishes, such as organic chicken-vindaloo sausage, tandoori free-range butter chicken, and masala-dusted lobster. The food pairs well with cocktails that also incorporate Indian spices and fruits.
Though chef Senat's cuisine is the star, Tashan's decor has also garnered praise. Designed by New York-based architect and interior designer Winka Dubbeldam, the dining room surrounds visitors with tables made from hand-carved wood, as well as with statues and furnishings from India, Spain, and Mexico. Ebony wood takes on a subtle dark glow, and polished steel accents reflect the low, sensual lighting. The result is a physical space that, according to Brian Freedman, takes on an air of “crepuscular sexiness."
Executive chef Mohan, who has commanded Lovash Restaurant’s kitchen for 12 years and been in in the restaurant business for 30 years, infuses an equal blend of color and flavor into his Indian recipes. He tosses chicken into bright-red sun-dried-tomato sauce, marinates tender lamb in coconut milk, and sprinkles spices across wilted spinach and yellow cheese cubes. The colorful dishes mimic the stained-glass chandeliers that hang overhead to illuminate portraits hanging from the exposed-brick walls. The BYOB eatery also has a private dining room to host family gatherings and laid-back jury deliberations.