It was a fateful day for Santhosh Kochuparambil when the chef at his restaurant didn't show up for work one morning. Unwilling to turn away hungry customers, Santhosh rolled up his sleeves and began cooking the dishes himself. From that day fourth, Santhosh continued to work in the kitchen, developing a knack with the saucepan and a skill with spices. After graduating from culinary school, Santhosh took on jobs in top kitchens across India, eventually leaving his native home for restaurants in Russia and New York.
Today, Santhosh brings his years of culinary experience to his own restaurant—Karavalli Regional Cuisine of India. Deep in its kitchen, the skilled chef stirs pots of spicy curries and bakes lamb, seafood, and breads in a traditional tandoori oven. He whips up his authentic Indian dishes using only fresh herbs and fiery spices, eschewing pre-made sauces or counterfeit magic beans. When discussing his dishes with reporters from The Saratogian, Santosh maintained, "after you eat, you feel something. Your taste buds are up. Once you start eating Indian food, then you like it. Plus, the spices are very good for the health".
At Bombay Spice Grill, you don't have to grab a table to enjoy the spices and sauces of Indian cuisine. Instead, Executive Chef Sunil Kumar designed a menu full of Indian meats, tofu, curries, and toppings that can be customized into a flavorful meal-on-the-go. Though the sauces come in traditional varieties such as curry, tikka masala, spinach, and vindaloo, the preparation veers from the methods of India to create healthier dishes. Chefs eschew cooking with ghee—Indian clarified butter—and instead use olive oil for heart-healthy wraps, sandwiches, salads, and bowls. And though wraps come with a slice of freshly baked naan or roti bread, clients can opt to make their dish gluten-free by swapping out bread for quinoa or rice. Guests can even customize their dish to be vegetarian and vegan, with ingredients clearly denoted on the menu. And to pair with a main entree, they can grab traditional Indian sides such as samosas and rice pudding.
Kokum takes its name from a berry that's specific to South India, a nod to the regional cuisine that stands out as this restaurant's specialty. The recently opened space may be new, but the cooking traditions are time honored, drawing specific inspiration from India's Kerala region. Favorites include spicy chicken masala kalumbu and vegetarian-friendly theeyal, which features a mix of green bananas, yam, and coconut. Top off your meal with one of the bar's craft cocktails, which include the signature Kokum, a mingling of vermouth, pineapple juice, and lime. The dining room keeps things simple, with exposed light bulbs and natural wood accents alongside paintings of boats with hulls colorful enough to rival the stains on the sauce chef's apron. Kokum is a member of the Fine Indian Dining Group.
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.