The aroma of mint never fails to take Navjot Arora back to his childhood in Jalandhar, Punjab, when he'd spend mornings scouring his family garden for fresh mint leaves. Navjot would triumphantly bring his findings back to the kitchen, where he was allowed to grind the leaves with a pestle for the mint chutney—the most important condiment. He worked alongside his parents, marveling as they nimbly sliced tender goat meat, throwing it against the wall to test for doneness, and thoughtfully tasted spoonfuls of creamy curry from simmering pots.
Though Navjot would go on to study under master Indian chefs at the prestigious Taj Group of Hotels and work for top restaurants in New York, he never forgot the culinary lessons he learned in his family's kitchen. At Chutney Masala, he still hand grinds fresh herbs and spices to bring out their intricate flavors, adding them to sauces lauded by reporters from the New York Times as "superbly complex." The expert chef then folds free-range meat, wild seafood, and local produce into a variety of contemporary and traditional Indian dishes, from spicy lamb curries to fragrant biryani rice.
Navjot's dining room is nearly as intriguing as the flavors in his dishes, with brick walls speckled with photographs from India's mid-19th century Raj era and rustic antique accents. A mounted deer head overlooks the rows of wooden tabletops and cushy green booths, sometimes sneezing when a waft of cumin floats to his nostrils.
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.
In a dining room the 2010 Michelin guide described as "a fresh, modern interior soaked in beautiful, natural light," according to their website, servers at Indian Clove deliver a diverse roster of Indo-Chinese dishes. As patrons sip salted, spiced lassi, daily lunch buffets heap plates with both vegetarian and nonvegetarian entrees. Grilled-chicken tikka and lobster cook inside the traditional clay oven known as a tandoor as chefs with a "serious talent for Indian fare," according to Michelin, prepare classics such as samosas and lamb vindaloo. Drinks and live DJs complement these classic flavors in the bar and lounge, where hanging orange lamps sprout from carefully watered light bulbs to illuminate cocktails.
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.
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.
The chefs at Kulcha Corner fire up a traditional clay oven, in which specialty Kulcha, or Indian-style flatbreads—concocted from flour, salt, yogurt, and milk—bake until golden brown. Servers ferry trays of tandoori kebabs and hot vegetarian curries to tables, where diners can revel in the entrees’ spiciness. The oblong eatery invites patrons to relax at tables for four and gaze toward an HDTV positioned near the back of the venue. Glossily stained wainscoting underscores sconces that emit vectors of romantic yellow light, and a deep-red back wall reminds guests of what would happen if a lipstick truck crashed into a wall.