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.
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".
Tandoori Chef's tangerine walls and vibrant paintings warm diners ensconced at red-linen-topped tables, where they await steaming platters of the aromatic Indian cuisine from the bustling kitchen. Inside, chefs whip up a diverse repertoire of Northern Indian curry, tandoori, and rice dishes brimming with spice-laden veggies, chicken, shrimp, and lamb. A private dining area fills up to 30 bellies, and catering services bring the kitchen's nourishing warmth to party-goers or ravenous sasquatches grown too tall to fit through the front door.
Gateway of India's authentic ambiance houses fragrant aromas from a wide selection of classic Indian cuisine. Tantalizing appetizers such as the vegetable pakora summon appetites with veggies battered in lightly seasoned lentil flour, and the kebab sampler dispenses spears of chicken, lamb, and fish—provided they're not touring as an alternative-country trio. Delicious flats of naan bread sop up sauces and act as makeshift bibs bursting with flavors of garlic, coconut and cherries, or unleavened whole-wheat grains. Gnaw on entrees such as the lamb korma—decadent pieces of spiced lamb swimming in onion, cashew, and almond cream sauce—or nibble the palak paneer, a dish of homemade Indian cheese and spinach. A selection of classic dishes such as chicken tikka masala and goat biryani with rice challenge exotic combinations such as lobster curry to freestyle Bollywood dance-offs.
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.