Typically it looks like the restaurateurs of Jersey Metropolis’s India Sq. are enjoying an elaborate sport of musical chairs. The 30 or so restaurant storefronts on the two-block strip shutter after which reopen with totally different names, however usually presenting comparable menus of dosas or biryanis. Sometimes a newcomer seems with a unique culinary strategy, and Masala Cafe is such a spot.
It was spawned final October by a restaurant with an identical title in downtown Newark dedicated to South Indian meals, however with a lot of northern, Indo-Chinese language, and citified road eats thrown into the combination, making for a menu with one thing for everybody. However lots of the eating institutions in Jersey Metropolis already cowl these bases; clearly one thing totally different was wanted. So, proprietor and chef P. Chelladurai determined to focus extra carefully on the delicacies of Chennai, a metropolis within the Tamil Nadu state on India’s southeast coast. Previously often called Madras, town was traditionally well-known for its textile business. Chelladurai grew up in Periyapalayam, a city on the Arani river northwest of town.
Via certainly one of my company who served as translator, the chef instructed us one night in Tamil, “I used to be in IT earlier than, and thought it might be enjoyable to open a restaurant. I regarded round and realized there was no genuine place devoted solely to the cooking of Madras.” He additionally beneficial a number of dishes, and I managed to attempt most of them on three visits. The restaurant occupies a deep area culminating in a kitchen, with two parallel eating rooms, one embellished with colourful plates, the opposite with supergraphic picture photos of spices.
The restaurant labels itself Chettinad, referring to certainly one of Tamil Nadu’s cultural teams, the Chettiars, who’re answerable for one of many state’s dominant cuisines. Its recipes are well-known for his or her subtlety and complicated ground-spice aromas, with flavors stated to reflect the dry local weather. Appetizers are a robust level on Masala Cafe’s menu, although most may additionally perform as principal programs when rice is ordered.
Kozhi milagu varuval ($13.99) is a traditional: bone-in hen components coated with a dark-beige gravy, with a lot of ginger and black pepper — a spice native to India that predated the looks of chiles from South America within the late fifteenth century. In actual fact, the delicacies’s oldest recipes could be usually be recognized by their use of black pepper relatively than chiles. The dish arrives strewn with cilantro and uncooked purple onions, and is greatest eaten with parotta, a flaky spherical flatbread that falls aside in layers. “It’s buttery like a croissant, solely flakier,” a pal famous one afternoon.
One other exceptional appetizer, and probably nice brunch dish, is egg murtaba ($10.99). It consists of a whole-wheat crust folded over a spicy egg filling, stacked on the plate like shirts in a drawer, and accompanied by an onion raita and a masala gravy. Dip the slices in both and revel in. For a slight further cost, you’ll be able to have your murtaba full of hen or mutton, however I want the mellowing impact of eggs. The recipe apparently originated within the Center East, and was carried by the tides of Islam all the way in which to Singapore and Malaysia, stopping in far southern India alongside the way in which for the nation’s personal distinctive spin.
Surprises linger round each nook on Masala Cafe’s menu, with a lot of dishes that had been unfamiliar to me. Like Oaxacan delicacies, wherein moles perform as principal programs, whether or not you toss in meat or not, Chettinad delicacies has stand-alone sauces match for a meal. “Spicy poondu kuzhambu” ($11.99) is one: a garlicky and splendidly oily tomato sauce that could be mistaken for one thing you ate in Sicily, apart from its panoply of flavors, together with heaps and plenty of kari — the tiny, shiny, darkish inexperienced, astringent herb also called curry leaf. Poured over basmati rice, the thick sauce makes an important vegetarian repast.
However the rice you get on the cafe will not be all the time the lengthy and crooked-grained basmati. Thalappakatti hen biryani ($14.99) makes use of a particular short-grain rice typically present in biryanis of southern India. This specific preparation name-checks a lodge restaurant within the metropolis of Dindigul, Tamil Nadu, the place within the late Nineteen Fifties the recipe was invented and achieved regional fame. Served with raita and a tomato-based sauce, and topped with a boiled egg, the biryani is distinctive, even amongst this biryani-heavy strip of Indian eating places. Even now I can bear in mind its delicate flavors and perfume, with out being fairly capable of describe them, apart from offering a video to attest to its complexity.
The meals at Masala Cafe is commonly spicy, however you’ll be able to convey your personal beer from a bodega across the nook on Tonnelle Avenue. In some way, beer stanches the burn in a approach even the creamy rosewater lassi ($4.50) can’t.