Restaurants & Bars

West Caldwell, NJ Kashmiri

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West Caldwell, NJ Kashmiri

Deven Black | Apr 18, 2004 02:07 PM

Wow. Six of us ate at Wazwan@Santoor last night and would gladly make the 70 mile round trip again tonight; the food is that good.

Samosas ($2) were incredible. The skins were oil-less and the filling was perfect. Cumin, ginger and coriander (both leaves and seed!) played off each other and elevated the peas and perfectly cooked potatoes beyond anything other samosa any of us had ever enjoyed.

Pakoras were delicately fried and almost greaseless. The generous serving ($6) included a mild green leafy vegetable none of us could identify but which might have been collard.

Inch-square pieces of fried lamb and goat ribs (Tabakh Naat and Kabar Gah, $7) were succulent and deeply flavored, but tended toward fattiness.

Shrimp and scallops came sautéed in a fiery chili pepper sauce, which highlighted the sweetness of the seafood ($7).

Everything is cooked is small quantities to preserve freshness, and they sometimes run out of menu items. We were not able to get Shikar (game bird with lotus stem), Koakur (chicken pieces cooked with Kashmiri spices and tomato sauce), or Hakh-Munja, a kohlrabi dish described as “the mashed potatoes of Kashmir.”

Rogan Josh ($14) was hotter, more complex and flavorful than what I’ve gotten in other restaurants. Yakhni (lamb and/or goat – we got lamb – cooked in a white sauce, $14) is a dish to eat slowly. Different flavors, ranging from a pleasant sourness to very satisfying nuttiness, wash over your tongue as you chew.

Fenugreek is what gives the lamb chops of Methi-Maaz ($14) its distinctive earthy flavor, while fiery red peppers are the main flavoring agent for the lamb and/or goat (they are almost interchangeable here) of Marchwangan-Korma ($15).

Vegetarian dishes we tried included:
baby eggplants in a tangy sauce combining tamarind and tomato with homemade yogurt (Wangan – Subzee, $9);
sliced lotus root, slightly chewy, in a white sauce very different from the white sauce the Yakhni was in. This one was a little sweeter and not as complex. This was the least popular dish;
homemade low-fat cheese (all cheeses and yogurts are made with 2% milk according to the host couple [more about them in a minute]) in a mild yellow sauce (Koshur Chaaman, $10). The chef, Sarita Kaul, a jolly, friendly woman who frequently looked in on us, insisted this dish had to be eaten with Damaloo ($9), fried potatoes in a slightly hot red sauce. We did not order it that way, so she sent us the Damaloo on the house just so we could see what she was talking about. She was right. The combination is magic. The cheese dish was fine on its own, as were the potatoes, but the combination was far greater than the sum of its parts.

Naan was hot and slightly charred, but very tasty. Paratha was okay, but nothing special.

Desserts were special. Gajar Halva, shredded carrots cooked in milk and sugar, was both sweet and earthy. Kheer (rice pudding) was soupy but richly flavored with cardamom and pistachio. Both are $4. Mango ice cream ($3) was both rich and delicate, and not as sweet as many ice creams.

Sarita Kaul and her husband, Bal, are warm and gracious hosts, very willing to explain the menu in detail and offer suggestions. LISTEN TO THEM. Mr. Kaul insisted we try the house special green tea. We were stuffed after all that food (we had two orders of most of the appetizers), two bottles of champagne and two of chianti (the place is BYO), we demurred. He insisted, and brought us three cups. Fantastic! Each cup had bits of cardamom, orange peel, cinnamon and almond clustered in the bottom. The warm and rich tea alone is worth a return trip.

Dinner for six (9 apps, 7 entrees/vegs, 2 breads, six desserts) was $230. Worth every penny.

Link: http://www.wazwanusa.com

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