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Masala Kitchen, Marlboro, NJ


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Restaurants & Bars 30

Masala Kitchen, Marlboro, NJ

RGR | Aug 26, 2008 12:31 PM

There is currently a mini-explosion of new restaurants in Marlboro. The good news: none of them is Italian! The further good news: based on the dinner we had yesterday at Masala Kitchen, this Indian restaurant may actually prove to be a winner -- though it is very early days.

Masala Kitchen, which has been open for two weeks, is located in the space formerly occupied by American Harvest (the failed satellite of the Route 18 food market), on the lower level of the Exclusive Plaza.

Stepping inside the huge space, we were immediately impressed by the interior design. Handsome and elegant, it had very contemporary “New York”-style sophisticated ambiance. Despite the size, the décor imparted some warmth. Lots of brown, a bit of glitz, banquettes and chairs upholstered in a muted fabric, nicely-spaced tables topped with wood, and attractive chandeliers with interesting designs suspended from the very high ceiling. Obviously, the owners have invested some major bucks here. However, as the expression goes, handsome is as handsome does. So, while nice surroundings are certainly welcome, what is always foremost in importance to us is the quality of the cuisine.

We are huge fans of Devi, one of the best, if not *the* best, Indian restaurants in Manhattan. Having seen Masala Kitchen’s menu on-line, we went not expecting cuisine of Devi’s unique style. Masala’s menu is, in fact, similar to those we’ve found in the few NJ restaurants we’ve previously tried. However, what we were hoping for was a high(er) quality of execution.

We had skipped lunch, so we arrived promptly at 5 p.m., when the restaurant opens for dinner. We were the only ones there, not surprising since it's so new and it was a Monday,. A short time later, another table became occupied by three Indian women, a mother and two teenaged daughters, who had a quick meal and left. By the time we were finished, two other tables were occupied, one by an Indian couple. (There is a sizable Indian population in this area.) Several people also came in to pick up take-out.

We were seated at a corner table along a short banquette. As we started to peruse the menu, the lone server on duty brought a basket of pappadam, along with three dipping sauces: mint, tamarind, and onion chutney. The mint was spicy, the tamarind more mellow, and the onion quite sweet due to the use of ketchup as a binding agent. Mr. R. likes spicy, so the mint was his favorite; I like sweet, so I favored the chutney.

Masala Kitchen is a byo, but Mr. R. didn’t bring any wine. There’s a “Mocktail” menu with some very interesting non-alcoholic mixed drinks. Of course, there were mango lassis. We each ordered one (Mr. R. later ordered a second) and some onion kulcha, our favorite Indian bread. After bringing our lassis, which were excellent, the waiter asked if we would like the kulcha to be served at the beginning of the meal or later. When we said we would like it immediately, it didn’t take long for him to return with a basket holding four pieces. They were piping hot and had just the right amount of onions to make for a delicious version. We happily gobbled them up.

Samosas are a ubiquitous appetizer on Indian menus (though there are none at Devi), so we decided to see how Masala Kitchen’s stacked up. We chose the vegetable version commonly stuffed with potatoes and peas. The two large cone-shaped pastries were properly deep-fried with no hint of greasiness, and the tasty filling had just the right amount of “heat,” i.e., not over-the-top but spicy enough to avoid blandness. Accompaniments were a small salad of raw carrot rounds and chopped lettuce, plus a dish of tamarind sauce. The sauce added a pleasant sweeter counterpoint to the samosas’ slight spiciness. While not mind-blowers, these samosas were certainly competently prepared.

For our main course, we chose another ubiquitous dish, Kashmiri Lamb Rogan Josh – cubes of lamb cooked in a thick brown sauce flavored with herbs and spices. The sauce was, indeed, thick, there was plenty of it, and the flavor was good. I’m not a real maven with regard to the herbs and spices in the various curries, but it seemed to me the most assertive flavor in this case was cardamom. As far as the lamb went, there wasn’t a whole lot of it, and the meat was somewhat tough. This was just an o.k. dish.

Rice does not come automatically with main courses; it’s treated here like a separate course. We ordered the Vegetable Pulao, basmati rice cooked with a mélange of vegetables. A very tasty and generous portion, perfectly prepared so that the rice was fluffy and the vegetables retained some crunch.

After finishing the lamb, we decided to order an additional dish, this time something from the tandoor. By doing so, we were testing the chef’s tandoor prowess. The bar for us is very high because this is an area where we have been really spoiled by our experiences at Devi, where Chef Hemant Mathur is a tandoor master. In the past, prior to dining at Devi, when we’ve tried tandoor-cooked items at other Indian restaurants, the food has too often turned out dry and tasteless. However, Chef Hemant’s tandoor-grilled fish, shrimp and, especially, his signature lamb chops, are culinary marvels – always juicy and succulent.

We opted for the Chicken Kasturi Kabob – boneless chicken cubes marinated in mild yellow sauce -- because when we asked what the “yellow” was in the sauce, we were told it was saffron. The wait was fairly long, but we didn’t mind, and it was well worth it when our server finally arrived carrying a sizzling platter filled with chicken chunks and lots of sliced onions. The chunks were flecked with green, which I think was either chopped parsley or cilantro (or maybe both). An intoxicating aroma led to a first bite, and it became immediately apparent that Masala’s chef has excellent tandoor skills because the chicken was supremely juicy. The sautéed onions, which retained some crunch, were the perfect accompaniment. This was a stellar dish! We ate half the very generous portion and doggie bagged the other half.

Full at this point, we passed on dessert.

Our very pleasant waiter kept our water glasses filled, brought fresh plates and cutlery when necessary, and requested our consent before removing plates from the table. Of course, with so few patrons, there was no way of knowing how efficient service would be if the restaurant were full, or how well the kitchen would perform in terms of waits for food. And, for that matter, what how high the noise level might be if the room was packed. The mellow music being played was kept at a low volume.

A note about the awful website. We were told by the restaurant’s host that it is in the process of being redone.

Cost before tax and tip: $45.

Overall, this first meal at Masala Kitchen was very enjoyable. We look forward to returning to try out some other dishes we have our eye on.

Masala Kitchen
Exclusive Plaza, Union Hill Road & Route 9 North
Tel.: 732-851-4500
Open every day.
Dinner: 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Lunch: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. (Lunch special - $9)
Weekend buffet – Fri. – Sun., 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. - $10.95
Delivery Hours: 5 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. (5-mile radius - $20 min - $2 del. Charge)

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