If owning two established restaurants on Washington Street in Hoboken is any measure of success, then Mehernosh Daroowalla is a man on a culinary mission.
Karma Kafe, 505 Washington St. in Hoboken, is a quaint Indian bistro with all the cozy charm of a worn-in Greenwich Village coffee shop. The imported tables are straight from India, and comfortable cushioned chairs and large windows open right onto Washington Street. A quaint five-seat bar offers a full selection of spirits, including chilled Indian lagers like the Taj Mahal and Kingfisher. And the food is a flavorful fantasy.
On a recent Thursday evening, my guest and I dined in the busy establishment, while Daroowalla attended to guests, detailing a wide selection of specials. From the spicy shelled crawfish to the marinated lamb cooked with fresh whole herbs, there is something for everyone.
The garlic trout was a lively dish – an un-skinned filet of rainbow trout served in sautéed garlic, ginger, and a variety of other spices that weren’t hot or overbearing. The neutral white rice soothed the pallet and was a welcome reprieve from the intense flavor.
Another offering from the sea is the tandoori bengal salmon, served in a yellow sauce that was both intriguing and satisfying.
“Nothing is processed,” said Daroowalla who also owns the traditional Indian restaurant India on the Hudson, 1210 Washington St. in Hoboken. The entrepreneur has been feeding hungry Hobokenites for the past 15 years. “We skin the chicken ourselves, bake the bread ourselves,” Daroowalla said. “Everything is fresh.”
For the adventurous newcomer, a good entry-level dish is the chicken tikka marsala served in a garlic and tomato-sauce cream that is easily assimilated, especially with Italian heritage.
The masala mozzarella naan was delectable, a fluffy piece of naan bread stuffed with a thick layer of mozzarella cheese for under $5. The bread was warm and fresh thanks to two on-site tandoors – large, clay pots warmed with a wood fire. The bread is baked on the walls of the tandoor, Daroowalla said, which helps give the bread a warm and puffy texture. Add a dash of tomato sauce and local pizzerias would take notice.
“[Indian food] is good for the cold weather,” Daroowalla said. “It’s spicy and keeps you warm. And, [the spice] tumeric has even been known to be an antiseptic.”
Another hands-on approach the restaurant takes are to the cocktails, all of which are original concoctions straight from the mind of Mehernosh and his staff. Served in a slender glass, the drinks range from fruity to quite frank. Eastern evolutions of well-known classics are the Marsala Mary, a potent mix of Absolute vodka, tomato juice and a secret blend of spices that is sure to rouse the senses; and the Karma Rita, a signature margarita in mango, strawberry, or melon. The popular punch-a-tantra is worth the price, a fruity blend of Absolute Mandarin vodka, Peach Schnapps, and orange and cranberry juices.
Brunch and lunch
Both Karma Kafe and India on the Hudson offer lunch buffet specials – served noon to 3 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. on weekends – for those who don’t have time to fuss with a menu. And the portions are well worth the prices.
“I’m a foodie,” Daroowalla said. “I don’t like when people scrap on the portions.”
The entrées alone would suffice, paired with a variety of Indian sauces, for the $9.95 fee, but wonderfully delicious tandoori breads, a salad, and dessert make for a delightful steal. With in-house cooked food, the inexpensive prices do not suggest the quality.
“Our prices our even lower than McDonald’s,” Daroowalla said.
The lunchbox specials that are offered at both restaurants from noon to 3 p.m. take the to-go menu to new heights with a prepackaged selection made fresh to order. Served with basmati rice or raita, a yogurt-like sauce, the specials range from $6 to $9 with optional naan bread for an additional $1.50, which is well worth the extra fare.
Karma Kafe is open seven days a week for lunch from noon to 3 p.m. on the weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. on the weedends; and for dinner from 5 to 10:30 p.m. on weekdays and 5 to 11:30 p.m. on the weekends.
For more information on Karma Kafe, call (201) 610-0900 or visit: www.karmakafe.com.
Sean Allocca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org