We've all had naan, the flat, steamy, pita-like, tandoor-oven-cooked bread synonymous with Indian cuisine. And chicken tikka masala - who hasn't had that?
Mehndi, one of a triumvirate of restaurants including SM 23 Bar & Lounge, and Ming II, operated by the successful Mehtani Restaurant Group in the Morristown Hyatt, creates a total dining experience - including the possibility of a henna tattoo on Saturdays.
Sneh & Satish Mehtani, owners of Mehtani Restaurant Group, founded the first Moghul restaurantin 1983 in NYC, and the second Moghul in Edison in 1991. While Mr. Mehtani handled the company’s leases, insurance needs, and payroll, Mrs. Mehtani, proved to be a trailblazing female entrepreneur, she owned and operated more than a dozen acclaimed restaurants, banquet facilities and bar/lounges plus an international wedding consultancy over her 30-year career. In recognition of 30 years of innovation and service, the New Jersey Restaurant Association has named Sneh Mehtani "Restaurateur of the Year."
Shaun Mehtani, 29, the managing director is a second-generation restaurateur who grew up inthe family business, and at age 23, conceptualized and personally oversaw all details of the $4 million Morristown project. Holding an MBA from the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, and a BS from the NYU Stern School of Business, he was well versed in the financial fineries of restaurant development.
"My family's business started a few months before I was born; this year, both it and I will turn 30. I've grown up in this business--waiting tables, tending bar, catering large Indian weddings--but I've never been in charge," observed Shaun. "My only hope is that I can build on the strong reputation and loyal following my parents fostered while moving the company forward, both in terms of the creativity of our concepts and eventual expansion plans."
During a recent press dinner, Mehndi Executive Chef Uttam Singh Rawatwe, prepared a meal that showcased a company-wide effort to incorporate healthier fare onto the menu. "Less fried, less batter in our traditional cooking; that's the mantra these days," notes Shaun Mehtani.
We kicked off the evening with a few cocktails at SM23, a slick, decadent bar, that redefines darkly lit.
With a couple of cocktails under our belts, like my favorite, the grapefruit mojito, we swaggered on over to Mehndi - just next door. A parade of appetizers graced the table. Tandoori murgh tulsi, boneless chicken with basil, baked in a tandoor oven was juicy and flavorful. The dahi ki tikki, hung yogurt, ginger, green chili, garam masala, mango chutney and coriander, was creamy, tangy, with a touch of heat that creeps up to balance. Then, the smoky and crispy paneer ke sholey, homemade Indian cheese with celery, carrot and green chili. Finally, maachli koliwada, deep fried tilapia, cracked spices and lentil marinade that looked remarkably like a chicken finger.
Main courses featured murgh tikka masala, a boneless tandoor baked chicken with an onion and tomato based sauce, murch gungura, a boneless pan roasted chicken with sorrel leaves and cashewnut based gravy, paneer mehndi with homemade Indian cheese cubes, with stone-ground spinach, clove, cardamom and cinnamon. And if that wasn't enough, bhey kofta, an interesting lotus root dumpling with mustard tempering, along with baingan bhartha, an eggplant concasse, with green peas, tomato, onion, garlic, and whole red chili. All this accompanied by rosemary naan, tandoori roti, and garlic naan. Of course, there was smooth and savory tadka dal, a yellow pigeon pea lentil with tomato, garlic, red chili and cumin.
There are only so many times a food writer can sing the praises of cardamom, cumin, clove, coriander, fenugreek before adjectives begin to run dry. But, even for the experienced (read: jaded) food enthusiast, every once in awhile a dish will come along that makes you remember why you fell in love with the flavors of a foreign land. For me, that dish was the pardha biryani, which I've dubbed, Goat Pot Pie! Beneath a flaky crust, pieces of bone-in goat mingled with basmati rice swathed in saffron. To peel back the crust was a steamy, olfactory experience, rife with an intoxicating blend of spices - cinnamon, clove, mint, green chili, and coriander - that I have had so many times before. But somehow, under the crusty cover, it was all new. It felt like the first time - like the very first time!
3 Speedwell Ave
Morristown, NJ 07960
Phone: (973) 871-2323