Order the kale “pakoda” at Aarzu in Freehold, and it might strike you as an Indian take on nachos.
We dig in to the crispy sheets of kale slathered with a peanut butter-laced tamarind sauce and swipe the mild, creamy sauce to scoop up the crunchy noodles called aloo bhujia. On top of everything are chopped tomatoes and cilantro as well.
It’s fun – and it tastes really good.
Welcome to Aarzu, which bills itself as a “Modern Indian Bistro” whose mission is to help you understand the flavors, seasonings and nuances of South Asian cooking.
The setting is swanky (semi-circular booths, a dramatic row of door-size windows facing East Main Street, sexy-curvy plates and off-center bowls) and at the same time comfortable (cushy chairs upholstered in deep teal leather) and friendly (servers happy to educate).
It’s a fine-tuned member of the Arora Hospitality Group, led by CEO Kamal Arora, which includes Mithaas in Edison, Jersey City and North Brunswick; Urban Spice in Iselin; Moghul Express in Edison and Kendall Park; and Moghul catering.
Novices to the genre can opt for the approachable “cheese-chilly” naan, an Indian tandoori bread sliced pizza-style into triangles. Think melted cheese with a hit of heat.
Want something exotic? Try lotus root slathered in a thick, creamy tomato-garlic jam and sprinkled with sesame seeds. It’s addictively crunchy.
Easy eats come in the form of seared scallops with cheesy bites of upma tikki and a relish dominated by sweet-tart pineapple.
Or try the dry-seared paneer tikka, cubes of cottage cheese flecked with carom seeds, drizzled with mustard oil and topped with rings of sweet onion and julienned vegetables. On the side: a verdant, mildly minty sauce. Every taste bud gets a workout.
Catch the aroma of ginger as the roasted duck Chettinad arrives at your table: Slices of duck breast take center stage in a shapely shallow bowl filled with a ginger-mustard sauce.
Log-shaped anjeer kofta, deftly fried potato-cheese pastries, are served in a thick curry of pureed cashews seasoned with cardamom and saffron. It’s rich, warming and right for a real-deal winter night.
Eggplant, smoked and chopped, becomes plush with slow cooking. It’s one of Aarzu’s simpler dishes, and it’s downright lovely.
For dessert, don’t bet on the orange kulfi being cloyingly sweet, as many kulfi can be. The rind-scented ice cream emphasizes ice over cream and sits pretty in half-moon-shaped orange shells. It’s refreshing, light and cleansing. And it primes you for another dinner at Aarzu.
Aarzu, 30 East Main Street in Freehold. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. 732-333-0933 aarzu.comClick here to leave a comment