Mehndi Stands Out from Other Indian Restaurants

An enticing three-part restaurant allures and serves.

Are you in need of penicillin? A Penicillin cocktail made with Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch, Ardbeg Scotch, lemon juice, ginger extract, simple syrup and honey. Sounds good, huh? Or how about an Adult Film Starr with Starr rum, cucumber, lime juice, Licor 43, simple syrup, kosher salt and nutmeg? These are two of the 33 cocktails (three are mocktails) on the list at SM23 in Morristown, a sultry bar named for Shaun Mehtani, son of owners Sneh & Satish Mehtani, who also sport the same initials. The “23” was the age Shaun was on opening night, February 23, 2007, which is also his birthday.

WE CAME FOR A DRINK AND STAYED FOR DINNER

SM23 Bar & Lounge, Mehndi (Northern Indian cuisine) and Ming II (Pan-Asian cuisine) are three distinct restaurants in Morristown, reached by walking down a wood-paneled corridor, decorated with beautiful Indian objects, to an octagonal grand entry foyer with separate doors for each establishment. Parking is in the Headquarters Plaza with free ticket validation. We were at SM23 to meet managing director Shaun Mehtani for a drink, and to catch up on what was happening at the restaurants owned by the Mehtani Restaurant Group (SM 23, Mehndi and Ming II in Morristown and Moghul, Ming and Mirage, an event space, all in Edison).

Upon entering SM23 Bar & Lounge, we felt a whoosh of sexiness as the dimly lit dramatic space has a stunning backlit, blue-onyx bar, black leather banquettes, and small tables. It is a lovely venue for a date or get together with friends.

Along with the aforementioned cocktails, other liquid refreshments worth seeking out on the spring/summer 2015 list include: Jalapeno Cilantro Caipirinha, Watermelon Daiquiri and a Strawberry & Burnt Lime Margarita. Organic spirits from the U.S., such as Prairie Vodka and Farmer’s Botanical Small Batch Organic Gin are used for the cocktails, as well as hand-muddled fresh fruits.

At SM23, small plates include rock shrimp with honey & sesame; Asian calamari; spare ribs with black pepper sauce; steamed vegetable dumplings; and Indian treats such as murgh lasooni (garlic flavored spicy chicken) and tandoori shrimp. Stop here for a drink before dinner and/or a few dishes to stave off your hunger before dining at Mehndi or Ming II.

We were invited to dine at Mendhi, and loved the Indian music wafting through the restaurant and the modern Mehndi patterns—an art form that is over 5000 years old created with henna patterns drawn on the body—represented in modern colorful paintings decorating the walls. A ceiling-high wooden case displays artifacts from India. The venue is striking, tranquil and inviting. Even the bathroom with almond smelling soap and very modern accouterments caught my eye.

As we were looking at the menu, the aromas from succulent baby lamb chops with a tomato and a garam masala coating, onions and red and green peppers greeted us before they were placed on the table. A rosemary and a garlic naan with mango chutney and pickled vegetables and a plate of cucumbers, carrots and grape tomatoes were also served.

Mehndi stands out from other Indian restaurants not only because of the beautiful space and gracious service, but also because of the quality of the ingredients used; this is fine upscale Indian dining at its best. Take the lamb for example: it was not tough and chewy. The Gosht Kashmiri, pan-roasted lamb with potato, saffron, green cardamom and a cashew-based sauce was tender and flavorful as were the lamb chops. Black lentils, Dal Mehndi, always a favorite, were creamy and seasoned with ginger, powdered fenugreek leaf and butter. Velvety eggplant concassé contained green peas, tomato, onion, garlic, whole red chili and yogurt while the basmati rice contained green peas, black cardamom and fried onions; each excelled and excited because the depth of seasonings created exquisite layers of flavors. Dessert was a golf-ball sized fried dough in a sweet sauce that tied the whole meal together.

Wines from around the world start at $25 with many choices in the $30 range. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday.

Mehndi
8 Headquarters Plaza
3 Speedwell Avenue
Morristown
973-871-2323

Baby lamb chops with a tomato and a garam masala coating with onions and red and green peppers.
Baby lamb chops with a tomato and a garam masala coating with onions and red and green peppers.
Photo courtesy of Lowell Saferstein

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