Aarzu, which calls itself a Modern Indian Bistro, opened in the fall of last year. I learned about it on Hungry Onion where the very active New Jersey board is populated by a gaggle of folks who left Chowhound for more pleasant food forum pastures, i.e., way less ridiculous moderation. That, of course, includes Yours Truly. The HOs (Yes, we do affectionately refer to ourselves that way!) who checked out Aarzu were uniform in their praise of the cuisine. So, I put it on my “go to” list. Our dinner there on Wednesday of this week was our first restaurant meal of 2017.
Not having been to the Boro recently, we weren’t sure exactly where along Main Street Aarzu was located. Turned out it’s in the space formerly occupied for many years by Main St. Bistro. We ate there a couple of times, but it was a long time ago. I have absolutely no recollection of the food. Michael said he doesn’t remember Main St. Bistro at all.
Though Aarzu takes reservations via OpenTable, we didn’t bother. Arriving at 8:30 p.m., we were not surprised to find the place virtually empty. Just one table occupied by a party of five. Later on, a man came in alone. During a conversation with one of the servers, he confirmed that like most New Jersey restaurants, while weekends are busy, mid-week is pretty much dead.
The large space has attractive décor with free-standing tables and several curved, capacious, comfortable booths. How’s that for alliteration? We were seated in one of the booths. Music being played was pleasant and not loud.
Atypical for Indian restaurants, the meal did not open with the ubiquitous pappadam and dipping sauces. Instead, Aarzu follows upscale restaurant models by providing an amuse. A tiny, triangular Samosa with tasty vegetables stuffed into a crisp crust did, indeed, “amuse” our palates.
We chose two appetizers. The first to be served was the Eggplant Chaat ($8) which made an eye-catching arrival in a copper pan sitting atop a pretty stand.
Small disks of fried eggplant were combined with a sweet tamarind sauce laced with yogurt. Pomegranate seeds added another flavor element as well as a bit of crunch. Our server told us this is typical street food in India. Well, all I can say is that this is some really fantastic street food. It was one of the best eggplant dishes we’ve ever had.
Our second appetizer was the Tandoor Lamb Chops ($26). The fact that they’d received uniform raves from the HOs made them a must try.
The five meaty chops, coated with a delicious mixture of mint, ginger and mustard, were expertly roasted resulting in a nice char. Alongside was a sauce (I think it was mint-based) which was a bit spicy. The best tandoor chops we’ve had in the past were the signature dish from Chef Hemant Mathur’s, a Tandoor Master who helmed the kitchens at Devi (now closed) and Tulsi (which he left a few years ago) in NYC. Using those as a yardstick, I can say without hesitation that Aarzu’s chops are equally superb and deserve all the accolades. Oh, and by the way, even though they are on the appetizer menu, they could easily be a main course.
The two main courses we ordered arrived, as expected, at the same time. The Duck Chettinad ($22) was my choice.
As you can see, the sliced breast sat atop a sea of sauce. Because it was cooked toward the well-done side, the duck was a bit too dry. However, that problem was mitigated by the sauce, full of flavor and spicy but at the right level for me, fortunate because I hadn’t thought to ask about spice levels.
Michael chose the Butter Chicken ($18).
Very tender pieces of the bird swimming in a terrific silky, smooth tomato sauce flavored with fenugreek made this dish a big winner.
The accompaniment for these main courses was perfectly prepared Basmati Rice.
The Onion Kulcha ($6) we ordered was served with the mains. Piping hot, it was stuffed with lots of onions. Delicious!
We’ve never been terribly keen on Indian desserts but decided to share one, Chocolate Rasmalai ($8).
Combining chunks of cottage cheese with a thin chocolate pudding, it was actually pretty tasty.
We were taken by surprise when a server arrived with another dessert. All he told us was that it was compliments of one of the men in the party of five. When we thanked the man as we were all getting ready to leave, he told us he did it because one of the women was celebrating a birthday. A lovely gesture! I can’t tell you this dessert’s Indian name* because the on-line menu does not list desserts. The lightly fried cheese balls accompanied by a dipping sauce were quite tasty.
Aarzu is a BYO. Since Michael prefers beer with Indian cuisine, he brought along a bottle of Polaner Wheat Beer which is well-suited to spicy food. He also had a large bottle of Pellegrino ($5) and ended the meal with Chai Tea ($4). I had an excellent Mango Lassi ($5).
Service was very friendly and competent.
We took home some leftovers — eggplant, two chops, butter chicken, rice, and one piece of onion kulcha – enough to form the basis of another meal.
My only complaint relates to the on-line menu. I’ve already mentioned the desserts not being listed. Even more egregious is that there are no prices. I think keeping them a secret is a disservice to the dining public.
Aarzu is a wonderful addition to the area’s dining scene. I sincerely hope there are enough people around here who can appreciate an Indian restaurant of this high caliber to sustain it. We’re eager to try lots of other things on the menu, so we’ll definitely be back!
To see the complete photo set of this meal on my Flickr, click here.
*Addendum: My thanks to Curlz at H.O. and mongo_jones at the Mouthfulsfood forum for informing me that the gifted dessert’s name is Gulab Jamuns.