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Masala Kitchen, Marlboro, NJ

r
RGR Aug 26, 2008 12:31 PM

There is currently a mini-explosion of new restaurants in Marlboro. The good news: none of them is Italian! The further good news: based on the dinner we had yesterday at Masala Kitchen, this Indian restaurant may actually prove to be a winner -- though it is very early days.

Masala Kitchen, which has been open for two weeks, is located in the space formerly occupied by American Harvest (the failed satellite of the Route 18 food market), on the lower level of the Exclusive Plaza.

Stepping inside the huge space, we were immediately impressed by the interior design. Handsome and elegant, it had very contemporary “New York”-style sophisticated ambiance. Despite the size, the décor imparted some warmth. Lots of brown, a bit of glitz, banquettes and chairs upholstered in a muted fabric, nicely-spaced tables topped with wood, and attractive chandeliers with interesting designs suspended from the very high ceiling. Obviously, the owners have invested some major bucks here. However, as the expression goes, handsome is as handsome does. So, while nice surroundings are certainly welcome, what is always foremost in importance to us is the quality of the cuisine.

We are huge fans of Devi, one of the best, if not *the* best, Indian restaurants in Manhattan. Having seen Masala Kitchen’s menu on-line, we went not expecting cuisine of Devi’s unique style. Masala’s menu is, in fact, similar to those we’ve found in the few NJ restaurants we’ve previously tried. However, what we were hoping for was a high(er) quality of execution.

We had skipped lunch, so we arrived promptly at 5 p.m., when the restaurant opens for dinner. We were the only ones there, not surprising since it's so new and it was a Monday,. A short time later, another table became occupied by three Indian women, a mother and two teenaged daughters, who had a quick meal and left. By the time we were finished, two other tables were occupied, one by an Indian couple. (There is a sizable Indian population in this area.) Several people also came in to pick up take-out.

We were seated at a corner table along a short banquette. As we started to peruse the menu, the lone server on duty brought a basket of pappadam, along with three dipping sauces: mint, tamarind, and onion chutney. The mint was spicy, the tamarind more mellow, and the onion quite sweet due to the use of ketchup as a binding agent. Mr. R. likes spicy, so the mint was his favorite; I like sweet, so I favored the chutney.

Masala Kitchen is a byo, but Mr. R. didn’t bring any wine. There’s a “Mocktail” menu with some very interesting non-alcoholic mixed drinks. Of course, there were mango lassis. We each ordered one (Mr. R. later ordered a second) and some onion kulcha, our favorite Indian bread. After bringing our lassis, which were excellent, the waiter asked if we would like the kulcha to be served at the beginning of the meal or later. When we said we would like it immediately, it didn’t take long for him to return with a basket holding four pieces. They were piping hot and had just the right amount of onions to make for a delicious version. We happily gobbled them up.

Samosas are a ubiquitous appetizer on Indian menus (though there are none at Devi), so we decided to see how Masala Kitchen’s stacked up. We chose the vegetable version commonly stuffed with potatoes and peas. The two large cone-shaped pastries were properly deep-fried with no hint of greasiness, and the tasty filling had just the right amount of “heat,” i.e., not over-the-top but spicy enough to avoid blandness. Accompaniments were a small salad of raw carrot rounds and chopped lettuce, plus a dish of tamarind sauce. The sauce added a pleasant sweeter counterpoint to the samosas’ slight spiciness. While not mind-blowers, these samosas were certainly competently prepared.

For our main course, we chose another ubiquitous dish, Kashmiri Lamb Rogan Josh – cubes of lamb cooked in a thick brown sauce flavored with herbs and spices. The sauce was, indeed, thick, there was plenty of it, and the flavor was good. I’m not a real maven with regard to the herbs and spices in the various curries, but it seemed to me the most assertive flavor in this case was cardamom. As far as the lamb went, there wasn’t a whole lot of it, and the meat was somewhat tough. This was just an o.k. dish.

Rice does not come automatically with main courses; it’s treated here like a separate course. We ordered the Vegetable Pulao, basmati rice cooked with a mélange of vegetables. A very tasty and generous portion, perfectly prepared so that the rice was fluffy and the vegetables retained some crunch.

After finishing the lamb, we decided to order an additional dish, this time something from the tandoor. By doing so, we were testing the chef’s tandoor prowess. The bar for us is very high because this is an area where we have been really spoiled by our experiences at Devi, where Chef Hemant Mathur is a tandoor master. In the past, prior to dining at Devi, when we’ve tried tandoor-cooked items at other Indian restaurants, the food has too often turned out dry and tasteless. However, Chef Hemant’s tandoor-grilled fish, shrimp and, especially, his signature lamb chops, are culinary marvels – always juicy and succulent.

We opted for the Chicken Kasturi Kabob – boneless chicken cubes marinated in mild yellow sauce -- because when we asked what the “yellow” was in the sauce, we were told it was saffron. The wait was fairly long, but we didn’t mind, and it was well worth it when our server finally arrived carrying a sizzling platter filled with chicken chunks and lots of sliced onions. The chunks were flecked with green, which I think was either chopped parsley or cilantro (or maybe both). An intoxicating aroma led to a first bite, and it became immediately apparent that Masala’s chef has excellent tandoor skills because the chicken was supremely juicy. The sautéed onions, which retained some crunch, were the perfect accompaniment. This was a stellar dish! We ate half the very generous portion and doggie bagged the other half.

Full at this point, we passed on dessert.

Our very pleasant waiter kept our water glasses filled, brought fresh plates and cutlery when necessary, and requested our consent before removing plates from the table. Of course, with so few patrons, there was no way of knowing how efficient service would be if the restaurant were full, or how well the kitchen would perform in terms of waits for food. And, for that matter, what how high the noise level might be if the room was packed. The mellow music being played was kept at a low volume.

A note about the awful website. We were told by the restaurant’s host that it is in the process of being redone.

Cost before tax and tip: $45.

Overall, this first meal at Masala Kitchen was very enjoyable. We look forward to returning to try out some other dishes we have our eye on.

Masala Kitchen
Exclusive Plaza, Union Hill Road & Route 9 North
Tel.: 732-851-4500
http://www.masalakitchennj.com
Open every day.
Dinner: 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Lunch: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. (Lunch special - $9)
Weekend buffet – Fri. – Sun., 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. - $10.95
Delivery Hours: 5 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. (5-mile radius - $20 min - $2 del. Charge)

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  1. h
    HillJ RE: RGR Aug 26, 2008 12:48 PM

    What a super review. A real bargain for $45.00!
    We're adding this one to our list. Hill & J

    6 Replies
    1. re: HillJ
      equal_Mark RE: HillJ Sep 6, 2008 07:35 AM

      I hope their kitchen works better than their website...

      1. re: HillJ
        c
        Cliffwh RE: HillJ Dec 13, 2008 10:46 AM

        I loved your review and have had a fovorite Indian restaurant in Freehold, Aangan. I was very dissappointed with the quality of the food and the mixing of spices - it seemed like the food was prepared in a hurry. Service was simply bad - maybe because it is so new. I will keep going to Aangan even though it is a longer ride - tx to the lower prices of gas.

        1. re: Cliffwh
          m
          msfoodlover RE: Cliffwh Jan 7, 2009 12:47 PM

          I had one of my worst meal/experience here last Sunday. I love Indian food - THIS WAS NOT IT ! Places like these give Indian food a bad name.

          1. re: msfoodlover
            r
            RGR RE: msfoodlover Jan 7, 2009 02:16 PM

            msfoodlover,

            As you can see from my original post, our first experience was good enough to encourage us to go back a second time, which we did. While that second dinner was not quite as good as the first, it was far from horrible. But that was some time ago, and it sounds as though things have badly deteriorated since then. I would be interesting in hearing some details as to what you ordered, and what it was about the food that was so awful. Thanks.

            1. re: RGR
              njchowgal RE: RGR Jan 8, 2009 04:41 PM

              RGR- I have been there 3-4 times in the last two months, and it has gone downhill a bit. The buffet items on my last visit seemed to be lacking in spiciness and authenticity. It tasted as if the flavors had been toned down since my last visit. In fact, there were two items I did not eat off my plate- I believe they were fried tandori veggies and bbq cheese chunks. I've never seen BBQ written on an Indian buffet. Still, I would go back again and order off the menu. For an Indian buffet, I will travel to East Brunswick next time.

              1. re: njchowgal
                r
                RGR RE: njchowgal Jan 8, 2009 06:51 PM

                Thanks, njchowgal. Since you have been back several times, it sounds as though you find at least the regular menu more than passable. One of these days, we'll have to get back so I can judge the situation, i.e., downhill or not, for myself.

      2. h
        HillJ RE: RGR Aug 26, 2008 12:52 PM

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/550458

        adding this earlier post so reviews are linked.

        2 Replies
        1. re: HillJ
          h
          HillJ RE: HillJ Sep 6, 2008 08:15 AM

          equal-M, the Masala Kitchen website isn't the most stunning viral space but the menu posted does include prices and scrolls easily. I didn't find a delay in opening or reading the site (many over done restaurant sites are too involved for basic browsing). Perhaps if the place does well, they will invest in a nicer site.

          More post specific, J & I had a meal there and didn't find the food as delicious as we had hoped. Seal pretty much said it all for us.

          1. re: HillJ
            equal_Mark RE: HillJ Oct 7, 2008 04:39 PM

            I see they fixed it, it's actually pretty impressive now. The first several times I tried to access it it was totally broken. It would just load an intermediate page with no menus, info or directions (Tried it in Firefox, MSE and Safari). I wouldn't add it to my local listing till they fixed it. Might as well get to it now...

        2. bgut1 RE: RGR Aug 26, 2008 01:02 PM

          RGR - As usual an excellent review. I will definitely add it to my list. Thanks.

          1. t
            tom246 RE: RGR Aug 26, 2008 05:43 PM

            Sounds grreat, will try to get there soon. Thanks for the detailed report!!

            3 Replies
            1. re: tom246
              m
              MarlboroMan RE: tom246 Sep 1, 2008 12:28 PM

              We had lunch there today. We couldn't believe the amount of food one gets for the lunch special price. For $8.95, we received: choice of soup, choice of non-veg entree, choice of veg entree, choice of dal, rice, naan, and dessert of the day. The amount of food was more than adequate. We left full, but not stuffed, and took the rest home.

              I've eaten my share of Indian food in my life. My wife is very picky, but she likes some of it as well. We both agreed this was the best Indian food we've ever had. Very fresh, vibrant, etc. Well-spiced, but not overly spicy or salty. Service was excellent as well. They have a buffet on the weekends for $10.95 that we will be trying soon. The fact that it's so close to our house is a bonus. I hope they do well because it's in an odd location.. kind of like the strip mall that time forgot.

              If you like Indian food, please, go to this place. If you've never had Indian food, please, go to this place, and try it.

              1. re: MarlboroMan
                seal RE: MarlboroMan Sep 5, 2008 05:03 PM

                Maybe I am getting spoiled or jaded or just flat out grumpy in my older age, but ...

                I took my family there tonight. Even though the place was empty except for another family with three todlers/babies, they sat us right next to them and their yelling. Also, and to be fair, it was a hot, humid day today, but the place was very warm - bordering on hot.

                We had two soups, four orders of various breads, shrimp biryani, tandoori shrimp and lamb chops, chicken tikka masala, and cucumber raita. In order, the soups were both decent, the breads all good, the shrimp biryani mixed, as the shrimp were good but the surrounding rice (the main ingredient in a biryani) just ok, the tandoori were again mixed with the lamb chops good, but certainly not anywhere near Devi's, and the shrimp a little mushy, the chicken tikka masala was good and so was the raita.

                So, overall, the food was better than some local options, but not great. At meal's end we were all really hot so my family went outside?! to cool off and I sat, sweating profusely and paid the check. the part that really confuses me is that, even though there were only three tables occupied in the place I sat and waited and dripped with sweat for almost 15 minutes from the time I gave them my credit card until they finally brought the slip for me to sign. I'm still shaking my head in disbelief.

                Overall experience has left me more than wanting. Dare I say it - IDWRGR.

                1. re: seal
                  m
                  MarlboroMan RE: seal Oct 7, 2008 04:29 AM

                  We went there last Sunday and tried the lunch buffet. Excellent, LOTS of variety. There's a soup, aloo tikki, a few vegetable dishes, a few chicken dishes (tikka masala was one), tandoori chicken, a dessert, and a lot of miscellaneous salad fixin's.. plus a bunch of stuff one doesn't normally see on Indian buffets.. I don't know the names of half the stuff. $10.95 and it comes with naan, fresh and hot from the kitchen.

                  It was so good we had it again this past Sunday. I dunno, it might become a tradition.

            2. m
              marlboroDR RE: RGR Oct 19, 2008 04:50 PM

              My friend catered her party from them and did not have a good experience. They forgot things and were rude.

              1. g
                GG1 RE: RGR Jul 4, 2009 11:54 AM

                Just picked up some take-away from Masala Kitchen. As a combination of British ex-pats and discerning former Londoners, we're very particular about our Indian food (and have been enormously grateful over the past year to Neelam on Rt 35 in Holmdel for keeping us fed).

                Masala Kitchen was very good - we appreciated the number of vegetarian options, particularly the paneer! Excellent paneer.

                3 Replies
                1. re: GG1
                  bgut1 RE: GG1 Jul 5, 2009 09:57 PM

                  I love how the Brits call it "take away". It just sounds better to me than "take out".

                  1. re: GG1
                    x
                    xny556cip RE: GG1 Jul 5, 2009 10:36 PM

                    I think your taste buds need re calibrating if you believe Neelam comes close to any half way decent Indian in London !In almost 20 yrs the only place i've come across that is worth a mention might be Rasoi on Newark Ave in Jersey City,but even that can be inconsistent.I hope some of the latest newcomers around rte 9 prove me wrong?

                    1. re: xny556cip
                      shabbystorm RE: xny556cip Jul 8, 2009 04:35 AM

                      Here is an interesting thread about Indian restaurants in Jersey City
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/626613

                  2. y
                    yankeefan RE: RGR Jul 6, 2009 06:55 AM

                    I thought it was decent the first time but just horrible the two times after.

                    The service has gotten to the point of possibly the worst of any restaurant I have been to in NJ and the food has really fallen off.

                    There are so many better options, really a shame.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: yankeefan
                      r
                      RGR RE: yankeefan Jul 6, 2009 08:13 AM

                      We haven't been back to Masala since our first two visits in January. Given others have also indicated a downhill slide, I've hesitated about going again -- especially since we spend a lot of time in NYC and have excellent Indian options to choose from there.

                      1. re: RGR
                        w
                        wickets RE: RGR Jul 7, 2009 11:29 PM

                        I had lunch there in March. so-so lunch buffet and really not worth going back for especially when there are decent options down the road in Edison. Also, whenever I pass by lately the parking lot is empty and in fact I actually thought it had closed down. Empty restaurants make me very nervous...who knows how fresh the food is??

                        1. re: wickets
                          shabbystorm RE: wickets Jul 8, 2009 04:29 AM

                          Agree, Edison is only 20 minutes away with so many options.
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/612161

                          1. re: shabbystorm
                            Tapas52 RE: shabbystorm Jul 28, 2010 09:09 PM

                            shabbystorm what are some of the better indian places in edison? might check them out when i'm in the area.

                    2. s
                      storky RE: RGR Jul 10, 2009 12:27 PM

                      The Tandorri Chicken was very tender, and the Vindaloo was good too. I thought they were very friendly and attentive. We would go back.

                      1. j
                        johnnnyk RE: RGR Jul 28, 2010 05:56 PM

                        I'm very shocked by the negative reviews on Masala. We've eaten there many times and love it! The food is absolutely top notch, and the daily buffets are superb. We had the buffet today. An amazing spread, 6-7 hot dishes, plus all the extras. They also included FREE superb Mango shakes with each buffet , the Mango shakes are out of this world. Also include the superb Indian bread, hot from the over. The 2 buffets were only $20, plus tax, and tip. If you love Indian food, you will love Masala Kitchen, I have never ever gotten a bad dish from them, and I've eaten there at least 30 times.

                        -----
                        Masala Kitchen
                        318 US Highway 9, Englishtown, NJ 07726

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: johnnnyk
                          y
                          yCf RE: johnnnyk Jul 29, 2010 06:00 AM

                          is the daily buffet lunch only or during dinner also?

                          1. re: yCf
                            r
                            RGR RE: yCf Aug 2, 2010 11:31 AM

                            The buffet is served at dinner on the weekends only.

                            http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                        2. r
                          RGR RE: RGR Aug 2, 2010 11:41 AM

                          It has been two years since my original post, and a year-and-a-half since the second and last time we ate at Masala Kitchen -- until yesterday. We finally went back for dinner. Considering the complaints posted on this thread, I kept my expectations fairly low. While there was one miss (the samosas needed help), overall, the food we had was quite good, the star being the Lamb Sheekh Kabab. Is this fantastic Indian cuisine? No, but imo, it is certainly better than average.

                          For those interested in the buffet, it is served at dinner on the weekends as well as at lunch. I detest buffets. We ordered from the menu.

                          Photos our meal at Masala Kitchen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

                          http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

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