Montclair has long been a formidable food town, highly regarded for innovative new-American cuisine, and praised for the large number of ethnic restaurants. Strangely, Montclair’s culinary portfolio was lacking a serious performer in the Indian food sector.
This past July, gastronomic fortune turned in favor of Montclair when Sati Sharma and his partner, Ajit Singh Bains, opened Brick Lane Curry House at 540 Valley Road in Montclair.
The Montclair location marks the third Brick Lane Curry House, following Manhattan locations on 6th Street, and 53rd Street. The man largely responsible for this culinary blessing is Montclair resident and food enthusiast, Ritesh Patel.
Four years ago, Patel was walking on Valley Road with his son, William, when they passed the old Peking House Chinese restaurant that formerly occupied the space at 540 Valley Road. Ritesh explained, "I saw a For Lease sign in the window, I took a picture of it and sent it to Sati saying, 'The new home of the Brick Lane Curry House.' He and Ajit stopped by the next weekend, took a tour of the local Indian restaurants, had a look at the town and agreed. Besides, I was getting tired of driving to Manhattan for take out."
What distinguishes Brick Lane Curry House from most Indian restaurants? To begin, Brick Lane is modeled after the curry houses of Brick Lane in London. The menu, as the Brick Lane website describes, is “lighter on tandooris and khurmas and heavier on kebabs and robust curries.” According to manager, Raghu Murthy, a British-style Indian restaurant is “more saucy” than a traditional Indian restaurant. Chef Karthik Kumar adds that this style is more “spicy,” as well.
I had a very enlightening morning in the kitchen of Brick Lane with Chef Karthik Kumar, and the pleasure of dining at the stylish curry house. The fare is just as vibrant as the Turmeric and Coriander painted walls; distinct flavors, clean, bright, and authentic. From the onion gravy, to the heavenly rich cashew and almond cream, to the spice blends ground from freshly roasted spices, it’s all above and beyond any Indian food I’ve encountered in North Jersey. All curries are made fresh daily, and the meats marinate for a minimum of 24 hours - some marinate for 48 hours, to insure flavorful, tender, and juicy carnivorous perfection.
When I visited, Chef Kumar prepared a classic staple dish of Brick Lane, the always seductive, Chicken Tikka Masala. The moist and flavorful tandoori cooked chicken was dressed in a smooth, rich sauce – a blend of freshly pureed tomatoes cooked in butter, and a sweet, smooth cashew and almond puree. The sauce is gently infused with fresh fenugreek leaves, cinnamon stick, star anise, and just a dash of chili powder.
I also tasted Chef Kumar’s favorite dish, the Lamb sizzler. The New Zealand lamb, which was also cooked in the tandoori oven, was marinated for two days with tamarind, ginger and garlic. The lamb chops were atop of bed of greens and bell peppers. So simple and so perfectly satisfying. Accompanying the meal was garlic Naan, which is cooked on the inside of the 800 degree tandoori oven. Each preparation soared with brilliant aroma, and was complimented with clean, crisp, nuanced, layers of flavor.
But my visit to Brick Lane wasn’t all pleasure – there was some serious pain involved in the form of a 16-ounce bowl of Phaal chicken curry, which I can only describe as someone’s S&M Food Fantasy. Let me tell you, Phaal is hot. How hot? Try over 1,000,000 Scoville heat units. (This is the level just below law enforcement grade pepper spray.) That’s almost as hot as Anthony Bourdain. But despite the heat, I found myself going back for more.
The Phaal is described on the Brick Lane Curry House's menu as "an excruciatingly hot curry, more pain and sweat than flavor. For our customers who do this on a dare, we will require you to state a verbal disclaimer not holding us liable for any physical or emotional damage after eating this curry." The Phaal includes several types of peppers, including black pepper, white pepper, green pepper, jalapeno, habanero, ghost pepper, and Vindaloo sauce. The heat of the ghost pepper alone is measured at over 1,000,000 Scoville heat units.
Next month, September 18, Brick Lane Curry House will be hosting a Phaal challenge open to the first 12 people to arrive at 6:30 p.m. The first one to finish a bowl of Phaal (lamb or chicken), rice and Naan bread will be named the Phaal Curry Monster of 2011.
Brick Lane offers curbside pick up for lunch and dinner. They also have a Brick Lane Lunch Box, consisting of an appetizer, main course, vegetable, rice and Naan – a bargain, priced at only $10! If you’ve never had Indian food before, or have and want the best in flavor and heat, try Brick Lane Curry House.
Brick Lane, 540 Valley Road, Montclair is open 7 days a week, from 12:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m., except on Friday and Saturday when it stays open until 1:00 a.m. They offer take out service and will have a delivery option within a few months.