Sunday, August 2, 2015

Follow Hackensack's Main Street to find the spice route to India

At Art of Spice in Hackensack, an appetizer of Dahi Puri is described as a popular street snack in Mumbai. The crispy croquettes, served cold, are filled with boiled potatoes and sweet-and-sour chutneys, and topped with a yogurt sauce and chickpea strands.


Art of Spice is the newest Asian Indian restaurant on Main Street in Hackensack, and judging from our dinner on Friday night, this latest addition to the city's ethnic-dining scene is the best of the three.

And the biggest, with an unusually high ceiling, exposed brick, a wooden floor and a large table on a raised platform at the rear of the dining room, under a flat-screen TV. 

We only had an hour before we had to drive to Newark for a reggae concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, so we split an appetizer, a vegetarian entree and a curry with shrimp, and took home leftovers.

Asian Indian food probably uses more spices than any other cuisine -- including cardamom, tamarind and cayenne -- and we enjoyed the interplay of sweet, sour, spicy and savory flavors.

But butter and cream also are used to prepare meat and poultry, so if you're trying to avoid them, it's best to ask your server if they are used in the dish you want.

All the food tasted great, but we especially enjoyed an appetizer, Dahi Puri, crispy orbs served cold and filled with potatoes and chutney, and covered with a yogurt sauce ($7).

A vegetarian entree made with okra, Bhindi Masala ($13); and a shrimp curry, Alleppy Chemmeen ($18), also were delicious eaten over long-grain basmati rice. 

A traditional curry powder is a blend of 20 ground herbs and spices; masala usually has fewer spices and is used as a final seasoning. 

A Web site says Art of Spice is a fine-dining Indian restaurant that "exemplifies the spirit of diversity by including Mughlai Delicacies, Southern Indian Specialties and Indo-Chinese Fusion."

Bhindi Masala, front, is a vegetarian entree of okra sauteed with red onions and freshly ground spices. Alleppey Chemmeen Curry, rear, is an entree of shrimp said to be drawn from the tribal cuisine of Kerala, using spices found in the Alleppey region.

At Art of Spice, you receive a complimentary basket of papadum, a thin, crispy disk made from lentils, and three sauces for dipping. Naan, paratha and other breads cost extra.

Long-grain basmati rice comes with each entree.

The cavernous space, above and below, is a former liquor store on Main Street in Hackensack next to what once was a Woolworth 5-and-10-cent store.

Art of Spice's buffet is $10.99 on weekdays and $12.99 on weekends. Call for hours the buffet is served.

Parking spaces in the rear are accessible by entering a shoppers lot on State Street in Hackensack, next to a C-Town Supermarket at 154 State St.
The lot in the back is badly pockmarked and some of the spaces are marked "reserved." The restaurant shares an entrance with a party room, and, unlike the restaurant, the area inside the door hasn't been renovated.


Art of Spice, 159 Main St., Hackensack; 1-201-342-3444. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesdays through Sundays, but closes for two hours between them. Closed Mondays.

Entrees are $11 to $24. BYO, metered street parking and some parking in rear. 

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