Photo by Angela Perez
Dessert: cardamom and pistachio kulfi with gulab jamun
Sleek and modern seem to be two words rarely used in describing the many Indian restaurants dotting Cary and Morrisville. Despite its generic strip mall location, though, Nazara Indian Bistro
is just that. Deep blue walls and white leather booths and chairs glow beneath hanging pendants. Ambient house music plays overhead as waiters in black saunter about.
Indeed, all was calm, cool and collected in the packed, fairly new eatery owned and operated by friends Mangal Singh and Shatman “Sunny” Singh, who have 30 years in the restaurant business between them. Sunny managed Raleigh’s popular Indian restaurant Azitra
for a decade. The two decided to join forces in Nazara (“beautiful scenery"), not with an eye to any particular region but with a broader philosophy of bringing traditional and contemporary Indian food together.
The items on the Triangle Restaurant Week menu were not to be found on the regular menu. If I’ve learned anything from a week’s worth of dining out, new menu items for Restaurant Week aren’t necessarily a good thing. The food often seems to feature cheaper ingredients in recipes that haven't quite been worked out by the kitchen. Alas, this was the case for Nazara.
For the first course, offerings included a spinach mango chaat of crispy spinach, St. Julian mango and tamarind-mango chutney; chicken masala, listed simply as “spicy” and the “chef’s specialty”; and scallop laziz, or pan-seared scallops with apricot chutney and greens. If the chef was offering up a specialty, I felt I had to sample it. The appetizer seemed more like an entrée—a heaping plate of chicken bits in what tasted more like an over-rich tagine than a creamy masala (though, to be fair, masalas can come in many textures and flavors
). The small salad on the side proved necessary to cut through the sauce. If rice had been served, I could have gone home full—if entirely unimpressed.
The second course choices would offer great variety for even a large party. The options included lemon malai shrimp (grilled shrimp, lemon rice with seasonal vegetables), duck vindaloo (pan-seared duck breast, basmati rice and garlic naan), chicken goan curry (coconut chicken curry, basmati rice and naan), apricot goat cheese kofta (vegetable dumplings in a creamy tomato sauce with lemon rice and naan) and paneer vegetable shashlik (grilled paneer and vegetables). Having never tasted apricot and goat cheese kofta, I just had to try it. Two plump but soggy balls of cheese, potato and fruit arrived on a sea of tangy, sweet tomato sauce. Had the kofta been crispier, they would have done well alongside a more savory sauce. But the flavor was cloying, the lemon rice wholly unremarkable. At least the naan was hot and soft.
For the dessert, there was but one offering, the ever-popular gulab jamun, a soft, deep-fried dumpling soaked in rose water and sugar syrup. My waiter pointed out I should be careful of the piping hot ball of dough as it had been microwaved to make it “taste better.” It came with a hard-frozen cardamom-and-pistachio kulfi. I laughed at the temperature extremes. This particular kulfi was frozen solid and absolutely impossible to cut with a spoon. I even tried to saw through it with a butter knife and put the searing-hot microwaved gulab jamun atop it. Still, the thing wouldn’t budge. Finally, I plucked it up with my fingers and took a bite. It was simply cold, with maybe a little spice.
With so many incredible Indian restaurants to choose from in the area, Nazara proves that good looks and sexy décor don’t always equate to great food. But I just have to believe that the singular menu for Restaurant Week was just a casualty of lack of preparation, an occurrence I have seen all too often this week. The regular menu seems playful compared to the area's more traditional Indian offerings.
So, sure, I'll give it another shot, even if based on looks alone.