144 Route 4 East
Paramus, Bergen County, New Jersey
The Artful Diner
September 22, 2008
Chakra -- a name inspired by the ancient Yoga systems of India
-- is a kaleidoscope of scintillating shadow and shimmering candlelight. The
dining area is energetically and passionately expansive -- some would say
cavernous. However, embellished with striking Cambodian reliefs embraced by
120-year-old textured stone, plush velvet-pillowed gauze-curtained banquettes,
palm trees, and colorful cascading wall of water, it still manages to exude a
delicious intimacy. And, given the presence of the serious singles crowd
populating the low-slung tables and ottomans adjacent to the attractive
mahogany bar, the scene fairly pulsates with a subtly sophisticated sensuality.
But allow me to extend the metaphor just a bit... This form of
hot-and-heavy, atmospherically charged culinary foreplay only takes one so far.
The coming of the cuisine is the moment of truth, so to speak... and it has
been known to leave the diner feeling furiously frustrated and decidedly
ill-used. After all, the assertion that the quality of a given establishment's
food may often be measured in direct inverse proportion to the quality of its
view or ambiance is not without significant basis in fact.
How very fortunate, therefore, that Chakra's exotic surroundings and
equally alluring menu prove a perfect match. And, interestingly enough, when
our party paid several calls recently, the new executive chef, Nelson Martinez,
formerly the exec at Duvet in New York City, had been the power behind the
stove for a scant two seeks... but you would never have known. His
presentations proved to be picture perfectly pristine -- attractive but not
pretentious -- and the preparation and innovative integration of ingredients,
Chakra's cuisine is foundationally New American, but it also benefits
from an intriguing variety of inventive European and Asian subtexts. And this
exciting and exceedingly savvy coalescence of diverse culinary traditions is
just one of the reasons why this restaurant has remained, even after four
years, more than just a "place to be." It is, most assuredly, a
And a completely unencumbered and straightforward side dish, sautéed bok
choy, is a superlative indicator of what Mr. Martinez's kitchen is all about.
It exhibits just the right texture, firm to the bite yet tender; and the
finishing touch is a splash of ginger-soy sauce imbued with a hint of honey.
Utterly sublime in its apparent simplicity. And speaking of sublime... nothing
quite matches the addictively silky consistency of the roasted garlic potato
purée. Two comparatively simple presentations... prepared to perfection.
During his previous tenures, Mr. Martinez was known for his seafood
preparations, and that affinity is also palpable at Chakra. His
honey-glazed salmon, for example, tantalizes with just a hint of sweetness,
which is beautifully counterpoised via a savory seabed of diminutive French
fries, fava beans, corn, and a dill & Fine Herb salad.
But even better, in my opinion, is the positively superlative cioppino, a
recent special. The foundation is a sumptuous seafood broth followed by a layer
of grilled sourdough bread -- the perfect utensil to lap up every last drop of
the addictive ambrosia. The crowning touch is a tempting tier of pristinely fresh
bay scallops, shrimp, mussels, calamari, moist & meaty morsels of red
snapper, and consummating drizzle of olive oil.
Starters also carry on the seafood theme with style. The chef offers a daily
sashimi preparation, a selection of West Coast oysters, and a provocative
hamachi tartare embellished with chopped mango, cilantro, and yuzu juice (juice
from a Japanese citrus fruit that tastes like a mixture of lemon and lime).
My favorites in this regard, however, are the tempura shrimp and lemon-basil
fried calamari. In the former, the pristinely crunchy crustaceans are caressed
by an ethereal batter and embellished with a zippy mango vinaigrette; in the
latter, rings of inordinately tender squid are companioned by a heady roasted
garlic & balsamic aïoli.
Other excellent appetizer possibilities include three beautifully textured
spinach-ricotta ravioli set on a pillow of tomato fondue and a mizuna-,
frisée-driven grilled portobello salad adorned with feta cheese and a light but
assertive balsamic vinaigrette... And those in search of meatier entrées will
not be disappointed with either the grilled New York strip or the herb-crusted
rack of lamb with white bean purée, wilted chard, and tomato marmalade.
Desserts, courtesy of pastry chef Alfredo Deras, are as innovatively
sophisticated as their predecessors. The poached pear tart, for example, is a
picture-perfect rendition. The pear is poached in red wine, sliced, and then
cuddled up to a phyllo dough nest filled with red wine gelato. The finishing
touch is a red wine anglaise. The seasonal fruit tart is equally recommendable
and consummated with vanilla crème and Frangelico sauce, while the white
& dark chocolate fondue comes replete with deliciously dippable strawberries
Since Chakra is the recipient of the Wine Spectator "Best
of Award of Excellence," the fruit of the vine plays an exceedingly
prominent role. The wine list, cleverly conceived and cosmopolitan in scope, is
certainly enough to give any red-blooded oenophile serious preparatory
palpitations... and there are enough first-rate choices in the moderate range
to keep over-zealous tipplers out of bankruptcy court.
There are also some very nice selections available by the glass. The 2006
Kris Pinot Grigio from Italy is eminently quaffable; but the 2007 Villa Maria
Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand, has infinitely more character.
In the red wine department, the 2005 Silver Palm Cabernet Sauvignon is rife
with lush chocolate and berry fruit overtones. A real winner.
The Bottom Line: As the restaurant just recently inaugurated its new
fall menu, a number of items mentioned in this review may no longer be
available. Be that as it may... in contrast to the numerous one-dimensional
eateries holding court out there, Chakra is a gourmand's gestalt. Yes,
the diverse culinary constituents -- exotic ambiance, superlative cuisine,
award-winning wine list, and first-class service -- are all present and
accounted for. But the whole of this establishment is infinitely more than the
sum of its individual parts. And, even after four years, it still remains one
of the most provocative dining destinations ever to grace the Garden State
culinary scene. Above all, however, Chakra is a restaurant that must be experienced
rather than just described.
Cuisine: New American with
European and Asian Subtitles
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Weds,
5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Thurs - Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sun, 5:00 p.m. -
9:00 p.m.; Lounge: Mon - Weds, remains open until 12:00 midnight; Thurs - Sat,
until 2:00 a.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart casual
Parking: Onsite; valet on weekends
Alcohol: License; award-winning wine list
Price: Appetizers, $8.00 - $18.00; Entrées, $25.00 - $36.00
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
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Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
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