Piquant Bread Bar & Grill
349A George Street
New Brunswick, Middlesex County, New Jersey
By The Artful Diner
Special to nj.com
July 23, 2007
The Piquant Bread Bar & Grill -- By the way,
"Bar" refers to bread rather than alcoholic beverages, as the
restaurant is BYOB -- is unique in a number of ways. For starters,
chef/proprietor Kirti Rahi, a native of Delhi, India, spent 15 years as a
software engineer before realizing the dream of owning her own restaurant. And
this is one writer who is extremely happy that she finally left information
technology in the dust in order to pursue what is obviously her true calling.
Secondly, the cuisine is an exotic, eye-catching commingling of New Indian
and eclectic offerings bolstered by the highest quality organic produce and
all-natural kosher meats. But as Cervantes was quick to point out: "The
proof of the pudding is in the eating" -- and at Piquant the eating
is absolutely marvelous. Seldom have I encountered such magnificent interplays
of ingredients, such seamless gestalts of colors, tastes, and textures. And
while Indian food enjoys the reputation of often initiating fiery peristaltic
reprisals, the cuisine proffered here is subtle and sophisticated rather than
Finally, Piquant seems terribly misplaced. With its clean lines of
brown and gray, bare wooden tables, charming banquettes, and color-tinted glass
plates, Ms. Rahi's fine establishment has SoHo or Greenwich Village written all
over it. The restaurant exudes a comfortably cultured cosmopolitan aura, which
is totally at odds with the often less than appetizing human flora and fauna
usually seen parading up and down George Street. This is especially true when
Rutgers University is not in session and the absence of students and faculty
may be most keenly felt. And since Ms. Rahi draws a major portion of her
clientele from this particular social group, its conspicuous absence is
something of a double whammy.
But don't let the location dissuade you, as the food itself is worthy of a
pilgrimage. You begin, for example, with crunchy rice puffs paired with a
triptych of dipping sauces -- tamarind, apple, and cilantro/mint -- presented
in a blue-tinted rectangular triplex serving plate. Attractive to both the eye
and the palate, there's just enough pizzazz in the sauces to tantalize the
taste buds for the good things yet to come.
For seafood lovers, the fish tikka ($11.00), straight from the
tandoor oven, is the perfect opening move. Three wedges of moist, flaky white
fish are enlivened with a mango powder that holds just a hint of spice; and a
luscious julienne salad of carrot and jicama makes a marvelously soothing
travel companion. Also not to be missed, when it is offered as a daily special,
is the sumptuous salmon cake ($8.00). The ground fish is imbued with an
ingratiating blend of fresh herbs & spices, panko-crusted, and then pan
fried and served up with a wonderfully flavorful Meyer lemon chutney.
Another beautifully conceived julienne salad -- cucumber and red onion --
figures prominently in the daal poori ($9.00). This is a
not-to-be-missed vegan dish comprised of triangles of grilled flat bread filled
with roasted, exquisitely seasoned lentils. The complementary/contrasting blend
of tastes and textures is a mouth-watering revelation. And those who consider
vegan dishes incredibly dull should also check out the sprouted mung bean salad
($10.00). Diced tomatoes, red onion, and Granny Smith apples are tossed in a
light but totally engaging dressing and presented in a freshly baked papadum
bowl. As picture perfect as it is delicious.
Yet another highly recommended appetizer is the aloo papri ($8.00), a
classic Indian starter. Wheat crisps, diced seasoned potatoes, and chickpeas
luxuriate in a smooth, slightly spicy yogurt sauce. Instead of the usual
topping of tamarind chutney, Ms. Rahi applies a tiara of zesty mango sauce.
Main courses continue to dazzle. The garden variety chicken tikka,
for example, generally emerges from its sojourn in the tandoor oven overcooked,
overwrought and, at times, about as dry and tough as Clint Eastwood's Rawhide
saddle. But not so here. The ginger & garlic marinated chunks of chicken
breast are incomparably moist & tender and find a delightful companion in a
delicate tomato-butter sauce ($23.00).
And for those who may be somewhat less enterprising of palate, another
chicken dish, the jazzed up version of chicken roulade ($24.00), may be just
the ticket. Thick, luscious slices of chicken are rolled around cipollini
onions, slathered with a zesty chipotle glaze, arranged on a pillow of flat
rice flakes with diced potatoes, and consummated with a smattering of toasted
peanuts and provocative cardamom jus.
Among the treasures of the sea, salmon figures prominently. One of the
specials of the evening, for instance, included a filet of poppy seed-crusted,
pan-seared Scottish salmon enhanced with a cherry tomato jus ($25.00).
On the other hand, I would probably opt for the grilled salmon ($24.00) offered
on the regular menu. Cooked through, precisely as ordered, yet marvelously
moist and flaky, it is partnered with a cucumber dill salad & field greens
and finished with a stunning saffron broth.
Shrimp -- whether the Goan shrimp curry ($25.00) or the coriander-crusted
grilled crustaceans ($25.00) -- is always a wise choice... ditto the flavorful
lamb chop sided by tumeric-honey mashed potatoes, sautéed kale, and an engaging
mint sauce. The only dish that fell short in several visits was the roasted
cauliflower Manchurian ($19.00). The accompanying piquante bean purée was
bountifully seasoned and breathtakingly addictive... but the cauliflower
florets were drowned in a sweet/sour sauce that was entirely too overbearing
for my palate.
Among the side dishes, don't be at all shy about savoring the extraordinary
bread bar, which is really the sine qua non of any visit to Piquant. The
"Sampler" ($15.00) will tempt you with the likes of missi roti
(whole wheat bread with black lentils, leeks, and pomegranate seeds), haree
roti (whole wheat bread with fresh fenugreek leaves, coriander seeds &
touch of garlic), and the paneer (combined with carom seeds, baby
ginger, and fresh cilantro). Individual bread orders are $5.00 per.
If the restaurant has a weak spot, it would undoubtedly be the desserts
($7.00), which are not, in my opinion, of the same caliber as their
predecessors. However, stick with the kulfi, Indian ice cream set on a
bed of pistachio brittle and garnished with a dark cherry compote, and you
can't go wrong.
There is absolutely no question that Piquant Bread Bar & Grill
sets a new standard for innovative Indian cuisine in the Garden State. If you
are at all adventurous of palate, it is surely worth a visit.
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Weds,
3:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Thurs & Fri, 3:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sat, 1:00 p.m.
- 11:00 p.m.; Sun, 1:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Parking: Street parking and nearby municipal lots and garages
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
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.
Want to receive e-mail notification when a new review or article is posted? E-mail Artful Diner!