Just a few years ago when a new restaurant opened nearby you could bet with certainty that it would be just another red sauce Italian joint. Like many local foodies I was thrilled when this changed. We now have Greek, Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian options within the Jersey 30 minute driving distance limit throughout Monmouth county. The problem now is that many of these options are almost carbon copies of each other. I was more than a little excited when my back yard of Freehold, now brimming with a few Indian equivalents of red sauce joints got a wake up call. Aarzu opened with the tag of “Modern Indian Bistro”. Like the longtime food writer who had introduced me to Hemant’s rarified cuisine at NYC’s Devi, @RGR , I have been impatiently waiting for a successor. So, needless to say, I went to an early dinner at Aarzu with high hopes.
Upon entering I was impressed by the large amount of glass. Aarzu feels warm and welcoming with a full bank of windows in front and clean lines inside. There was no big screen tv blaring Bollywood dance music while colorful characters whirl to the music to distract from the upscale ambiance. Our host was warm and helpful and made us feel like welcome. Overall it felt like we were in NYC instead of my hometown but without the $40 parking fee.
So Aarzu looks good and feels good, but what about the most important part? We sipped at the chilled Reisling we had brought from home as we awaited our appetizers. An amuse bouche of chickpea chaat arrived quickly and the eating was off to a great start. We love chaat and I even make it at home and this was spot on and we liked it so much we ordered some eggplant chaat too. This was even better with thinly sliced fried eggplant crispy and not greasy at all as the star of the plate. The combination of chutneys on top was soo tasty and the dash of black salt put it over the top. Full as I am right now I still want more of this.
The Yelp reviews I’d read mentioned that the tandoori lamb chops were especially good and I love them so we had to get an order of those. Five big meaty chops arrived almost too soon and disappeared almost as fast. Juicy and full of flavor, they were the best I’ve had since Devi. More than worth the $24 cost. Come to think of it, that may have been my mantra for the entire meal as Aarzu is not inexpensive but, for a change, I would have paid more for most of the food. To the point we also had an order of Saunfiya Shrimp. The four jumbo shrimp were amazing and the Indian version of mushroom risotto that they sat on was amazing as well. Again this was not cheap at $20, but worth every cent. I may get some take out one day soon of just these two things. Well, maybe the eggplant chaat too…
Our main course didn’t disappoint either. We shared an order of the Malvani Fish Curry made with Cobia fish in a sauce redolent with coconut curry and fennel. I usually like to order a chicken or lamb dish as a main and this was a compromise to my wife, but I loved it! We had naan and an order of cumin rice with it and we finished every drop of that great sauce with them.
And then, after all this, for some reason we also had dessert. We shared an order of orange kulfi that was as interesting as it was delicious. House made orange ice cream was put in an orange rind and frozen into it so we got the aroma and the oil from the orange rind along with the sweet and creamy ice cream. This was a great end to a great meal.
I have gotten so tired of trying new places and reporting back here about how unimpressed I’ve been. I am sooo happy to have something good to say for a change. This place is different than a usual Indian place and I am already planning my next meal here. Go. Go now.