On a warm Spring afternoon, fragrant scents of exotic spices and fresh baked breads waft across the parking lot, attracting diners to the tantalizing tastes of India. These smells have been luring guests into the family-run Nawab restaurant on Military Highway in Norfolk since 1992.
The flagship restaurant of a small successful empire spanning multiple states is proudly operated by the Arora family, founded by the patriarch Ashok. After emigrating from the Punjab region of India, Ashok landed in New York City, where he acquired his restauranteur skills.
Based upon the account of Arora’s son Nitesh, who hosted AltDaily for a vegetarian chef’s table food and wine tasting, Ashok gathered his foundations in a Greek Diner. The skills Arora brought from his native land of India, and those he picked up along the way to Norfolk, have created quite the culinary and cultural treat.
When Arora opened his doors in Norfolk in the early 90s, he had a desire to introduce people of the community to Indian food. Nitesh Arora states, “Ashok was interested in getting people comfortable with trying it (Indian cuisine),” and thus created the Nawab buffet. With the buffet people could see what they were trying and have small samples of numerous items on their own terms.
Although this experience did not involve the buffet, Nitesh provided AltDaily with a tour of the restaurant. Through the years there have been renovations providing the interior with a contemporary, warm atmosphere of invitation to enjoy a meal. The terracotta tinted walls and abstract artwork create a quaint atmosphere. Clanking of guests’ silverware adds a layer of percussion to the light sounds of music resonating throughout the spacious and intimate dining room.
A recurring theme of this dining experience is layers. Layers are key to the flavors of Indian fare. Nawab’s executive chef, Satnam Singh, blankets multiple flavors in each dish. When wines are introduced flavors protrude from the food that were previously subtle. Different wines open contrasting flavors within the same dish.
The meal begins with a samosa chaat. This dish combines a potato and pea stuffed pastry typical of Indian street food with a sauce of whole chickpeas stewed in spices. When paired with Sula Vineyards’ Shenin Blanc, tamarind flavors are more prevalent on the palate. The Grover Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc creates a balance of all the spices in the dish, while tasting this course with Sula’s Shiraz expands the plate’s robust and spicy notes.
One dish and three wines into this tasting, the next course is a welcome aperitif. “This was more of a palate cleanser than a course,” Nitesh states as he presents a desi salad. The tomato and cucumber salad, topped with crushed spices is light and refreshing. It clears the hearty flavors of the introductory course, preparing the taste buds for many flavors to follow.
After refreshing the palate, the next course is perhaps also the heaviest and most delightful of the afternoon at Nawab. Hariyali paneer tikka, a house crafted cheese marinated in coriander and mint leaves then roasted, is presented with garlic naan. The cheese is warm with a slight crust created from the marinade and slightly chewy. It pairs perfectly with the garlic naan and cucumber yogurt. The intense Grover Vineyards’ Cabernet Shiraz aromas of cherry, violet, and cocoa balance nicely with the crisp flavors of food in this course.
Keeping with the cheese idea, what follows is a trifecta of main course tastes, led by palak paneer. This dish features the same house cheese as mentioned above, this time curried with spinach, garlic, onion and ginger which also pairs well with the Cab Shiraz. Second in this triple entrée experience is baingan palak – Japanese eggplant with fennel and sesame finished with crisp spinach for a variety of textures. These flavors are intensified with the Cab Shiraz, creating deep, rich piquancy bringing the colors on the plate to life on the palate. The final portion in this course is a Goan vegetable curry, from the more tropical regions of India further South from Nawab’s roots of the Punjab region. When paired with the Shenin Blanc, this dish explodes with coconut and pineapple.
Although this tasting has satiated all at the table, there is room for the final course, which is Nawab’s desert sampler. This includes kulfi, a traditional Indian ice cream; gulab jamun, a pastry dumpling with cardamom syrup and toasted coconut flakes; and gajar halwa, a warmed carrot pudding.
This chef’s table and tasting experience is not limited to journalists – Nawab encourages groups to contact them and have similar experiences catering to their individual needs. You can also experience Nawab through their daily lunch buffet or dinner menu. Executive chef Satnam Singh, the Arora family, and their staff are ready to immerse you in Indian cuisine without leaving Norfolk.
For more information and reservations, go to Nawab’s Website (click here).