Subdued lighting, soft voiced servers who greet you gracefully, comfortable seating. A new wildly expensive dining experience too posh to be called a restaurant? No, a new Indian venue in the Princeton Shopping Center on Harrison Street. This new restaurant has all this and more.
Located at the site of the former Zen Palate, Cross Culture offers a diverse menu that focuses on flavor and authentic preparation. Upon our gracious reception when we entered, my friend immediately asked if the maitre d’ was from Punjab. Beaming, he said yes and that set the tone for the evening.
The space has been redecorated in the warm tones that reflect the rich spices that are the hallmark of the food. Banquettes and well spaced tables provide a comfortable seating area. We arrived around 7 p.m. on a Monday and as the room filled we never were aware of the other diners. Conversation was never overwhelmed by either loud chatter or Musak.
My friend surprised me with a bottle of Malbec designed to blend with the flavors of northern India, and we were off devouring the menu. The mixed vegetarian appetizer for two ($7.95) gave us a nice taste of the samosa, pakoras, and papadam. The menu does offer a wide array of vegetarian dishes, more than one usually sees. Appetizers range from $4.95 for vegetable samosas to $20.95 for the Tandoori Mixed Grill with chicken, meat, and fish. I opted for the lamb vindaloo ($17.95) on the theory that if it were pure heat for the sake of heat, that told me something, and if it were heat with rich flavor that told me something else. I am pleased to report that all I remember is the deep taste of spice complementing the light-as-air rice.
To this we added the shrimp biryanis ($18.95) and the bread basket combination of naan, onion kulcha, and puri ($7.95). Raita came with the biryanis, and it was enough for two. As a side, raita is $2.25. Other accompaniments such as daal bakhani (black beans and lentils cooked in cream and then fried in butter with fresh onion, ginger, and garlic) for $10.95 and Chana Masala (chick peas and tomatoes cooked with spices) also $10.95 could be main dishes themselves.
Cross Culture offers the traditional tandoori array of chicken, shrimp, lamb, and salmon. In fact, all the favorite dishes are there but the distinction is in the flavor. Both of us were taken aback at the richness and depth of the spices. Again and again as we happily worked our way through too much food for two people, we heard other diners telling the staff how delicious their meals were. Such sentiments were the inevitable parting greetings as parties left.
Entrees are all within the $13.95 to $20.95 range and portions are ample enough to share or to take home leftovers for a second meal. Our one regret was not having room for dessert, one of which, Persian Falooda, made with rose flavored milk ($6.50), is on the top of my list for the second visit.
The venue is relaxed so come as you are, yet the tone is refined enough to make Cross Culture an excellent date place. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and comes with an assortment of sides. At $9 to $15, the menu offers a good selection of dinner entrees. Take out is available, and there is a 10 percent discount for Princeton students and staff. This location is sister to two other restaurants, also named Cross Culture — in Doylestown and Haddonfield — so the pleasure of India’s herbs and spices can be had on both sides of the Delaware and up north.
Cross Culture, Princeton Shopping Center. 609-688-9400. Hours: daily, 11:30 to 3 p.m., lunch special; 3 to 10 p.m. dinner a la carte.