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Palate: Flavor and Spice and Everything Nice

by Erica Young; Photography by Jeff Anderson

For a good 20 years, I called Mount Laurel home and that meant I never had to venture too far for a good bite to eat. That, of course, included lots of trips to Wawa and plenty of Italian food, but it also included some adventures outside of the norm from what I grew up with that introduced me to new worlds of flavor. Restaurants like Monsoon, which over the course of the past decade has become one of the go-to Burlington County spots for vibrant, beautiful Indian cuisine.

Monsoon may be a longstanding spot in South Jersey, but the interior still has a fresh and modern vibe that’s clean and comfortable, yet still refined enough for a date night or celebration. (It’s also a local favorite lunch spot thanks to its popular buffet that includes around a half dozen dishes from its traditional menu.)

The menu as well offers dozens of vegetarian, meat and tandoori options for the picking. Like the Tandoori Wings appetizer—classic chicken wings seasoned in a spiced marinade, then cooked at high heat in a traditional tandoori oven until crispy. The wings had a great char on the outside from the oven and were complemented by a balanced blend of spices. The wings were served simply with fresh lemon that added a burst of flavor and enhanced the spice notes.

A more traditional appetizer was the Vegetable Samosa plate, which featured two pyramid-shaped pastries stuffed with mashed potatoes, peas and a mix of spices, all deep fried in a crispy shell. The flavor was very straightforward, exactly what you’d expect from a classic samosa, but the perfect fry on the outside helped set them apart, as each one was beautifully golden brown and had a wonderfully crunchy texture.

Tandoori options are always on the menu for entrées, but of course the star of this show is the curry. Since vegetarian dishes are a staple in Indian cuisine, I suggest starting on the meat-free side and working outward. Paneer is always a good idea; a fresh cheese slightly similar to the texture of non-melting mozzarella that is cubed and served in simmering sauces. Monsoon’s Kadai Paneer is stewed with hearty slices of onion and bell peppers and finished in a rich red curry. It was complex and packed with flavors, and the addition of veggies added a bit of diversity to each forkful.

You can’t go wrong with a meaty entrée, either. Take the Lamb Chettinad cooked in a roasted coconut sauce with dried chilies as an example. The fragrant sauce of the dish immediately draws you in, and while this curry is on the sweeter side, I’d love just a bit more heat as there was only a slight punch from the peppers. The lamb, meanwhile, was trimmed into bite-size bits that were rich and tender, still holding its own gamey flavor while swimming in the curry.

Ordering a bread basket to accompany our curries was a great choice, and the sizable order provided enough options that we could have shared with a few extra guests. Of course, naan is a must-have with any curry, but the basket also show- cased other Indian breads like paratha—a whole wheat flatbread with a bit more chew—and crispy tandoori roti—another flatbread that’s a bit thinner.

One of my favorite things to order whenever I visit any Indian restaurant comes by way of the drink menu. The classic Mango Lassi is similar to a mango milkshake but made with plain yogurt instead of ice cream. Monsoon’s version was heavy on the yogurt, but undeniably ice cold and refreshing. It’s a drink that could be equally satisfying whether it was accompanying a fiery curry or enjoyed as a light dessert.

If you’re looking for a more traditional sweet end to your evening, Monsoon also offers a full list of house-made Indian desserts, including the Indian pudding Gajar Halwa and my personal favorite, Gulab Jamun—mini jewels of a cheesy custard, nestled in rosewater syrup. They’re bite-sized but still indulgent, the perfect mix of sweetness and richness with just a pinch of fragrant rose flavor.

I’m so appreciative of Monsoon’s commitment to quality: After 12 years it seems like it only gets better every time I visit thanks to consistently incredible service from a staff who wants you to feel the love they put into every dish.

Monsoon Fine Indian Cuisine
4180 Dearborn Circle | Mount Laurel | 856-234-0080

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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 16, Issue 11 (February 2020).

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