208 Kings Highway E.
South Jersey isn’t short on great Asian restaurants. The entrenched ethnic communities spread around our counties ensure any craving for o-toro, bun bo Hue and beef rendang is well met, but until dining at Cross Culture on Haddonfield’s scenic downtown strip, local Indian cuisine always left me full of highs and lows. From the warm flavors to the even warmer service, this Princeton import is a crown jewel.
Open for a few years, Cross Culture is humming at a steady click in the posh old digs of Javier. The ceiling soars. The banquettes cocoon. The lighting flatters. Yet, when this vast dining room is even half full, it feels totally empty. The night I visited, only one other table shared the restaurant. I can’t imagine why; my first bite of harabhara kebab, crispy fried, spice-laced spinach balls, was instant proof the cooking here positively sings.
Harabhara by harabhara, the appetizer disappeared. A bite with herbaceous cilantro-mint chutney. ... A bite with sweet-and-sour tamarind. ... My server was the one to recommend these crunchy outside, tender inside orbs, and she did not steer me wrong. She also suggested the mulligatawny soup, a chili-flamed lentil soup the color of a turmeric-dusted sunset. The heat was powerful. Cross Culture doesn’t pull back; when you tell them to bring the heat, they gladly oblige. If it gets too intense, just take a sip of a lassi, the Indian yogurt shake—try the strawberry—designed to quench and cool the palate. As you might expect, the fruit flavors also make great desserts.
So does the peshwari naan, one of Cross Culture’s varieties of house-made flatbread. This version gets filled with a haunting combination of ground pistachios, almonds, cashews, coconut, cinnamon and maraschino cherries. Imagine a flattened French toast on an exotic trip to the Orient; that’s what peshwari is like, and Cross Culture’s is bested only by Tashan’s in Philly. Sliced into triangles and tucked in a basket, it was a worthy runner-up, subtly sweet and glossed in just enough ghee to leave fatty fingerprints on your lassi glass.
On the savory bread side, the garlic naan could keep a vampire away for days. It was smoky and serious, terrific dipped into the mulligatawny or excellent chicken korma, a royal, creamy curry packed with green coriander and chunks of tender bird. My naan also found its way into the dal makhani, a lush stew of black beans and lentils abloom with ginger, garlic, onion and butter. It’s vegetarian cooking at its finest.
Not so vegetarian: fist-sized shrimp dyed a chili-powder red before hitting Cross Culture’s blazing tandoor. They arrived in a sizzling plate over peppers and onions, snapping and hissing all the way to the table like a dish of fajitas. Fat and succulent, the crustaceans were perfectly cooked, with firm centers and spice-blackened, fire-crisped outsides. The portion was beyond generous; I had to take most of it home, with some extra dal and naan of course.
For dessert, Cross Culture serves Indian classics like kulfi (un-churned pistachio/cashew ice cream) and gulab jamon (syrup-soaked paneer donuts), but it’s the drinkable options I found most captivating, like the lassis and the falooda, a Persian milkshake laced with rose syrup and topped with ice cream. Either one makes a sweet ending to a sweeter meal.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 12 (March, 2012).
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