It's New to Us by Jean Stratton

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DINING OUT: "North Indian food has a lot of choices. We thought people in Princeton would appreciate high quality food and the nice atmosphere we offer." Sunita Midha (left) and Seema Chopra are two of the owners of the new Indian restaurant, Mhk, on Nassau Street.

Popular New Indian Restaurant Delights Diners Day and Night

People are lining up to sample the tasty cuisine at the new Indian restaurant, Méhék. Located in space formerly occupied by Sally Lunn's Restaurant & Tearoom on Nassau Street, it has been doing "standing room only" business since its opening in September.

Owners Sunita Midha, Seema Chopra, and Jolly Luthra (also manager) are delighted with the enthusiastic response, says their associate Sanjeev Midha.

"The way Princeton has welcomed us has been outstanding. One of the things we wanted was to be closely involved with Princeton people and the community. We like this location, and we think we made the right move."

The partners, all natives of India, are close friends, and arrived in the U.S. during the 1980s. A molecular biologist, Sunita Midha studied in California before coming to Princeton, and Seema Jolly lived in London for many years. Jolly Luthra has spent his career in the food industry, having previously worked in a number of Indian restaurants.

"We had a dream to do something in Princeton," explains Sanjeev Midha, "but we didn't know just what. There are a lot of educated people in Princeton, who have traveled, and also you find a big international group here.

"We have all traveled abroad a lot, and we always enjoyed eating in many different restaurants. We began to think about opening a restaurant of our own, specializing in North Indian cuisine, and focusing on more ambitious things.

High Quality

"We have done a lot of research and have been very careful about it," adds Ms. Midha. "Jolly, our partner, is experienced in the restaurant business, and our chef is a native Punjabi. We have special recipes from India, and everything has to be fresh and very high quality."

The name of the restaurant was very important, points out Mr. Midha. "We wanted the name to be Indian, and 'méhék' means aroma. Aroma is very important in Indian cuisine and restaurants."

The overall atmosphere was also a major priority of the owners. The special care and attention to detail is evident throughout the restaurant. Red is a popular color in India, and it is very visible in the decorative wall hangings, tapestries, and even the menu.

The colorful menu, featuring several pages, and highlighted with illustrations and information about India, is tied with a red ribbon.

A downstairs gallery contains wall hangings, bags, cushion covers, and tin and pewter angels, hand-crafted by Indian artists from all areas of India.

"Another thing," adds Ms. Midha, "one or two of the owners are always here. We feel so good when people come in and are glad to see us and then say how much they enjoy the food. We try to offer a very welcoming atmosphere."

Lunch, dinner, take-out, and special afternoon tea are available at Méhék.

"We wanted to continue the legacy of Sally Lunn's Restaurant & Tearoom," explains Ms. Chopra. "We have a selection of many different teas and Indian appetizers. It can be a nice experience for mothers and daughters after school and fathers and daughters, too. It is also a nice way of teaching manners."

The partners hope to coordinate special events during teatime, such as book club meetings, birthday parties, and yoga and meditation sessions.

With its intriguing combination of tangy flavors and taste, Indian food has become a favorite of American palates.

Made To Order

"Our chef makes everything fresh. It's made to order. You can have it to your taste – for example, curry mild, medium, or very spicy," notes Ms. Midha.

"Indian food uses a lot of different ingredients and each has its own value," she continues. "For example, all our spices, such as ginger, garlic, cloves, cardamom, tumeric, and cumin, are very healthy. Yogurt is used in the sauces, and our yogurt is homemade here. Not only does Indian food taste so good, it is very good for you. It is also very light, not heavy."

Adds Jolly Luthra: "People in Princeton are willing to try different tastes, and many of them are very knowledgeable about Indian food. We offer many choices and different flavors. We have regular customers now, and people trust me to order for them. My job is to make sure people go out happy from here!"

Choices at Méhék include lamb, chicken, seafood, and vegetarian entrees, with an assortment of curry and tandoori dishes available.

Popular selections are the Méhék mixed grill, which is a combination of tandoori specialties, and the variety of saagwala dishes, such as chicken (or lamb) saagwala including boneless chicken cooked with spinach and freshly ground ginger.

Two other favorite chicken dishes are Chicken Achari, with boneless chicken cooked in a thick sauce with pickled spices, and Chicken Vindaloo, which includes boneless chicken cooked with potatoes in tangy and spicy sauces.

"Our seafood section is very popular," adds Mr. Midha. "Fish Malabari, which is cooked in a thick sauce of coconut milk, is a special favorite."

Tikkas or kebabs are another specialty of Méhék, and a big variety of appetizers, chutneys, and the tasty Indian breads is on hand. The Méhék assorted bread basket offers a selection of several different breads.

An assortment of Indian desserts includes gulab jamun (a sweet dumpling), carrot pudding, and kulfi (Indian ice cream), among others. The popular Chai tea, lassi, and freshly-made lemonade are favorite beverages.

Customers, who are from Princeton and beyond, include Indians, says Mr. Midha. "You see Indian people here because they know the food is authentic."

Dining Experience

Prices at Méhék start at $6 to $9 for take-out, $3.99 and up for lunch, $10 for vegetarian dinner entrees, and $13 and $14 for other entrees.

Diners are welcome to bring a bottle of wine, and the owners are happy that their customers are enjoying the Méhék dining experience.

"Meeting the people and interacting with them is such a pleasure," says Ms. Midha. "It has been a very positive experience. People have been so nice. It's wonderful when they enjoy what they eat here."

"My biggest pleasure is customer satisfaction," adds Mr. Luthra. "When people leave happy and come back again, it makes my day!"

It is that kind of attention to customer service and to the quality of the food that has accounted for Méhék's success in such a short time.

As Mr. Midha says, "Starting a business is very complex. You must pay careful attention to every detail. We take very special care."

Méhék also offers catering service and can accommodate group parties. It is open seven days. Lunch: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; tea: 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.; dinner 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. (Sunday through Thursday); 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. (Friday and Saturday).

Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends. (609) 279-9191.

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