April 5, 2017

Chennai Chimney at 19 Chambers Street Offers Authentic Southern Indian Cuisine

DELICIOUS AUTHENTICITY: “We are set apart by the authenticity of our food including our own recipes. We make everything from scratch, including desserts.” John Rajoo (right) and Gipson George are the owners of the new Chennai Chimney Indian restaurant, located at 19 Chambers Street.

One of the most popular Indian restaurants in the area opened in Princeton last August. Chennai Chimney at 19 Chambers Street has attracted a big following that continues to grow as more customers discover the distinctive flavors of its Southern Indian cuisine.

“We thought Princeton was a good location for our restaurant, which focuses on authentic southern Indian cuisine,” explains co-owner and chef John Rajoo. “There was really nothing like our restaurant here. There are lots of international people in the area who will enjoy our cuisine, and also many Princeton people have traveled, including to India, and they know Indian food.”

A native of southern India, Mr. Rajoo came to the United States 18 years ago as a student. “I received a master’s degree in hotel management from the University of Maryland, and then worked as a sous chef at the Holiday Inn in Somerset. I was involved in preparing all kinds of food there.

“My passion was always to be a chef,” he continues. “Even as a young boy, I watched my mother cook, and she was a very good cook.”

Heart of Princeton

It had been his goal to have his own restaurant, and six years ago, he met Gipson George, who also wanted to open a restaurant. They hoped to find a spot in the heart of Princeton, and the Chambers Street location, formerly the site of Masala Grill, was available.

“We looked at different locations, and this was just what we wanted,” says Mr. George, who has a master’s degree in business administration as well as a background in mechanical engineering.

Authenticity in every way was a priority for the two owners. The first order of business was to renovate the space to reflect a genuine Indian atmosphere.

“We wanted an Indian feel to the decor, and the name Chennai is the capital of Tamil Nadu, the southern state in India,” explains Mr. Rajoo. “We have photos of India on the walls, and our clay serving dishes are from India. We even have coasters of different places in India representing different time periods.

“Gipson traveled to India to bring back special items, and in addition, most of our staff is Indian. They know about the culture and the food, and they are highly qualified.

“Also, Gipson, who as host, spends time with the customers, enjoys sharing the history of the food and the culture. He has great rapport with the customers and is always ready to answer their questions and interact with them.”

Healthy Eating

“I really like meeting the people and sharing our restaurant with them,” says Mr. George. “For some customers, Indian food may be new to them, and I like to tell them about its history and our authentic food. Of course, many of our customers are very familiar with Indian food and really appreciate the authenticity of our cuisine.”

Many people today are concerned with healthy eating, and Mr. Rajoo reports that this is an important aspect of Indian food.

“The benefit of Indian food is that it is really healthy. We make it fresh every day, and there is nothing frozen. 95 percent of our food is prepared without butter or cream, and all the spices are freshly roasted. There are many medical benefits too. For example, ginger and curry can help stomach problems and reduce inflammation.”

In addition, he points out that the food is served on large banana leaves — the traditional Indian way. “The banana leaf has natural antioxidants, and it also lends subtle flavor to the food.”

The owners report that everything on the menu, which emphasizes “Indian Food With A Distinctive Story,” is popular. Taste, texture, and presentation are very important.

Chicken, lamb, and seafood are available in many choices and styles, and vegetarian and vegan dishes are also offered. Customers’ special dietary needs can be accommodated, add the owners.

Special Recipe

The variety of options includes soup, salad, appetizers, and entrees available for lunch, dinner, and

The Marina, which is a Chennai beach-style salad and a favorite with customers, offers chickpeas, mango, coconut, carrot, and scallions with mild spices. Appetizers include Kaalan Manchurian with the restaurant’s special recipe of mushrooms in a dry Manchurian sauce; also, Kozhi 65, with cubes of deep-fried chicken marinated in yogurt and spices. Another favorite appetizer is the tandoor-grilled Jeenga e Aatish with fresh jumbo prawns, marinated in citrus juice, ajwain, and green cardamom.

Also, Karivepillai Kadamba Varuval, pan-tossed spicy calamari rings, flavored with curry leaves; and Madurai Chukka Kari, boneless lamb dry-cooked in traditional masala Madurari style.

Popular main courses include Milagu Kozhi Chettinad, with pieces of bone-in chicken cooked in authentic Chettinad pepper gravy; Nanjilnadu Kozhi Curry, featuring bone-in chicken curry with fresh coriander, shallots, curry leaves, pepper, and yogurt.

Also, Nilgiri Lamb Kurma with cubes of lamb, slowly simmered in coconut, fresh herbs and spices; and Aattiraichi Varutha Araicha Curry, the traditional lamb curry from the town of Virudhunagar in south India, cooked in roasted spices.

Seafood specialties include Nadan Fish Curry, featuring the catch of the day cooked in a tangy tamarind sauce; and Yeral Manga Kuzhambu, a tangy prawn curry cooked with raw mango and coconut.

Vegetarian and Vegan

Mahi Tandoor is a Tikka of fish in a marinade of dill, fennel, ginger, honey, and a trace of mustard oil, grilled in the Tandoor oven.

Popular vegetarian and vegan dishes include Kaalan Pattani Milagu Curry with button mushrooms and green peas in a spicy black pepper sauce; and Ennai Kathirikai with baby eggplant, roasted spices, tomato, onion, and coconut paste.

All entrees are served with basmati rice.

Chennai Chimney also offers a variety of traditonal Indian breads, including assorted naan, and featuring the special Kashmiri naan, filled with coconut, nuts, dry fruits, and sugar.

Assorted desserts and beverages are also popular, with the latter including the favorite Masala Chai.

Prices start at $5.95 for soups, salads, and appetizers, and from $11.95 for entrees.

Mr. Rajoo and Mr. George are very enthusiastic about the restaurant’s growing popularity. Customers include all ages, families and singles, Princeton University faculty and students, and others from around the area. There are many regulars and repeat diners, report the owners.

International Group

“We have a very international group of customers coming in, including Americans, Indians, Chinese, Egyptians, and others. This makes for a very interesting group! There has also been great word-of-mouth, and a lot of people have been finding us online,” said Mr. Rajoo and Mr. George.

Customers appreciate the authenticity of the dining experience, the handsome decor, and the spacious setting, which can seat 70 diners, they add.

“People have a real dining experience here, and we look forward to introducing them to our authentic southern Indian cuisine. We want to become a real part of the community and support the town. We are very happy here, and happy to offer this special dining opportunity for everyone.”

Chennai Chimney is open for lunch Tuesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and for dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Reservations are recommended for a party of four or more. (609) 608-0104. Website: www.chennaichimney.com.