The Keswani family opened the first Indian restaurant, Taj Mahal, in the New Orleans area to share the flavors of their culture with the rest of the city. Anjay Keswani, who began clearing tables and washing dishes in that restaurant when he was 12 years old, says that tradition of displaying his Indian culture through ambience and good food is still his passion.
He took over the family business when his father died in 1997 and has expanded it to include Nirvana Indian Cuisine (4308 Magazine St., 894-9797). Keswani also still operates Taj Mahal (now on Metairie Road) and at one time even served multiple daily meals to 400 people at Avondale.
"I love serving people," says Keswani, a bachelor with a playful sense of humor and a zeal for life. "The whole reason my father started the restaurant was to bring a little bit of Indian culture to New Orleans, and I'm just continuing it."
When he opened Nirvana Uptown in 1999, he decorated the restaurant with mythical images from India to pique people's interest in the culture and add interest to the ambience. "The decor is mythological, otherworldly," he says. "You don't have to understand it, though. It's just there to see. Then you get the food with it."
The cuisine is itself an exotic blend of spices and cooking styles that delight the palate. "There are so many different kinds of cooking (in India). What we concentrate on is the curry style -- which isn't the curry spice you buy in the grocery store; that was an English development to make it fast -- it just means there is a sauce. There are 400 or 500 different kinds of curry. The other side of the cooking we concentrate on is the tandoori cooking, in clay pits." At Nirvana, the tandoori dishes are stripped of fat, marinated for about 24 hours and cooked over mesquite charcoal until they are tender, juicy and, Keswani promises, "very healthy." Keswani says he loves the cuisine and delights in seeing others experience the tastes he creates.
"Here people enjoy food more than any other place in the United States," he says. "We have a lot of diversity in food now; it wasn't always that way. Now people are so open to try all kinds of different cuisine. When you taste somebody's food, you're tasting part of their culture and their history."
He also adds something extra. "You've got to put love in it," Keswani says. "It's all in the heart. Love, in anything, makes it good ... and the right combination of spices. Also, Indian food is a great aphrodisiac."
Personal favorite dishes include chicken marinated in yogurt, cream cheese and cashews, spiced with white pepper and salt then roasted until the marinade forms a crust, locking in the flavor. Another favorite of Keswani's is the Tikka Masala, chicken grilled in a tandoori oven then served in a tomato and butter curry sauce with fenugreek, which he says is both tasty and "very good for your blood."
The restaurateur recently added a banquet room to the top floor at Nirvana, and it will be open for private parties, wedding receptions and other events within a month. Keswani also has partnered with Steven Peterson to buy a bar, formerly The Rendezvous, on Magazine Street and they plan to gut it, renovate it and open up an upscale bar and barbecue grill that will be equally comfortable for business people in suits and customers in shorts and flip-flops, he says. As yet, they have not decided on a name for the new business.
Keswani says he also hopes to add another eatery to his list some time in the future. "I would like to open a lunch place, a luncheon buffet in the heart of the CBD," he says. "Right now, though, I'm concentrating on this bar; it's in a lot of disrepair right now."
Minority business owners looking for ways to prosper in the current sluggish economy can get expert advice from leading minority business experts during a four-hour seminar from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 3, at the New Orleans Marriott (614 Canal St.).
Cost of the seminar, "Getting More Business for Your Business: Expanding Opportunities for Minorities in the 21st Century," is $35 per participant. For more information and to register, call Fisher & Phillips New Orleans at 522-3303.
Speakers at the event include Edgar Chase, dean of business at Dillard University, who will discuss how minority businesses can best position themselves for growth; JoAnn Lawrence of the U.S. Small Business Administration, who will outline possible relationships these businesses can enter with the federal government; and Jeffery Jones, a partner at Fisher & Phillips Orlando, and Winston DeCuir Jr., an associate at Fisher & Phillips New Orleans, who will give participants pointers about how to deal with employment disputes without incurring business losses.
After the seminar, participants will have a chance to talk personally with these experts and network with peers who attend the event at a jazz cocktail reception.
- Customers will find uncommon decor and intriguing tastes at Nirvana Indian Cuisine.