Elevated Experiences Aren’t a Mirage at Amiraj

Amiraj Featured|Amiraj Food

Some restaurants are described as love letters, perhaps to a cuisine or a locale. But Amiraj, Nawab’s new incarnation in Williamsburg, is a thank-you note.

Unveiled last fall, the sophisticated Indian restaurant reflects owner Ashok Arora and his team’s gratitude for their clientele’s devotion for over two decades. “Especially recently,” says Nitesh Arora, wine director and general manager. “If our regulars only went to one restaurant during the pandemic, this was it.”

Mindful of their guests’ desire for a more nuanced interpretation of the subcontinent’s expansive foodways, they reimagined this Nawab as a modern Indian kitchen, where chef Narinder Kumar imbues traditional techniques and flavors with contemporary flair, spanning Punjab, Goa, Kerala and beyond.

Gone is the buffet. “It was a great way to introduce Indian fare but now let’s share more interesting things,” Nitesh explains. He steers newcomers toward gateway dishes like grass-fed rack of lamb rubbed with roasted garlic. Classics such as chicken tikka masala and palak paneer (a spinach-cheese stew, the benchmark by which any Indian establishment is judged) still hold sway, but this is no place to gulp down a quick curry.

Amiraj Food

It’s a stunning dining room for sinking into a seductive couch and discovering that blue crab taka-tak, subtly seasoned to showcase the locally sourced shellfish’s quality, or octopus tadka, spicily titillating with its Southern Indian finish of coconut and peppercorns, pairs perfectly with a fun Italian wine. “We want this to be an experience,” says Nitesh, who also curated the wines at nationally acclaimed Lehja in Richmond, a Wine Spectator award-winner (having sold the other Nawabs he founded locally, Ashok’s portfolio includes Lehja, Azitra in Raleigh and Broomfield, Colo., and Masala Bites in Virginia Beach).

This wine list brims with exquisite choices from near and far, including India’s burgeoning viticulture scene. Creative cocktails and equally alluring mocktails elevate meals too, right down to a sultry old fashioned you can witness being prepared in a smoking box. As always, breads are paramount. Nitesh calls rosemary blue cheese kulcha, a stuffed naan cooked to order in a clay oven, his “go-to” for commencing wine dinners.

Abundant with pleasures, Amiraj is a thank-you where you’re most welcome.

Learn more at Amiraj.com.

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Marisa Marsey
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Marisa Marsey is a food, beverage and travel writer whose awards include 1st place Food Writing from the Virginia Press Association. A Johnson & Wales University representative, she has sipped Château d'Yquem '75 with Jean-Louis Palladin, sherpa-ed for Edna Lewis and savored interviews with Wolfgang Puck and Patrick O’Connell.

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