Entering Nazara, you step into a small vestibule with potted greenery, a couple of sleek modern chairs and a lamp that slowly morphs through all the hues of the visible spectrum. On your left is the bar, where neat rows of bottles glow in the backlight of purple neon. Just ahead, in the dining room, the colors are more muted: stone tile floors, chocolate brown walls, high-backed banquettes upholstered in ivory faux leather, tabletops stained in shades of roasted coffee beans. The vibe is upscale and modern, with only a few hints – beaded curtains, ornate escutcheons framing the wall sconces – that Nazara is an Indian restaurant.
Clearly, the designers have taken the restaurant’s name to heart as a guiding principle. According to the website, Nazara means “beautiful scenery.”
A similar aesthetic guides the presentation of the food, an ambitious mix of traditional and contemporary Indian fare. Dishes are artfully composed and served on gleaming white stoneware in contemporary geometric shapes. Even the naan arrives on a doily-lined plate.
In one appetizer offering, seared jumbo scallops, each topped with a scarlet dot of capsicum chutney, line up in a neat ellipsis trio, accompanied by a sautéd medley of spice-dusted Yukon gold potatoes and asparagus, on an elongated rectangular platter. In another, the same shape frames a still-life sampler of tandoori-roasted chicken, lamb and salmon flanked by a broad brush stroke of tamarind-garlic chutney and a colorful spatter of a melon-and-tropical-fruit salad.
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A lime wedge garnishes the rim of a bowl of lemon coriander soup, a broth whose milky color belies its citrus-bright savor.
Among entrees, grilled lemon duck is a standout worthy of the restaurant’s name: rosy medallions of pan-seared breast fanned across the middle of the plate, a sort of savory shoreline separating a lake of tamarind chutney and a small fragrant mountain of lemon rice.
Hariyali shrimp is a pastiche of pink shellfish and mint-cilantro sauce set against a vivid backdrop of grilled asparagus-chard salad and lemon wedges. A coppery dab of Southern Indian-style coconut chutney seems like gilding the lily until you discover what a tasty dip it makes for naan.
Murgh musallam, in contrast, is a monochromatic study in shades of bronze. Nazara’s rendition – chicken legs simmered in a spicy caramelized onion gravy – isn’t the rigorously authentic whole chicken presentation. But the sauce, whose spicy complexity belies its brooding color, delivers fully on flavor.
Vegetarians are well-served by a varied offering that extends well beyond the usual dal, gobi and paneer entree variations. Eggplant kale tarkari, which pairs chunks of Asian eggplant with the trendy greens in a mere film of a subtly perfumed sauce, is one refreshing surprise. Corn malai methi, a creamy medley of sweet corn and spinach tinged with garlic, ginger and cumin, is another.
Kurkuri bhindi is also tempting, though the dish – whole okra pods, lightly battered and deep-fried, then tossed with tomatoes and onions – was the victim of a too-generous hand with the salt when I ordered it.
Given the generally high level of execution, it’s especially frustrating when something comes along to mar Nazara’s “beautiful scenery” of an experience. Roasted cod caldine, a specialty of the coastal Goan region famous for seafood, tantalizes with its distinctive pale green, gently spiced coconut sauce. Then it lets you down with overcooked fish.
The lentils in lamb Poriyal, an otherwise delightful dish featuring lean, tender chunks of meat cooked with onions and peppers in South Indian spices, suffered from the opposite problem recently. They were undercooked to the point that, fiery food junkie that I am, I was faced with the dilemma of risking my tooth enamel with every bite, or going cold turkey. I hope my dentist doesn’t read this, my confession that I polished the whole thing off.
If Nazara’s contemporary Indian bistro look – and a number of its dishes, for that matter – seem vaguely familiar, that may well be because the restaurant’s owners have both operated locations of Azitra (one in North Raleigh, the other in Colorado).
Nazara is, in fact, the realization of a shared longtime dream for partners Shatman Singh and Mangal Singh (no relation). Childhood friends who grew up in the Punjab, a region noted for its cuisine, the two talked for years about opening a restaurant together. Now both are veteran restaurateurs, and after careers that never quite allowed them to join forces, they finally managed to team up for the opening of Nazara last summer. And if their restaurant’s ambitious reach occasionally eludes their grasp, they’re clearly on a path that leads to more beautiful scenery.
1945 High House Road, Cary; 919-694-5353
Atmosphere: upscale contemporary with an Indian accent
Noise level: low to moderate
Service: attentive (but watch out for attempts to upsell)
Recommended: seared scallops, corn malai methi, murgh musallam, grilled lemon duck, chile garlic naan
Open: Lunch and dinner daily
Other: lunch buffet weekdays $9.95, Saturday-Sunday $12.95; full bar; accommodates children; excellent vegetarian selection; parking in lot.
The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: ☆☆☆☆☆ Extraordinary ☆☆☆☆ Excellent. ☆☆☆ Above average. ☆☆ Average. ☆ Fair.
The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.