We'll get this out of the way quick: When it comes only to the food, is .
That said, , in Headquarters Plaza, not only provides a diverse menu, it also provides something its Washington Street competition does not: an experience.
Owned by The Mehtani Restaurant Group, which also owns and (and Moghul, of Edison, which I got to experience at an Indian wedding a few years ago), I came to Mehndi (with the tagline, gag, "The Art of Indian Dining") with pretty high expectations. For the most part, those expectations were met.
The experience aspect we'll get to first. Mehndi (and, I assume, its two HQP cohorts) is opulent. You walk through this cave-like cooridor into a central room where a hostess gets you whichever of the three destinations you're headed to. Colors are muted, soft and dark (bonus: When you're done with your meal, the hostess validates your parking slip).
My dining partner this evening and I were seated at a rounded booth, with the full view of the lower dining area (a step-up section appeared to be optimal for parties). Our server guided us through several options, as my eye kept getting distracted by the various tchotchkies throughout the restaurant. They did not feel cheap, or haphazard. They felt, well, opulent.
To the food. Some Indian standards I love: Tandoori Chicken, Tikka Masala, Navratan Korma. All these were listed, along with many others. However, I opted on Chicken Murgh Vindaloo, with chunks of poultry in a spicy tomato-based sauce, with cardamom and a touch of vinegar. My friend got the Lamb Rogan Josh, a staple on most Indian menus.
Items on the Mehndi menu are a la carte, which means if you want rice, you have to order rice. If you want Naan, order the Naan. However, should you order these items, you'll be rewarded with hefty portions, especially the Basmati rice, which our server said we should only order one portion. He was right; there was more like three servings of rice here (and my friend is a carbohydrate-phobe. Leftovers!).
My murgh vindaloo was good. However, there was clearly too much cardamom present that it began to become the dominant flavor far too quickly. Also, it was a bit tough, as if it had simmered in its porridge for too long.
My friend's Lamb Rogan Josh featured very tender, very succulent lamb with not quite enough of that gamey "lambness" people seek when ordering such a dish. And, its sauce was a bit bland. The Muligatawny soup ordered as an appetizer was very nice, but definitely not worth the $8 price tag hefted upon it.
Mehndi is not just about the food, it's about the experience. Some may scoff at that, quoting Shakespeare that "the play's the thing." I usually would be with that crowd. But, there is just something so indulgent about the Mehndi experience that you forgive the fact that dishes are a few dollars more expensive than maybe they deserve, though, not exhorbitantly higher, as I originally feared. A meal for two of two appetizers, two generously-portioned entrees, a very generous order of rice, an order of Naan bread and two Flying Fish Brewery drafts came to about $75. This is far less than what one would likely pay for an equivalent experience in New York.
I would absolutely go back. Would I order those same dishes again? No. But, I would definitely want to go through the menu some more, all the while surveying the dining room, the other customers, the expansive cocktail menu courtesy of SM23. At Mehndi (and, we assume, at Ming II as well. But, that's for another "Morristown Munchies" column) the experience is as important than the food itself. For "everyday Indian" delights, I'll head to Caffe India. For an experience, I'll head to Mehndi.