Indian food has come a long way in the Philadelphia suburbs. The newly reinvented 401 Nirvana (401 Fayette Street, Conshohocken, 484-351-8029, 401nirvana.com) continues the trend of ramping up not only the flavor but also the overall experience with a medley of Indian-food classics. Revamped courtesy of owner Nabin Chantyal and chef Jagmeet “Happy” Singh, 401 Nirvana welcomes patrons to the site of the Conshohocken institution formerly known as the 401 Diner.
The tangy eggplant appetizer—wafer-thin crisps remarkably similar to potato chips, drizzled with an addictive sauce that gives them a hearty zing—sets the tone for a menu that aims to please: the garlic naan at once chewy and crispy; the navratan korma mild and creamy; the chana masala, ordered “extra spicy,” providing an unexpected kick. The portion sizes are decent, certainly not overwhelming, thereby making patrons leave full but not distended. This, however, could also be due to the fact that the ingredients are light and airy, the preparations simple yet elegant.
The reinvention underway at 401 Nirvana underscores the notion that restaurants are, in a way, like books; no matter how satisfying the buildup, they can fail if the ending does not hit the mark. Again, 401 Nirvana succeeds wildly in this regard, especially with the orange kulfi. The combination of ice cream and crushed cashews, frozen within a hollowed-out orange, is served sliced for bite-size, utensil-free eating. It reminds of an orange Creamsicle, only better; the richness of the cream goes well with the nuttiness of the cashews, balanced by the subtle bitterness of the rind. The ever-so-slightly exotic rice pudding proved equally pleasing, balanced by cinnamon, almonds and a hint of fennel.
Although Indian cuisine may be its new identity, 401 Nirvana has by no means forgotten its roots. It continues to serve traditional American diner favorites in the a.m. hours, and then switches over to some of the region’s best Indian food for lunch and afterward. It seems this restaurant—maintaining old traditions while establishing new ones—is a chameleon of the very best kind.