Food Story: Indian Date Night

Food Story: Indian Date Night

indian date night tablescape
Perfect for date night or a crowd, we invite you to choose your own adventure as we transform traditional Indian dishes and drinks into a menu layered in flavor (think sour, heat, warming, and cooling effects) and customizable heat levels with communal dishes like Vada Pav potato fritters and Poha Chivda spiced snack mix. 



Monica Saxena 

Monica Portrait 
After spending decades in the tech and finance industry, Monica Saxena currently owns and manages aRoqa, a bold restaurant reshaping the boundaries of Indian cuisine in NYC. Located in the heart of Chelsea, aRoqa celebrates regional Indian flavors through small plates in a romantic and contemporary setting. The restaurant was recognized by the Michelin Guide for three consecutive years for its inventive dishes and was recently nominated as one of 50 most resilient restaurants in NYC. 
Tell us when and how your passion for food and flavor began. 

I grew up in Lucknow, India with a wonderful family of food-lovers, surrounded by other families and friends who also loved food. There was always a mix of Indian cuisines, and differences in food across India is like the shifting dialects. The seeds of my passion for tasty foods were planted then.  
What is the concept of your restaurant? 
When I was younger, living in New York, and ready to date, I realized you could never go to an Indian restaurant for a romantic night out. That bothered me! I had to go to the appetizers section to try a variety of smaller plates, instead of one large dish. I was also inspired by my fondness for Spanish tapas and dim sum, which made me think, “Why can’t Indian food be shareable and romantic?” That’s how the restaurant concept came together: authentic and affordable dishes that are fun, flavorful, and easy to share that expand the definition of “Indian cuisine.” 
What seasonings, spices or other ingredients do you see as up and coming that others might not be currently aware of? 
Some people don’t know how many spices are present in Indian cuisine. I often use cumin, cloves, black pepper, black and green cardamom, bay leaf, cinnamon sticks, dry cilantro seeds and dry kasuri methi leaves. Depending on the dish, we also use either whole or ground spices. I’m noticing more differentiation between southern and northern Indian cuisine and the specific spices used. It’s great to see people recognizing the regional varieties that I so enjoyed while growing up.  
The Flavor Forecast explores how cooking evolves over generations. As a restaurant owner, how do you balance tradition with trends? 
With a lot of hard work and vision! It’s important for menus to include timeless recipes as well as dishes that keep up with changing palates. Especially across India, you have many flavors to experiment with.  
This year’s food story celebrates the power of women in food and flavor. What does that mean to you? 
Food is cooked at home in a domain that is often run by mothers and grandmothers since time immemorial, yet female restaurateurs are still few and far between. What I do comes very naturally, and if it adds to the body of work that hard working women are contributing to around the world, then so be it. I’m hoping more and more women succeed as owners and chefs and share their traditions with the world, because that should be celebrated and nurtured.  
What is your biggest piece of advice for anyone learning to cook? 
Learning how to assimilate flavors, how to cook, how to experiment, and how to become confident in the kitchen takes time. It's a true labor of love and authenticity, so keep an open mind and be patient.  
What is your biggest piece of advice for those who have ambitions of entering the restaurant business? 
My biggest piece of advice is to learn and understand the financial side of running a business. Going into the restaurant business is not for the hobbyist or faint hearted. It’s a lot less glamorous than it looks.  
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