It’s always a big event when a new cuisine we’ve seen little of before sails into town. That was the case when Bombay to Goa appeared last year in the Jersey City neighborhood dubbed India Square. This neighborhood — easily accessible on the PATH train to Journal Square — is mainly located along Newark Avenue, a street that descends from Kennedy Boulevard downhill toward the Meadowlands and its tangle of highways.
The restaurant, at 785 Newark Ave., between John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Herbert Place, shares a name with a 1972 Bollywood thriller with comic elements, about a girl who witnesses a murder in Bombay (now Mumbai) and jumps on a bus to Goa to escape being killed herself. The restaurant’s menu is similarly exciting. A portion of its offerings are Mumbai street snacks, but most of the dishes hail from Goa, a small state on the west coast of India that was a Portuguese colony for nearly 450 years, ending in the early 1960s. The chile pepper presumably entered India through Goa, and in its oldest form, Goan cuisine makes lavish use of pork and vinegar.
Now, in addition to fishing villages and spice plantations, Goa has beach resorts, like Cancun or Miami Beach, and surfers, too, attracting an international crowd. Famed New York chef Floyd Cardoz came from Goa, as his Portuguese name suggests. Though dishes from the state pop up occasionally on NYC-area menus, including from Cardoz, Bombay to Goa may just be the first place dedicated to the cuisine.
The owners of Bombay to Goa are husband-wife duo Jainson Fernandes and McQueenie Fernandes, who also serves as chef. They hail from South Goa, where they still own a beach resort called Salida del Sol. Chef de partie is Bryan Carvalho, who has been cooking Goan food for 15 years.
From the Portuguese “vin d’alho,” referring to a wine and garlic sauce, vindaloo is Goa’s signature dish, and one which has spread all over India, and indeed all over the world, though usually minus the wine and pork. The chicken version at Bombay to Goa ($12.99) is bright red, made with boneless poultry and a sauce that possesses a good shot of vinegar and the culinary crackle of chiles. It can be made with lamb, shrimp, or fish for a dollar more.
One of the best things a tableful of friends and I tasted on a recent Saturday afternoon was called Calangute shrimp ($13.99). Named after a beach famously lined with bars and open-air restaurants, it’s just the kind of snack found in beach resort towns, seven pink crustaceans liberally coated with spices and grilled. Did I mention the shrimp leave a chile burn in the throat?
Other street snacks — served with a basket of Portuguese bread something like a baguette that’s been sliced, toasted, and liberally buttered — include a carefully folded omelet swimming in a coconut-laced orange sauce called xacupti curry, made with roasted coconut. A treat that’s more often found in homes is a trio of minced mackerel cutlets, which are fine without any accompanying sauces.
Another starter with the name “old Goa chicken fry” involves poultry morsels fried with a crunchy coating. It comes with a highly spiced and very dark green dipping sauce that was so good, I found myself licking up the last of it. Many dishes are served with a side called Goan vinegar dressing salad, which turns out to be a cabbage-based concoction that felt like a cole slaw — Goa is a beach state, after all, and what beach doesn’t serve cole slaw as a side?
The menu had so many delectable sounding dishes that it was impossible to try them all. We found xaccuti de galinha ($13.99), boneless chicken tidbits in the same sauce that the omelet comes in, a picture of mellowness. Elsewhere, mutton sukka features the meat tenderized with chile, with the spicy marinade annealed to the meat so as to make a “dry” curry, perfect in every way. We have one of the halal butchers in the vicinity, called Bangladeshi Supplies, to thank for that amazing mutton, which is more assertively flavored than lamb.
The Goan pulao, a pilaf rice, was bright yellow and dotted with vegetables. It’s well worth ordering even though white basmati rice comes with many of the dishes. Another thing that shouldn’t be neglected on a menu short on vegetables is the Goan yellow dal, a split lentil sauce that has a pungent lingering flavor with plenty of garlicky bang.
You won’t have any trouble digesting this food, but if you want extra assistance, a beverage called digestive booster ($2.99) is available. The active ingredient is a small purple fruit with pharmaceutical properties called kokum, and a first sip may surprise you since the flavor is sour and salty, not sweet.
On the other hand, Bombay to Goa (the logo replaces the “to” with a palm tree and mixed drink in a coconut) is BYOB, so brought-in beer may be your best beverage here. The room is airy and colorful, plastered with pictures of beaches and colonial buildings, with tables in the dining room named for cities in Goa and Mumbai, such as Margao, Vasco, and Panaji.
If you feel in need of a winter beach vacation on the Arabian Sea, where Goa is situated, Bombay To Goa provides a cheap alternative.