Almost exactly two years ago today, around 55 people attended a wedding reception on a Friday evening at the Meadow Club, a catering hall in Port Jefferson Station. Everything went according to plan, remembered Indu Kaur, who ran the hall with her sister Kiran Wadhwa, and the party ended shortly after midnight. Just a few hours later, the Meadow Club was engulfed in flames. Almost half of the 17,000-square-foot structure was destroyed, dealing a serious blow to a family business, but also all the families that had booked the hall for the same weekend.
“We had a baby shower scheduled for 11 o’clock on Saturday morning, a Pakistani wedding that night with 300 people,” said Kaur. “The next day we had a christening and an engagement party, so we had to figure out what to do.”
Kaur and Wadhwa “called up everybody on Long Island that we knew,” frantically searching for alternate venues. “We had a bride who was very worried and I told her to trust me,” said Kaur. “She said, ‘you guys just had a fire and you’re worried about me?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. It’s one day in a lifetime. We made sure that everything was done seamlessly and every event was rescheduled.”
Kaur and Wadhwa told me all this on a bright summer afternoon while seated under an umbrella on the rooftop deck of SaGhar, her family’s attractive new Indian fusion restaurant, which boasts dramatic views of Port Jefferson harbor. While no restaurateur could possibly have been prepared for the events of the past few months, the family’s collective calm head during crises — they also own the Curry Club in East Setauket — has certainly come in handy. SaGhar opened at arguably the worst of all possible times, but it is nonetheless swiftly building a large and loyal audience. They love the festive ambience, they love the live music on the deck, but most of all they love the food, a somewhat bold experiment that seems to be paying off.
“We serve very traditional food at the Curry Club,” said the sisters’ father, Kulwant Wadhwa, who sat down to join us. He arrived in this country in 1992 as a trained pharmacist, by the way, but caught the bug when he began running a restaurant with his brother-in-law. “We don’t want competition between the places.”
“In Manhattan, in France, in Germany, in Delhi they have this kind of fusion,” continued her father.
“But not on Long Island,” said his daughter Kiran. “We wanted to bring some excitement to Indian cuisine. It can be so generic. People only know north Indian cuisine. They don’t know there’s Gujarati, there’s Goa, there’s Kerala, Chennai.”
It was time for the elder Wadhwa to chime in again. “The younger people love it. And you’re going to see — you’re going to love it too.”
Love it I did. SaGhar’s seafood-centric menu (the name means "home of the sea" in Hindi) is a feast for the modestly adventurous diner, each dish a combination of new and familiar flavors. Witness starters like the mussels masala ($18), a large serving of specimens from Prince Edward Island soaked in a broth of coconut, curry and cilantro that you’ll be spooning out of the pot. Chicken lollipops ($16) feature juicy pieces of wing meat marinated in ginger, garlic, honey, chilies and soy sauce. The entrees are tasty, exciting, and just different enough. A Kashmiri lamb shank with red wine sauce ($39), as enormous as it is tender, takes a day to prepare and sits atop a pedestal of saffron rice and curry mashed potatoes. The exceptionally flavorful sea bass ($32) is lovingly christened by a creamy sauce with bright notes of tamarind and saffron, and even brighter ones from pomegranate seeds, and served with cleverly crispy chips of lightly fried okra.
Many other dishes merit consideration — the $36 lobster Malabar, for instance, a tumble of tail meat and crab, served with yet another winning sauce, this time composed of mustard seeds, curry leaves and coconut milk.
“We recently had a customer from Kerala, and she said ‘in no place in New York have I seen this dish, lobster Malabar,’” said Kiran. “‘The only time I’ve had it was back home.’
“She’s been here twice in one week.”
SaGhar is at 111 W. Broadway in Port Jefferson, 631-473-8300, sagharportjeff.com. Opening hours are Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. Closed Monday.