Monday, May 30, 2011

Rangoli in New Rochelle

When we stepped into Rangoli on a Sunday afternoon, we were the only customers, an effect that beats upon itself  in a spacious restaurant creating a sense of loneliness.  You wonder whether this is the right place to eat, but the piped music by Kailash Kher and Rabbi brings you back in. 

Rangoli has conventional menus (for the buffet), good quality food, the authentic use of spices, and a refreshing home cooked feel.  There is some culinary liberty that it takes, but uses to good effect—the dosas (a South Indian dish), as my friend A stated, tasted like good “North Indian” dosas.

We had the buffet.  It had variety-- several meat, chicken and vegetarian dishes as entrees and kebabs, potato vadas and “self-help” chat as starters.  The chat ingredients were incomplete and the result amateurish.  The lamb kebabs had fresh tasting spices, though they were a tad dry, not uncommon for a buffet.  

Most fish is overcooked in Indian eateries, for Indian restaurateurs have collectively discovered a new method of synthesizing rubber that does not depend upon the sap of trees.  The fish at Rangoli was cooked beyond recognition and I would recommend avoiding it. The veteran lamb “rogan josh” was a winner, with the use of good, tender, meat that indicates this place did not try to cut costs in the wrong places.  The winners here were the vegetarian dishes—when a unique dish emerges, such as the dry shredded cabbage  stir fried with mustard seeds in South Indian style, curiously named “Bollywood Sweet 16”, you go for seconds and thirds.  Our hats off as well to the gajjar ka halwa (my North Indian readers will forgive the lapse over a Bengali’s misuse of ka or ki), a sort of carrot roux that is more solid than liquid—grated carrot cooked with ghee (type of clarified butter), milk and sugar.  It was not too sweet, nor floating in ghee and we settled our lunch in at the end, over refills of this classic dish, washing it down with tea. 
Rangoli Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ganesh Temple Canteen, Hindu Temple in Flushing, New York

 You will not get a better dosa for 4 dollars than at the cafeteria in the basement of the Hindu temple in Flushing, in New York City. Incongruous in the heart of Flushing, are the meticulously worked domes of a South Indian temple and a complex that contains a first rate auditorium and a fantastic cafeteria specializing in South Indian fast food. This is what I had been looking for all along—my Komala Vilas clone from Kolkata, a busy  place bustling with customers on bare, laminated tables in a sparse room bereft of formulated d├ęcor. 

It was my first visit to the temple.  It was also the first time that I have had a meal wearing traditional dhoti and kurta, dressed as a I was, for an evening drama performance as part of a suburban Bengali theater group making its first foray into the city.  Indeed the food was so good, that post-drama, we dropped by for a second meal. Most of the visitors to this cafeteria are South Asians, many of them devotees at the temple.  While there are a few non Asians scattered about the tables, the place seems to have gone largely unnoticed by foodies.

We had dosas and vadas at the temple, along with South Indian coffee at very, very reasonable prices.  The coffee was weak and milky, but the place sells a variety of dosas: Hyderabadi chili masala dosa for the brave, to the proletarian plain dosa with either the normal skin or a “paper” skin, where the batter is spread out extra thin on the flat frying surface, so that it crisps out like a giant fan akin to the fin of a huge, starched turban.  It is large enough that it needs to be supported by two plates.  These dosas are the real thing—not oily, nor over crisp, and the accompanying sambar dip is just as it should be: a subdued, polished presence that elegantly completes and extracts the splendor of the gaudy dosa without upstaging it, like the male counterpart in a tango duo.  I have searched for the perfect dosa often, receiving ephemeral glimpses of it on occasion, on a whimsical day when the stars lined with the chef’s manipulations at places like Saravanas in Manhattan, only to be disappointed by an oily, potato chip texture like mess when I revisited.  The dosas at the temple met their mark this time, this was like the South Indian restaurants in the Kolkata of my youth, replete with the sales lady speaking a perfect Bengali with a fluid South Indian accent.    

If you are a person of religion, you may find God twice at this temple, if you are agnostic—like I am--you will find Him at least once.  If you want authenticity in food, this is it. 

Ganesh Temple Canteen on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ramen noodles at La Fiesta in Narita Airport

This was my first trip back to Japan after the earthquake.  Other than a few telltale signs, it appeared business as usual in Tokyo. Power shortages have forced the use of less illumination.  Airconditioners were turned down and not all restaurants were open at hotels. Radiation levels in Tokyo have always been safe and have returned close to the baseline of ~0.1 micro-sieverts/hr.  Even after the first rains following the disaster, the number had climbed to a maximum of only a few micro-sieverts/hr, more than a thousand times less than the dose received on a round trip flight to New York.
Before entering the immigration area, there is a food and shopping court upstairs at Narita airport, and there is one shop there that sells Ramen.  It has been a habit of mine to pay homage here before I fly out.  It is not so much the quality of the Ramen here, but the desire to finish off one last noodle bowl in Japan before departing is what brings me here.

There are 3 choices for Ramen noodle bowls: the usual ones with soya and with miso, and a dish with roast pork slices.  I went for the roast pork slices—the broth was hearty, the noodles themselves with their characteristic yellowish tinge reasonably fresh, though I would probably avoid the roast pork slices and go for the cheaper, regular slices in future.  Ramen at most places does for me what I believe it is supposed to do: provide a quick, warm, and tasty meal with fresh noodles and a few slices of meat swimming in a satisfying broth that has seen its share of “stuff” that has simmered in it for extensive periods.  This “stuff” is a matter of much ado and fuss, at times cloaked in secrecy, and a matter of much snobbery, whether among the Japanese menfolk who love Ramen, or New Yorkers like me, who have made it an acquired taste to fuss over.  But snobbery is a matter of style, that I suspect is at odds with the very purpose of Ramen, that percolated up as a quick fix noodle meal, from its Chinese “lo-mein” roots.

Anyway, the place at the airport, with the improbable name of “La Fiesta” seems the only place out at Narita where you can get Ramen.  Wash it down with a glass of lager beer and you are ready to hit the security lines.  The place does what it is supposed to do.