I’m generally a pretty simple person when it comes to Indian food. I love a few of the popular and Americanized curries, and almost anything in the saagwala family (stewed spinach). In addition, Indian rice like Basmati is far and away the most superior rice that I’ve ever eaten. And who could pass up the amazing tandoori oven breads like naan, or delicious fried samosas? They’re amazing. But that’s such a limited, pinhole view of an incredibly vast and diverse cuisine.
Kokum opened my eyes and my stomach to items I would never think to order. Most of my experience with Indian food in NYC is centered around ordering delivery. What tends to happen is that I end up ordering the same things from the same places because I know that I will be satisfied. That’s lazy, and it precludes a lot of great stuff from ever hitting my palate. For example, I almost never order fish for delivery, from ANY kind of restaurant for that matter, not just Indian joints. I don’t know what it is, but I just never do it.
So when my wife and I came to Kokum for a press meal, we were pretty amazed at the inundation of flavors we were getting from a pair of Indian fish dishes that we probably never would have thought to order. I’ll get to those dishes in a moment, don’t worry. I just want to keep prattling on about Indian food a bit first, because I’m seeing the greatness of the cuisine with a fresh pair of eyes now; I’m re-motivated about the food, and really eager to dive deeper.
Kokum is a great place to do make that dive. It’s been open for three years, it’s captained by a Michelin starred chef, and it’s been reviewed favorably by top notch, respectable food critics from major publications.
Chef Hemant Mathur distinguishes Kokum from the plethora of other Indian joints in Curry Hill by representing four regions in southern India: Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra. With his newly re-envisioned menu, he offers some items that most casual diners like me don’t often see or wouldn’t necessarily think about when eating at Indian restaurants or ordering delivery.
So here’s a run down of our meal. I’m always eager to try beers from all over the world. These two imports, Kingfisher and Taj, were mild lagers with good flavor. I preferred the Taj for the slightly more malty and round flavor at the back end.
These little fried calamari-shaped doo-dads are multi-colored rice crackers. They come to the table at the start of the meal and are fun to snack on.
We were then presented with two shot glasses of warm tomato, tamarind and lentil soup, called rasam. This was delicious, and similar to a hearty minestrone, only with more complex spice flavors. The lentil flavor was strong here, but the soup was strained of any chunks or actual lentils, so it was velvety smooth.
We started with a pair of potato, cauliflower and pea samosas, These had a great crunchy pastry outer shell, and the inside was perfectly cooked and well seasoned.
Next up was lasoni gobi: fried cauliflower bites in a tangy sauce. Imagine a cross between General Tso’s chicken and buffalo chicken wings flavors. I was impressed! They had a crispy outside and the cauliflower was soft and tender inside. The sauce had bits of peppers and onions.
Fish poriyal came out next. This is flaky shredded fish with lime, shallots and mustard seeds, served on a banana leaf. My wife and I really loved this dish. It reminded me of some of the Vietnamese fried rice concoctions that my wife makes at home, only without the rice. Super healthy and very flavorful.
This beautiful web like thing is called appum. It’s a huge bowl-shaped rice crepe that you basically rip up and eat with curries.
Another vehicle for delivering delicious curry to your mouth is Kerala parotta, which is a multi layered bread that comes out steaming in a bamboo dumpling-style basket. Looks like onion rings with bits of potato mixed in. It’s cool bread.
This first curry is kori gassi. It’s a spicy and savory Mangalorean (an ethnic group from the south western coast of India) coconut chicken curry. This was by far my favorite item of the night. It had a great, rich and salty flavor with nicely balanced heat. The chicken was perfectly cooked, super tender, and varied by cut (both dark and white meat portions).
This next bowl is keerai masiyal: spinach, lentils and red chilies in a savory broth. Since this dish had a more soup-like consistency, it seemed to pair better with the rice. This is definitely a solid choice for you health-conscious eaters out there. It packs flavor and its satisfying, but its low on calories and fat content.
Our final entree was meen polichattu, which is roasted cod that’s wrapped in banana leaf with green masala. It comes with a side of diced, fried banana that serve as a starch element similar to a potato side. It had a nice high level of spice, was really tender and was completely devoid of any bones. Lovely!
We tried two items for dessert. The first was rasmalai. This is a cold dish of cheese balls in sweet reduced milk (like a vanilla custard soup) with pistachios. I liked this because it wasn’t too sweet.
In fact, the above cold dessert went really well when you combined it with the warm dessert, gulab jamun. These are warm cardamom dough balls in a honey-flavored and sugary sweet syrup. This was very sweet, so I loved going back and forth with the cheese balls to balance the flavors.
That about does it. I highly recommend trying this place out. I was really impressed and will definitely be back for more.
106 Lexington Ave
New York, NY 10016