Because it's my birthday, I got treated to another great meal tonight: this time it was Chola, on E. 58th St., on that fancy-shmancy little Indian row which also includes Dawat and a couple of others.
My companions and I all agreed that this was the best Indian food we've eaten in our lives (although my sister had to qualify by saying that she had just as good food in London at a place called Madras Woodlands -- well, exCUSE me.)
Anyway, here's what we ate, and it was all great:
Appetizers - roasted tamarind eggplant with fresh cilantro; vegetable bhajia (fritters made with chick pea flour); masala dosa (stuffed with potato and served with sambar and coconut chutney).
Entrees - tandoori grilled shrimp, coated in spices and chilis; lamb crusted in chilies and coconut, also dry (as in sauce-less, not as in moisture-less); spinach and lentils with mustard and coconut.
We also ordered a bottle of perfectly complementary and delicious Alsatian gewurztraminer to go with.
We were too stuffed for dessert, which is saying a lot, because we are three champion eaters.
Chola has excellent service. We felt very well catered-to. The room is sparely decorated, and the way to the restroom is perilously narrow. However, the place is clean and comfortable, and you come for the food, not glitz. We'll be back!
I'm pretty sure Madras Woodlands is purely south Indian veg., while it sounds like Chola is multiregional, so in a sense the comparison is apples & oranges. There used to be a Madras Woodlands near the U.N., way before most of the current south Indian places opened in NY.
re: Peter Cherches
Yes, you're correct -- Chola is multiregional. Although more focused on northern India, they often utilize the coconut and mustard seeds associated with southern Indian, and their dosa/sambar number is very well executed.
I think my sister's comparison with Woodlands was based on the quality of execution. She's a chef and has an extremely analytical way of rating good food. She was admiring the similar high standards of cooking at both restaurants.
On your recommendations, I went to Chola for lunch today, as I was looking for some good Indian takeout near where I work (58th and Madison). I got Lasoni Gobi, which is a strange cauliflower appetizer that doesn't really taste like any Indian food I've ever had, but is really pretty darn yummy, and a Masala Dosa. I've never been really partial to dosas (never had one that wasn't greasy) but this one sounded great, so I tried it. LOVED IT! Until about one quarter of the way through, when I found a long black hair had been baked into the dosa crust. Eurrghh!
So, I'm torn. Hair in food is so gross. On the other hand, the food was yummy and maybe this was a freak accident. Your thoughts? Also, if you have recommendations for other Indian in the area, I'd love to hear them, because I'm not sure I can really return to Chola. :-) Sucks for this to happen on a first visit, before I could really become addicted to the food and potentially overlook the wanton hair.