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Nirvana Cafe & Bar: Sri Lankan nr Gramercy Pk

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I had the string hoppers ($12 if you eat in, $10 for take-out) tonight served with sambal, a vegetable curry and another sauce (salty, opaque and yellow with bits of chilli peppers in it). The string hoppers were a beautiful nutty pale-taupe color and were unlike the string hoppers I had years ago at Taprobane a Sri Lankan restaurant near Carnegie Hall which closed. Those steamed noodle "beds" were bland while these were flavorful and tender with wonderful springiness and a fair amount of "bite". there were at least 8 hoppers in my order. The curry served wth the hoppers was tasty and the vegetables were cooked properly. The coconut sambal was spicy with red chillies and had a powerful fermented taste from spikes of chewy dried fish. These little wedges taste almost exactly like bacon. The hoppers are made on the premises and are based on red rice flour. Nirvana is a smallish place on the west side of Third Avenue near 18th street. I can't wait to return and order off the menu again!

ps I tried the lunch buffet once and though fairly good, it was not nearly as good as a la carte was.

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  1. This sounds great -- I look forward to trying it. Sigiri in the EV was my first exposure to Sri Lankan and I am eager to try more.

    1. Thanks so much for posting this, nigella. Despite it being located quite close to us, this is the first I've heard of Nirvana. Sri Lankan cuisine is totally new to me, so I'm looking forward to trying it there.

      http://www.nirvanacafenyc.com

      1 Reply
      1. re: RGR

        Let me just second nigella's sentiments concerning the lunch buffet - the flavors pale in comparison to what you'll find in the a la carte dishes. The space itself is unremarkable but comfortable enough. I haven't been back in several months but this post reminded me of my intentions to do so.

      2. Brief mentions from a couple months back ... http://www.chowhound.com/topics/448463

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        Nirvana Cafe
        218 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10003

        1 Reply
        1. re: squid kun

          I returned to Nirvana Cafe a few nights ago. It was rather drafty. The banquets on the left (opposite the bar) were warmer. Hoppers are concave pancakes made with white rice flour from a fermented batter. The bottoms are dense and spongy, the sides lacy-crisp. I ordered them with vegetable curry. Unfortunately, the vegetables were reheated and somewhat limp. I didn't ask for "spicy" this time which might account for the lack of flavor I noticed. The hoppers themselves were amazing. Like eating clouds in temporal form. Just a little yeasty with a definite coconut aroma. Everything tasted good when I smudged it liberally with the hot peppery sambal.

          They did not have string hoppers available as an entree for some reason but we tried string hoppers prepared lo mein style (I forget what the menu calls it). It pretty much sucked. And ordering it with lamb was an even bigger mistake. The waitress suggested it and I went with it despite my better instincts that they were trying to get rid of leftovers.... I seldom order mulagatowny soup but was hungry hungry so I did. It was much better than I expected and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The staff seemed a bit overwhelmed--perhaps because of a table of eight. All things considered, for a december 30th which fell on a sunday this little place with heart didn't do too bad. You will do best to order from the home-style list which includes hoppers and string hoppers... Do not let them coax you to order the "filler" dishes and it's probably best to order your food "spicy", "hot" or whatever you choose to convince them that you want a lot of flavor.

          Another problem with this place is that they still need Sri Lankans as patrons for their survival but then the minimal waitstaff becomes overwhelmed by those large groups. Also a liquor license will probably help. Until then, I encourage you to support Nirvana. (Though make sure to order at least half of your dishes from the homestyle category: hoppers, string hoppers, etc.) Despite this slightly disappointing experience, I continue to like them a whole lot. It's a hospitable, authentic, and particularly welcome restaurant on this generally bland stretch of third avenue. I hope others will feel the same way.

        2. Just went to Nirvana tonight and it was great. We got the string hoppers with veggies (tasty), hoppers with chicken (beautiful bowl shaped crepes with a touch of coconut flavor), Moju eggplant (deeply caramelized and rich), vegetable patty appetizer (average potato balls), and for dessert the Wattalapan (described as baked mousse prepared with brown palm sugar, (jaggery) and cardamom) which was rich, caramely and sweet.

          I'd definitely go back. Much better than Sigiri where I've been a few times before, but hard to compare to the former Taprobain and Lakrawana which I remember as being delicious.

          1. Sorry to be the Nirvana naysayer, but I had an awful meal here last Saturday. Most of the problem was service. It was a 2.5 hour meal--kind of silly for this quality of food. Appetizers were tasty, in a fried bar-food kind of way, but they literally came an hour after we arrived. The table next to us, who obviously knew the owners, came 20 minutes after us and already had their entrees by the time our appetizers arrived. Lamprais came about 45 minutes after that, best entree of the night. Devilled seafood was too gloppy, with a cloyingly sweet sauce, and the roti with chicken was awful--roti was tough and chewy, and the chicken was a miniscule portion. White wine was lukewarm. Nothing was comped, even the dessert, which was odd because everything took so long. Also, the restaurant was freeeezing. Will never go back, which is a shame, because the hoppers sound good.

            Personally, I'd much rather go back to Sigiri. Food was better, spicier, and less greasy, with much better service.

            1. I've been a few times over the past few months, most recently for dinner (this past Wednesday), the other times for the lunch buffet. I had an excellent spicy pork curry, nice and meaty and oily, with a good sambal on the side. She asked how spicy I wanted it and when I convinced her I could handle it, they didn't hold back. It came with something like dal and a few other side things such as chopped cabbage. The portion was quite large and served with a lot of rice. Good value.
              The mango lassi was good as well. Can't wait to go back with some of my Indonesian pals, since there's a bit of crossover, and I know they'll love the spice.

              1. I just went for the first time a week or two ago. We both ordered the string hoppers with veggie curry. The hoppers got cold pretty fast and weren't that great, texturally. The veggie curry was kinda bland, and I asked for it spicy. There wasn't enough of the sambal? because I poured it all on but couldn't taste much of it. Kinda disappointing.

                1. I had walked by Nirvana Cafe a few weeks ago and was excited to try it. However, I was dissapointed to find out this weekend that it had closed.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: fooodie

                    Oh that's too bad. Thanks for the report though. Guess I will have to check out the sole alternative, Sigiri: Has anyone been lately?