REVIEW w/ pics: Amazing Sri Lankan Dishes at Priyani Ceylon Cafe
I first read about Priyani Ceylon Cafe, a Sri Lankan restaurant, on FoodGPS's blog who in turn found out about this hidden gem from an LA Times article. Reading about the dishes in both those articles really intrigued me and although it took a while, I was happy to finally pay a visit there along with some adventurous friends. First, I have to say that I'm glad that I read up on Priyani before dining there. Their menu wasn't very detailed, but the photos and descriptions of the dishes that I got from FoodGPS and the LA Times article really helped a lot when it came time to figuring out our menu. We also got additional help from husband and wife owners, Nahil and Priyani.
Our meal started with a complimentary trio of deep fried goodness, which included pattis, chicken rolls and fish cutlets. The pattis were shaped like empanadas with a light flaky crust and filled with curried beef and potatoes. An interesting thing about the chicken roll is that the chicken filling was first rolled into an egg roll wrapper and than the wrapper was in turn breaded and fried. My favorite of the three was the fish cutlet, which had a nice kick to it because of the diced red peppers that were mixed into the filling. What took these fried appetizers over the top was the addition of a peppery tomato-based sauce that was just out of this world.
Next up was the Lampreis, which was also referred to as Lump Rice. It's a mound of rice topped with eggplant curry, onion sambola, shrimp sambola, green banana curry, chicken curry and fish cutlet and then steamed in a banana leaf. This a meal in itself with a variety of wonderful flavors. The onions were wonderfully caramelized and I enjoyed the tartness of the green banana curry. A lovely hit of pungency also came from the shrimp sambola, which was made from shrimp paste. Overall, if you don't order anything else, this is a must try dish.
Another tasty dish was their Biryani which was mildly spiced; yet, still flavorful fried rice that was cooked with cashew curry and included a side of eggplant curry. There were also yogurt-marinated chicken thighs hidden under the pile of rice and smack in the middle was a roasted egg. That cashew curry added an unexpected, but welcomed sweetness to the rice and because of its marination, the chicken was was delectably moist and juicy.
Following the Biryani, the Kotthu Roti hit our table. This dish is made of housemade roti bread chopped up and stir-fried with eggs, peppers, onions, curry leaves, carrots and lamb. I really enjoyed the light chewy texture of the roti and this was the first time I ever had curry leaves in a dish. I'm not quite sure how to describe how it tasted, but it did add a flavor component that was a little different.
By now you've heard of Korean-Mexican tacos, Chinese-Mexican tacos, why not Sri Lankan tacos? I'm talking specifically about the String Hoppers, which are disc-shaped and made up of interlocking rice noodles. The components that came up with these noodle wonders included a Pork Curry, Coconut Sambol (dried coconut with chili) and Dal Curry. Nahil also suggested a little bowl of what he referred to as a gravy to give some moisture to the noodles.
Usually, the various food components are placed on your plate and you tear the string hoppers in pieces and use it to grab hold of your food, similar to injera bread in Ethiopian cuisine. My group actually went a different route, where we laid the String Hopper flat, added our ingredients, folded in half and ate it like a taco. It bucked tradition so to speak, but was still as delicious whether eaten the Sri Lankan way or not.
Believe it or not, we actually had room for dessert and my group of 4 shared 3. The first one was simply a tart plain yogurt with Sri Lankan honey poured on top. Nothing fancy to this dessert, but very refreshing. We also ordered a Cream Caramel, which reminded me of flan, but unlike flan, it had a light texture and wasn't overly sweet. Last, but certainly not least was the Watalappam. The best description of this dessert came from fellow food blogger and frequent dining partner, Foodblogz. In her words, the Watalappam is "a bread pudding of Malay origin made of coconut milk, brown palm sugar, cashew nuts, rice flour, treacle (Sri Lankan syrup), eggs and various spices including cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg."
Overall, my dining experience at Priyani Ceylon Cafe was stellar. In fact, it's been a long time coming, but this was one of the most flawless meals I've ever had. Flawless in the sense that there wasn't anything that I didn't enjoy about the food there, from start to finish. If you haven't already, I really encourage you to make the trek to Northridge and experience the food for yourself. You definitely will not be disappointed.
Priyani Ceylon Cafe
9035 Reseda Boulevard
Northridge, CA 91324
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It is true that it was the LA Times that put this on most peoples radar. But Chowhound can take some of the credit for that since it was CH's very own Thi Nguyen who reviewed it for the Times. Another coup for Thi!
Thanks for your report, Abby. Now, between you and Thi (who even replied on another thread over on the Food Media board to something I put up telling me he thought I would enjoy this place) I have to get out here.