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Oct 28, 2013 06:13 PM

Kokum (on Lex)

Had dinner at Kokum (106 Lexington Ave), rhymes with "hokum".

Place was nearly empty. Standard Manhattan Indian model of an Indian manager straight from Fawlty Towers (both intrusively solicitous and bumbling) and a stolidly competent Nepali (I'm guessing) waitress.

Pongal - soupy rice with lots of cumin seed, curry leaf, and ghee - is one of my favorite comfort dishes. This was a marginally acceptable version, but it had no touch at all. No love. I would not be surprised if it was prepared by a Central American cook working from a procedural manual. That said, it was at least an authentic recipe, and even so-so authentic pongal is pretty good. Or would have been if they'd thoroughly defrosted the dish. Which they didn't - so amid the over-heated nuked portions lurked frozen ricey icicles. Ugh.

Similarly, Kumily Chicken Fry (chicken sautéed with green chilis and curry leaves) had the makings of an acceptable dish. Nothing wrong with it. But it tasted dead, as if it had been made ahead and griddled to order.

Crab Ullarthu (unshelled crab cooked with coconut, garlic & coriander), too, was correct-but-no-more, except for the thing that WASN'T correct, which in this case was salting. It was at least 30% too salty. We couldn't finish it. Neither the manager nor waitress seemed to mind.

The potato dish atop the veg section, whose name I forgot, was cubed spicy potatoes, and it was bullyingly salty. Just crazy. We hardly touched them. Nobody minded.

Chappathi were fine, but crazy small, and were left sitting in the enclosed chappathi vessel a few minutes too long before we received them.

Ah, well. Just another bumbling Lexington Avenue joint. Except for the 80 bucks (for two diners). With no drinks.

On the way out, we did our best not to disturb the hostile-seeming man repairing the pretentious curtains covering the doorway - and the manager, with whom he was arguing. We managed to sneak around both of them, though neither yielded an inch. Repeat: 80 bucks.

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  1. I dined here a few weeks back and this was not like my experience at all. One of our group had been to Kerala and we mentioned this to the manager when he asked how we had found this place, etc., and he immediately used this as reason to have the chef come out and talk to us. The chef was Keralan, very nice, and knew his stuff.

    We formulated a plan with him, ordered many items, and were satisfied to very happy with every dish. Obviously, bad experiences can happen on various nights, I just wanted to counterpoint with a very good one. Two other writers I know have also had very good experiences here. I admire the boldness of a restaurant trying to introduce Keralan food to Manhattan, and hope it can stick around and please a lot more people!

    Jared Cohee

    1 Reply
    1. re: EattheWorldNYC

      Thanks, diverse opinions are always good to have.

      An "off-night" could certainly account for some of my experience, but the serving of frozen/reheated food is a policy rather than an error (though failing to thoroughly thaw certainly was an error).

    2. This place popped out of nowhere last October. The space had previously been occupied by Singapura, a kind of southeast Asian fusion place that I kept meaning to try. I had bookmarked the website and last Friday I clicked on it. Surprise. Singapura has become Kokum, a Keralan Indian restaurant. The ownership, who also operate Dhaba, Malai Marke, and Chote Nawab among others, remains the same.

      We went last Saturday. Keralan food is new to me and I make no claims about authenticity but what we had was very good.

      The ambiance is modern and colorful, slightly reminiscent of nearby Dhaba.

      The place was quiet when we arrived at 7:00 and they were nice enough to seat us at a four top. It made for a comfortable meal.

      We’d looked over the on line menu during the day. Most of what we saw was unfamiliar to us which was both exciting and slightly intimidating. What if we ordered wrong? In the end we just ordered stuff which seemed appealing and figured things would work out fine. And they did.

      Here we go. All descriptions are directly from the menu.

      Madurai Masala Dosa - Smothered with Red Chili Powder and Spicied Potatoes. Spicy.

      The picture doesn’t properly convey the size of this baby. It was vast, the size of a stingray wing. The potato filling was really pleasant but we didn’t detect any noticeable heat. There was a generous supply of condiments served on the side and given the size of the dosa we were able ably to try all of them. Very good indeed.

      Egg Roast - Spiced Boiled Eggs with Onions. Spicy.

      I am not a hardboiled egg guy but my GF adores them in all their guises. She had to order this and she enjoyed it a lot. I picked around the edges and thought it was a well made dish, fully spiced but with no heat. I’m not sure if that’s a theme here – things being billed as spicy and turning out to be mild. A few more visits and we’ll know. If that’s the case we’ll ask them to up the heat.

      On to the mains. Two curries.

      Kori Gassi - A Manglorean Style Red Chicken Curry with Coconut.
      Chettinad Chicken Kulambu - Chicken Cooked with Tamarind and Fresh Coconut. Spicy.

      Is it possible to take a picture of a curry and make it look truly attractive? I sure can’t. I just Googled around to see how their pictures compare with mine. It’s a wash.

      Appearances aside, both of these were really good. We’d had versions of the Chettinad Chicken before and this was first rate. Peppery and complex.

      The Kori Gassi was new to us but I’d gladly order this again. I’d describe this as creamy with a real depth of flavor. Fully spiced without being hot. Just the thing to eat on a snowy day.

      A bread on the side – paratha.

      Not bad, not great. I think I’ll order something different next time.

      We wanted to order a full bottle of prosecco but they only had mini bottles. We settled for a pinot grigio which was cold and wet but otherwise undistinguished. At $28 I would have rolled with it. At $36 it was overpriced for what it was. We like white wine with Indian food because its astringency offsets the richness and assertive spicing. This did the trick but they really need to upgrade this.

      The service was polite and attentive. Couldn’t have been better. The restaurant, which was largely empty when we arrived, filled up nicely as the evening wore on. I think the weather, which had been snowy earlier in the day, held some people back. When the snow stopped they all came out.

      FWIW the crowd was about 90% Indian. I say that as an observation, not as a proxy for quality. Years back when we first started going to Dhaba the crowd there was also overwhelmingly Indian. In time that percentage decreased while the food remained very good. And really, that’s all that counts.

      We look forward to going back.

      Website -

      6 Replies
      1. re: Bob Martinez

        Thanks for the write up. I had looked at the website a week or two ago and between the pedigree of the chefs and the options on the menu, and the pricing, it looked great. We are looking forward to trying it soon.

          1. re: Bob Martinez

            Which is slightly more useful than random chance.

            1. re: Peter Cuce

              Over the years I've gotten some very good tips from Sietsema. To be sure, you've got to parse his reviews. He can get things wrong but he's right (or at least I agree with him) about 70% of the time.

              In this case I figured I'd post the link to his review since the post that kicked off this thread was such a hatchet job.

              And as long as we're talking about Kokum, there's this bit of news from today's NY Times -

              HEMANT MATHUR has left Tulsi in Midtown to become the executive chef and partner at six other Indian restaurants: Haldi, which has a menu of Bengali, Marwari and Calcutta Jewish dishes; Kokum, Chote Nawab and Dhaba in Curry Hill; Chola on East 58th Street; and Malai Marke on East Sixth Street.

              Mathur is a first rate chef who previously ran the kitchen at Devi. I'd expect the food at all of these places will get even better.

              (I know we've disagreed about Malai Marke in the past.)

              1. re: Bob Martinez

                I really appreciate this news, and on this basis, I will surely return to Malai Marke.

                1. re: Bob Martinez

                  Just heard this news as well - I'm a fan of Mathur. I'm hoping his influence is to streamline the menus at the various places a bit, to something more akin size-wise to Tulsi's menu, but allowing each place to specialize in a particular area - they don't all need to have a Rogan Josh and a Lamb Vindaloo and a Chicken TM.

                  (As long as Malai Marke keeps their Saag Paneer as is - it's my favorite SP in town hands-down...)

          2. Another great meal at a Shiva latest. What else is new.

            Tropical Kerala - Perhaps the first ever cocktail at an Indian establishment I really liked.

            Kumily Chicken Fry - Well done. Good depth and not too dry. Similar to Chili Chicken at Malai Marke

            Mysore Masala Dosa - You gotta get a Dosa here. This one was stuffed with spiced potatoes and onions. Accompanied chutneys ranged from mild to hot

            Red Pumpkin Thoran - Good, nicely balanced, but should have ordered the bindi (okra) we enjoyed so much in Shivas other establishments

            Ordered the same chicken curries as Bob Martinez did.

            Kori Gassi - we liked this a lot at Chote Nawab so had to get it again.
            Chettinad Kulambu - I've been on a Chettinad high lately as my go to lunch choice. This is probably the best I've had

            No Naan here. Got some spongy Appam rice crepes, like Sri Lankan Hoppers. Appalam, lentil pancakes I would skip. Great Paripu Podi Rice

            Overall, not a bad dish. Space a little tight but manageable. I'd come back

            1. After saying about a year ago that I planned to get to Kokum, I finally did and had a couple of great meals over a few weeks' time.

              On both our visits, the first a month plus ago and the second just the other night, Kokum was busy, essentially every table taken. One evening walks in were told there was no table available. When I spoke with one of the managers she said they have been packed of late. The restaurant is relatively small, well lighted, tables against the wall are close together. Service is quite good, informative, welcoming.

              Having tried a number of dishes we think, perhaps not surprisingly, their strengths are southern indian dishes. Their masala dosa is excellent, we think better than the one from the "famous" chain across the street and south a block. Their uttapam too was excellent, we had one with peas and tomatoes and asked them to add chili. They have some of the same dishes found at some other of their restaurants, including chili paneer, sautéed with peppers, also excellent. And a very good similar fried cauliflower starter. Of the various lamb and chicken dishes we had all were good, the kori gassi in a red curry was great, lamb madras similar. Both curries, however, are on the "thin" side so to speak, in terms of sauce. We generally prefer thicker curries. For whatever reason our chicken kori seemed to us to be very sparse on the chicken. As in "where is the chicken...?" At the same time, a dish of tikka nasal at a table across from us seemed to have much more chicken, go figure. All the vegetarian sides were good, their saag paneer was great, the other few veggie dishes we had I don't recall precisely. Breads were all very good, including a stuffed paratha. Their coconut rice is delicious. A table next to us had the banana wrapped and grilled fish and it looked great, they said it was their second time there ordering the dish. Beers were had by all. They have a wine list but, like all too many mid-range spots nowadays, the pricing is high, higher than what you expect or should be charged in view of the food.

              We had two very good meals and Kokum is certainly now in the rotation. Indeed, just as we were saying at our table, "this rice is delicious" we heard the table behind us say "well, I guess we found our new favorite Indian."