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.
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!