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.
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 - http://www.kokumny.com/
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!