Friday, September 23, 2011

Saravanaa Bhavan in the Upper West Side, New York

413 Amsterdam Ave

Saravanaa Bhavan opened up a few years ago on Lexington-- on the Indian strip in Manhattan.  I have reviewed it earlier, it has remained vastly popular, though with food that has been uneven over different visits.  Their success has prompted this global chain to open a second restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue. 

We were there last week with A&U, and S who was visiting from B’lore, old friends with plenty to talk about, children jettisoned to college (except our youngest), taking in a cloudy Manhattan afternoon and its assortment of sour faced New Yorkers enmeshed in a buzz of their own activity.

The dosas come on an impressive stainless steel plate with 4 depressions at the head of the plate, containing 4 different dips –sambar and a couple containing lentil and coconut pastes.  They were a disappointment- too oily and crusty.  They should have taken lessons from the Pakistani cook who runs the Dosa truck near Columbia.  Only in New York, will you get a guy from Lahore who can concoct a better dosa than a pedigreed chain from Madras.  The idlis were fresh and the sambar wholesome.  The South Indian coffee was a tad watery, though, after years of Starbucks, this may be my own perception problem.  We had badam halwa for dessert—ground almonds cooked in ghee (clarified butter) and honey.  It felt like a full frontal slap with a gob of fat, while someone pours a bucket of honey over your head.

Saravanaa Bhavan, named after the Lord Muruga, started out of Madras around 1980 and is now a worldwide chain with outlets in France, UK, and Singapore among other countries.  The enterprise has a sweatshop reputation in India for making its employees work long and hard hours, and its founder, who built the business starting from scratch, was given a life sentence recently for committing a murder driven by unrequited passion.   

Anyway, the Upper West Side now has a sit in South Indian place, and dosas are getting as common place as tandoori chicken (almost).   This is good news.  But the Lord Muruga would have been better served by the man from Lahore that afternoon.

Saravanaa Bhavan on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dosa Cart on Broadway between 115th and 116th Streets near Columbia University, New York City

There is a Pakistani guy from Lahore who runs a Dosa Cart parked on Amsterdam near the entrance to Columbia, who will make you a dosa as good as any for five dollars.  It is a simple dosa with a hot, fresh and clean tasting potato filling.  It is about 12-14 inches in length and chopped into portions that can be conveniently eaten standing on the sidewalk.  I was drawn to the cart (actually a little van) by the sign advertising dosas.  Chatting with the guy I found that he was a Punjabi from Lahore—I had never had anyone from Pakistan make me a dosa, a South Indian specialty.  I would have imagined that his cart would specialize in kebabs, but this fellow seemed to specialize in vegetarian food.  Any trepidation however, dissolved at first bite.  For five bucks and an additional dollar for a soft drink, you can stand right beside the gates at Columbia University and have a great meal.  It is a sign of the times that Indian street food available in NYC is as good as Indian street food in Indian cities.  It is a sign of this city’s successful multi-ethnicity that a great dosa can be made by a Pakistani!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pork Ribs with Indian pickle and South Indian spices

This is a dish that has not been a disappointment in the 4 or 5 times that I have cooked it.  I get pork ribs,  preferably of the baby back variety.  The marinade features an Indian pickle that I pick up from Bhavik’s Indian grocery—a garlic pickle in olive oil.  The past few years, health consciousness has made olive oil based pickles more common and you should find this in any decent Indian grocery.  I really like the garlic one, but any other pickle will do—do not compromise, however, on the olive oil base—it makes a difference.  Pour a generous dollop (about 3 tablespoons for 2 ribs) of this pickle and add to this a medley of South Indian spices—the star of which is the “Milagai Podi” (, a wicked combo of ground lentils, chilli and sesame seeds: if you have eaten at a South Indian restaurant you may recognize it as the condiment that is served in a little fingerbowl seeped in oil.  Add some other spices—ground cumin, coriander, and some coarse sea salt.  Mix it all up so that the marinade reaches a pasty consistency—it should not be too “wet”.  I also like to add to this some vinegar or lemon juice (a couple of teaspoons)—the acid is supposed to reduce the formation of carcinogenic compounds in charred meats, in case you get any charring.  Get the pork ribs out of their plastic covering and rub liberally with the marinade.  Its good to leave it on for a while, but I usually don’t have time for this.  I cook this in the oven set at around 350 C.  Convection roast is the setting that I prefer.  The key is to cook this for a long time—my ribs stay for about 90 mins, with a turn at the hour.  You could drop the temperature a bit and go even longer on the cooking.  The pickle and the garlic gives a nice, toasty taste and the meat falls off the bone.  The spices used, strictly speaking, were developed for vegetarian food and not pork, but sometimes you can get surprising results by bringing a knife to a gun battle.