In her regional food tour of South Asia in New York, Anne Noyes Saini touched on Taste of Kerala Kitchen, a Keralite Indian restaurant far out in Glen Oaks that offers homestyle meat, fish, and vegetable dishes. While there's a lunchtime buffet on Sunday that allows you to try 15 or so dishes at once, it's not hard to head there any time, order a few complementary dishes off the menu, and make a buffet up on your own.
Though the food at Taste of Kerala Kitchen is mostly true to traditional form, some of it is better than others. So what should you order on your first visit?
ToKK is one of the few Indian restaurants in New York where you'll find beef on the menu. The Beef Deep Fry ($13) sounds heavier than it is—small chunks of lean beef are cooked in oil until they form a browned crust and the meat intensifies in flavor, a technique reminiscent of Chinese dry frying. The dish is cooked with a host of warm, peppery spices that form a dry sauce that firmly adheres to the meat, and wisps of coconut and curry leaf lend their fragrance as well.
If you want a more gravy-like curry, try saucing the beef deep fry with the tangy yogurt curry called Pulissery ($6). Thin but pungent, it makes the beef just that more aromatic, even if the combination isn't exactly traditional. The pulissery goes well with the restaurant's red-tinged rice.
The Green Bean Thoran ($7) is more subtle by comparison—seasonings of red and green chili, curry leaf, coconut, and turmeric take their time to build up—but the chewy minced beans are refreshing and light, a straightforward vegetable dish bolstered, but not overwhelmed, by its spices.
And then there's the Kappa ($7), a rough mash of sticky yuca stained with turmeric and mildly spiced with—you gussed it—more curry leaf. Mashed yuca can be unrelentingly starchy, and were these mashed potatoes you'd call them gluey, but the tuber's subtle sweet flavor coupled with savory spices and a touch of oil make the dish more than a pile of bland carbs. As part of a spread of bolder flavors, it's a pleasant mild side.