Editor's note: It's one of New York's nagging questions: where can a couple sit down for dinner without breaking the bank? In Table for Two, Kathy YL Chan will find us some of the best dine-in spots where a two-top can escape for less than $40.
For a casual weeknight dinner, I know nowhere better than the all-vegetarian Chennai Garden on 27th Street. Just removed from the chaos of Curry Hill, this is one solid destination for South Indian dinners. And entrees average around $10; appetizers, $4.
All meals here should begin with an order of Behl Puri, a room-temperature toss of puffed rice and crispy noodles, along with fresh tomatoes, onions, boiled chickpeas, and cilantro. I'll usually add accompaniments of the Raita and Achar.
Curries, dosai, and more, after the jump.
As far as curries go, stick to three tried-and-true favorites, all of which are Punjabi curries (Chennai Garden has a small selection of Gujarati curries). Curry dishes come with plain pilaf rice, though Biryani, Vegetable, and Kashmiri Pullav are also on the menu. The Baingan Bartha features eggplant, roasted and then sauteed with tomatoes, onions and spices.
The Bhindi Masala is a lighter, less heavily spiced dish of spicy okra with tomatoes and onions.
And of course, the Palak Paneer, which one could deem an easy cop-out. But until you give Chennai Garden's version a try, you'll have no idea just how delicious Palak Paneer can be.
Breads are done consistently well, the best choice depending on one's mood and dining companions. Most often we default in the direction of the Alu Paratha, stuffed with spiced mashed potatoes. Also available stuffed with mashed peas in place of potatoes.
But when you want the bread to be a meal, head in the direction of any dosa—with a range of fillings running from spinach and cheese, to mushrooms and potatoes, to nothing at all—just a naked dosa, simply buttered. The most visually stunning of the dosas is the Paper Masala pictured above. This dosa is extra-thin, extra-crisp and nearly occupies half a table in size. It comes with onion mashed potatoes and coconut chutney. At $8.95, this is a steal, like every other dish on the menu.
The Weekend Special menu includes a number of can't-misses, including my favorite Lemon Rice. Other "special" rices for the weekend include Coconut, Yogurt, and Tamarind, but the tangy, spicy Lemon is the best of all, incorporating an entire lemon into a single serving.
The stunning Chole Batura is another weekend favorite, a fried creature that resembles an enormous poori—just as crisp and light despite the greasy fingerstains it is bound to leave.
The Batura, accompanied by a bowl of curried spicy chickpeas, always cooked slight past al dente, is warm and comforting.
Meals here are never short of satisfying, the only slight downside being the occasionally forgetful service. By the time dessert rolls around, I'm generally too stuffed to sample the offerings—or save my stomach for a scoop of custard from Shake Shack, just a two-minute walk away.
129 East 27th Street, New York, NY 10016 (map) 212-689-1999