So many Coromandels, so little time. Gopinath Nair and the other 6 partners in this Indian dynasty have opened yet another authentic Indian restaurant, their 3rd of the same name, in Fairfield County. "Indian is a destination, not a 'drive by' and 'stop in' kind of cuisine," Nair says. That explains, perhaps, why the partners chose to open number 3 at the thus-far unsuccessful location off Southport's exit 19 where the old Kicking Horse Tavern used to be. People aren't driving down the Post Road and, on the spur of the moment, deciding to have some curry. The decision has most likely been made before prospective diners get in their cars. So 'location, location, location' may not be so important. 17 Pease Street, although perhaps not the most ideal locale, hidden behind an off-ramp as it over-looks (actually, under -looks!) southbound traffic on I-95, turns out to be a great spot for Indian for those of us in the Fairfield/Westport 'hood. The owners have redesigned the space and warmed it up. The floor is carpeted to absorb most outside noise and the walls are decorated with beautiful Ajanta Cave Drawings. The restaurant seats approx 55 people and there is a full bar with all the trimmings. And by the way, they just so happen to be serving top notch food.
We went for lunch and had a feast! The Lunch Buffet hadn't started yet, but by the time you read this, it will be in full swing. ($10.95 - all you can eat Mon-Fri and $13.95 on the weekends!) We ordered 'a la carte' and were not disappointed. Remember, this is not Nuevelle Indian or Indian Fusion, this is Indian food cooked by Indian chefs with Indian ingredients in the Indian style. If you are looking for fusion, Thali in Westport or New Canaan is a better call. For true Indian, my money is here on Pease Street.
Whenever I try a new Indian restaurant, I order my three favorite dishes, just so I have a reference point on which to base my criticism. And I always order the plain NAAN bread as I feel that the sauces from all the other dishes don't need to compete with additional flavors in the bread. (Why put a velvet pillow on satin sheets? Wait...Then again, why not?!) I always order sides of CUCUMBER RAITA (creamy yogurt with cucumber shavings and lots of garlic) and MANGO CHUTNEY which, in combination, enhance any dish you might order. Then, of course, I order a whole bunch more. But I ALWAYS order SAAG PANEER (spinach with cheese curd), CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA (chicken breast broiled in a Tandoor oven and then cooked in a creamy, tomato sauce) and DAL MAKHANI (dark lentils mixed with beans and split peas.) The SAAG PANEER at this new Coromandel did not disappoint. The spinach was appropriately creamy and a touch sweet with home-made cheese cubes tossed in the mix. Served piping hot, it complimented the NAAN bread perfectly. The CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA was also a great hit, especially with my 5 year old daughter who kept asking for more! It was mild and flavorful without too much spice. (Although the waiters are happy to ask the chef to spice up any dish, upon request.) The chicken was tender and the sweet tomato cream softened the mild curry spices that were present. Served over warm and aromatic BASMATI RICE, this dish will please even the most wary palettes, be they 5 or 45! Such a joy to go to an ethnic restaurant and be able to order food that your children will also enjoy. The DAL MAKHANI was a tad too kidney-beany for me and made it seem more like chili than DAL. I would have preferred a creamier, dark lentil and spice stew to this reddish, Blazing Saddles-style combination. Still, it was tasty, just not as special as some I have sampled in the past. So those were my staples. Now on to new and exciting dishes that we had never tried before.
The LASUNI GOBI (cauliflower florets) were fantastic! Another big hit with my 5 year old, these delicately roasted florets were lightly breaded in corn meal and tossed with tomato, garlic and cilantro. There seemed to be a fruity element to the dish which my daughter insisted was pineapple. Yet our expert palettes (and, oh yeah, the fact that we asked the chef) later determined that the sweetness we tasted was a secret smidgen of ketchup, added to liven up the vegetable and contribute to the tang. We also ordered the TAWA RUYYALI which was predominantly grilled shrimp and crab meat. The shellfish was mixed with sauteed onion and a plethora of Indian spices, including curry, of course. Not our favorite by any means as the crab seemed a bit overpowering. Yet for those passionate about crab, this dish would probably be a winner. Much better was the MANGALOREAN PRAWN. Here, black tiger shrimp/prawns were cooked in a tangy, coconut stew. Ginger and curry were VERY present and, upon request, our Prawns were spiced up a tad. The shrimp were perky and very tasty and the coconut curry sauce was another spectacular blanket to coat the warm, spongy NAAN bread. This dish rocked.
But the best dish of all was the ERAL VARUVAL, a Southern Tamil specialty from the Nadu province of India. Again, shrimp- (note to self: next time we MUST go heavy on the lamb dishes) but this time seared with brown onion, lots of ginger and TONS of spice! YIKES! Not a fire that a little lunch time Kingfisher couldn't put out, but powerful non-the-less! This I will definitely order again. We didn't order dessert, but Mr. Nair treated us to a scrumptious MANGO KULFI. This was simply ice cream. But somehow, it seemed to have been whipped with regular cream and refrozen, which gave it the consistency of very cold flan. There was a dollop of cream and a sprig of mint which topped off the dessert and our meal perfectly.
So of the three Coromandels, which should you go to? My favorite is still the original in the "GOOD WIVES" shopping complex in Darien (could there be a creepier name for a mall, by the way?) But that is really for sentimental reasons as it was my first. You know how one always keeps a place in one's heart for the 'first.' It is unassuming and small but the food is great. The Coromandel on Washington Street in South Norwalk is also very good but, to me, it falls into the "trendy" trap, just because of its location. There, the food is good but not consistent. We have had great meals there and some that were just 'ok.' The new Coromandel at the border of Westport and Southport promises to keep up with the original. The atmosphere is serene despite its vicinity to the 95 off ramp and the delicacies are authentic and flavorful. My advice is that you really can't lose. Choose the Coromandel nearest to you and check it out.
COROMANDEL - 17 Pease Avenue, Southport Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. phone 203-259-1213 for reservation, take-out or catering