Solid southern Indian standards—and fresh, varied vegetable entrées—have quickly grabbed hounds’ attention at Chennai on the Upper East Side. Dave Feldman says this three-month-old vegetarian restaurant is a clear cut above the average uptown Indian joint and even holds its own against Chennai Garden (no relation), Tiffin Wallah, Saravanaas, and other top southern Indian places in Manhattan.
The entrées include outstanding vegetable chettinad, the peppery, dry-cooked southern dish, with a liberal handful of curry leaves. Chef Narayan Swami is from Chennai, hence the restaurant’s name, but the menu ranges far beyond the south. Dilite reports delicious, unusually light broccoli-mushroom jalfrezi—”really impressive, and not just by Upper East Side standards.” Other choices include dal palak (yellow lentils with spinach), Marwari jeera aloo (potatoes with cumin), Desi Chinese-style “Manchurian” cauliflower or vegetable balls, cabbage tadka (sautéed in mild spices), and a version of the Punjabi specialty sarso ka saag made with broccoli rabe. “[T]his is a menu worth exploring,” Dave notes.
Among the southern specialties, utthapams (lentil-rice pancakes) are crisp and tasty, and dosas are pleasingly sour. Those dosas are especially good stuffed with onions or paneer and mushroom. The accompanying sambar and coconut chutney are nothing special, however. Sides and condiments show uncommon attention to detail. Lemon rice (with mustard seeds and curry leaves) is excellent. Complimentary pappadams arrive with accompaniments far better than the “usual unholy trinity” of cilantro and tamarind chutneys and “blood-red onions,” Dave reports. And if you ask, they’ll grind out fresh dosa podi, the spicy southern seasoning, even though it’s not on the menu.
Prices are gentle, topping out at $8, and delivery is quick and efficient. “I’m glad to have this place in my neighborhood, something different from the other Indian restaurants around,” says lucybobo.
Chennai [Upper East Side]
1663 First Avenue (near E. 86th Street), Manhattan