Is Manhattan big enough for two Sri Lankan restaurants? The owners of five-month-old Nirvana Café are betting that it is (the owners of two-year-old Sigiri may see things differently).
Nirvana bolsters its case with exceptionally good hoppers, the lacy rice-flour pancakes that are served with curries. Pale taupe in color owing to the use of red rice flour, they’re agreeably springy in texture and boast a yeasty tang and a hint of coconut flavor. “Like eating clouds,” muses nigella sativa.
The hoppers may come with a great, funky coconut sambal with potent chile heat and bits of chewy, baconlike dried fish. The accompanying curries are uneven—sometimes fresh and robust, other times underpowered. nigella urges us to order them spicy or risk disappointment. Pass on the lunch buffet; “the flavors pale in comparison to what you’ll find in the a la carte dishes,” CalJack advises.
The space is cool and comfortable, the servers gracious if sometimes overwhelmed. “It’s a hospitable, authentic, and particularly welcome restaurant on this generally bland stretch of third avenue,” nigella adds.
Nirvana Café and Bar [Gramercy]
218 Third Avenue (near E. 18th Street), Manhattan