I went back to Madras Cafe (2nd Av. between 4th and 5th) tonight for the first time in a few months or so. I decided to try some new items on the menu: the Spinach Soup and an utthapam-like entree I forget the name of (4 letters I think). The utthapam-like thing was actually 2 pancakes, denser than utthapams. The chef/owner told me that they were made with a combination of parboiled and raw rice, IIRC (much of it became crispy like the rice at the bottom of the pot when you cook it awhile), plus sliced coconut and 4 kinds of dal (urad, masoor, moong, and chana). There were also other ingredients, including some chillis. The soup was soothing and tasty, not as hot as some of the others on the menu, but with a whole chilli that patrons can choose to munch on or not at will. The utthapam-like pancakes were very pleasing. Total cost: $15 including tip.
The chef/owner reminded me that my first visit to his restaurant was during their first week of operation; I might have thought the first month, but it was early on because I thought that a restaurant in this neighborhood with a serious-looking South Indian menu deserved a try. Anyway, the restaurant celebrated its 3rd anniversary of operation yesterday (4/29). My opinion is that the passage of time has only improved the restaurant, what with the addition of a greater variety of fine dishes to the menu. The chef/owner also informed me that they now have a $9.95 all-you-can-eat buffet on Saturdays and Sundays. I think he said it was between 12 and 4. He said that they had some special dishes, and that they also bring dosas until you can't eat any more of them. I have to say that this weekend buffet is likely to be a big contribution to brunch in the East Village, as I have never eaten anything at Madras Cafe that I did not find very tasty.
I have no personal relationship with the chef/owner - nor with any of his relatives or employees - other than as a regular at his restaurant. I respect him very much as a person who is deeply committed to food, cares about his patrons, and weathered some very difficult early days until the word of mouth brought the newspaper reviewers and Zagat ratings. I told him during our chat tonight that I consider chef/ownership the only way to guarantee continued quality in a restaurant, as he knows what ingredients the kitchen is using and how they are being used. To the extent that my efforts at recommending the restaurant and taking friends there may have helped keep the place open for all to enjoy, I am very happy.