After rereading this, I notice there are more questions than answers....oh well, read on!
Unfortunately most of our experience with Indian cuisine has been at the hands of cheap 6th street eats, which is a crime, I know (sometimes a very necessary and filling crime though!).
Anyway, I wanted to rectify the oversight and figured Pongal was a good place to start, based on recs here, even though a recent post mentioned it might have gone downhill of late(?)
Never having specifically sampled the regional fare of Southern India, we truly didnt know what to expect. The first thing my veg-head wife noticed on the awning: 100% vegetarian. Got a kiss for that one.
For some reason, they closed early that night (saturday around 10?) - the kitchen closed right after we ordered, but they didnt rush us. We also noticed when walking home, the other Pongal a block and a half away looked all the way closed? Can anyone fill me in?
We ordered a vada/iddly sampler. Both were fantastic in their own right, the clean slate of spongy iddly and the crispy fried spicy vada, but we were definitely more intrigued by the soup/dipping sauces. The *red* one: such boldly excessive chili seasoning, yet with identifiable ingredients and flavors we ate the whole thing even after both iddly and vada were gone - which I was terrified might be akin to eating an entire bowl of salsa sans chips at a Mexican restaurant. But we didn't care. It was yum. A nice heat index too. We were baffled by the other accompaniment, the *white* one. It tasted like jicama almost, finely minced with crushed cardamom seeds (?) and a little heat. Can anyone educate me on these?
Then the Masala Rava [something] dosa arrived. Ok. Now for some reason I was expecting something TOTALLY different. Smaller, more french crepe-like. This presentation blew me away. Beautiful and HUGE it was like a 2' x 2' window screen, fried golden crispy and wrapped around a creamy blend of spicy mashed potatoes. The thing was absolutely TEEMING with sliced green chilis and although I can usually take the heat, alas, these were overkill they bittered up my palate and made it impossible to taste anything beyond them. I know I was supposed to be immersing myself in the *authenticity*, but not at the expense of my entire mouth...hee hee...so they scraped out easily enough and their lingering presence peppered the dosa perfectly.
Alu paratha (sp?) was a heavenly moist, flaky flatbread stuffed with a totally different type of spiced mashed potatoes. A dense, gut busting consistency, but impossible not to gobble up. We also ordered raita which I thought might be superflouous, but their version is killer. Crunchy bits of carrot and cucumber swim in a delicately sweet yogurt. Question: is raita basically a standard, region-spanning accompaniment?
As an almost afterthought, we ordered Parak Paneer, a creamy spinach dish. And it was a solid standard with brick sized hunks of yummy fried cheese. Even the rice that came with it was perfect and perfume-y. A masala tea for her and the check and we were out just over 40 bucks, including tip.
A great experience, my first in Curry Hill, but now it's time to try some other dishes at Pongal and/or elsewhere in the neighborhood. Thoughts?
Also heading to Banjara for the first time this weekend, and while I'm on the subject/area, has anyone tried Brick Lane yet?
Thanks for listening,