Not many in Ottawa have heard of Kerala, one of India's southwestern coastal states. There's a myth that kerala first emerged from the Arabian sea right were the axe fell-the axe hurled by parasurama, one of vishnu's incarnations. Lush green hills rose up, with beaches, palm trees, and lagoons. The food of kerala is tropical, exotic, often rich, some spicy ans some mild. Joe Thottungal developed much of his culinary experience in Canada, but what he cooks now, as chef and owner of the Coconut Lagoon, hearkens back to his home in Kerala. The restaurant itself is simple and spare, with plywood grain put to decorative use along the wainscotting.
My friend and I start with chicken pakoras(battered and deep fried) served dramatically on a square black plate. There is such and explotion of taste with chillies, curry leaves and sour tamarind fruit! Chicken is tender, tender. Dipped into a chilli mayonnaise, these pakoras are stunning. Another appetizer of steamed mussels comes in a tantalizing deep red sause with a nice sour bite. the hot, flaky paratha, a shallow-fried bread, sops up the juices. A good way to try a variety of dishes, vegetarian or not, is to order a thali, or platter. A large bowl of rice comes surrounded by many small bowls. The carrot and pepper curry with coconut; the thick, earthy lentils; the dry coconut and cabbage curry; the fresh yogurt raita; the sambar, or lentil soup; the squash curry; the coconut chutney; the lemon pickle-where to start? All these dishes are quite mild. For big taste, my friend tries Coconut Lagoon's signature dish, a moilee made with kingfish steak. This curry is rich with ginger, chillies, and coconut. On the side come hoppers - these flat ropy pancakes are utterly delicious. Good desserts can be had here too. We try a Western one, a choclate and cherry dome, and an indian one, a sweet rice cream with cardamom and almonds. wines are very reasonably priced from $16 to $25 and can be ordered by the glass. Try for example, the Talus Pinot Grigio, Henry of Pelham Riseling, or Hardys 'Banrock Station' Shiraz. Intriguing weekend brunch offers a menu from both the East and the West. Dosas, large crepes, served with sambar and the chutney, sound wonderful, as do the idlis, or lentil doughnuts. There's even a continental breakfast. Vegan food, catering, and takeout available.
Good for kids. Ramp at door; washrooms tight. Parking lot. Closed Tuesdays. $65.
- Ottawa City