Delicious Taste of South India
Coconut Lagoon distinguishes itself from the two dozen Indian restaurants in the city by what it doesn’t offer the standard dishes of northern India and by the fact its menu is a simple two pager.
The Thottungal brothers, chef Joe and manager Majoe, offer Indian cuisine from the south, specifically from their home province of kerala. The availability in the south of rice, coconuts, fish and root vegetables is evident on the menu of coconut lagoon. Dishes are created around these raw materials, their pungency heightened with tamarind and with spices like mustard seed, peppercorns and fiery chilies. The “c” spices provide the intoxicating aroma: curry leaves, coriander and cumin seeds, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.
The restaurant is not a looker. It has moved in to a St. Laurent Boulevard sports bar and much of the sports bar feeling still hunts the place. On the pale walls now are pictures of southern Indian scenes – palm trees and elephants dominate along with a cooking utensil or two. The bar dominates the room. The closely spaced tables are set with white and green linen.
It is the pungent aroma of those toasted “c” spices that lure you in. And perhaps too, the comfort that this room full of Indian families might know well the good stuff.
We begin with a tongue-thrilling soup, based on tomato and chilies, lentil and black mustard seed. And move on to mealy mussels (too bad) in a very fragrant broth (sop this up). The potato croquettes, green with spinach are freshly fried delights, served with a sweet and slightly spicy sauce that appears again when the chicken pakoras arrive, battered tidbits of tender chicken. Steamed rice caked called “idli” act as fresh carriers for pungent coconut chutney.
A batter of slightly fermented rice and lentils is transformed in to a platter-sized crêpe, thin, crisp around the edges, somewhat sweet, somewhat sour and all wrapped around a filling of firm chunks of spiced potato in a sauce fragrant with onion, turmeric, black mustard and cumin seeds. Delicious.
The strongly flavoured, dark fleshed kingfish is the featured swimmer on this menu. The chunks of fish are tough and taste pre-frozen, but the brown sauce and in which they bathe is a delight – a curry that features grated coconut, tamarind, chilies, curry leaves, cumin and coriander.
Fabulous biryani dishes of basmati rice layered with vegetables, lamb or chicken are some of the best I’ve tasted, fragrant with toasted spices and sweet with caramelized onion. Potatoes, Chinese green peas, zucchini, plantain, papaya, carrots, white yam and new-to-me vegetable called a “drumstick” (Which you eat like an artichoke leaf) meet and mingle in matchstick formation in a sauce of freshly grated coconut, chilies spices and yogurt. The nadan kozhi (Chicken) curry is gloriously perfumed with roasted curry leaves in a toasted coconut curry sauce.
Desserts are beautifully presented. Caramelized banana and ice cream presented in a martini glass and pancakes rolled around a toasted coconut filling. Sweetened with jaggery, An unrefined brown sugar with a fresh, tropical taste.
For a tasty education in southern Indian dishes, and an affordable one at that, the Coconut Lagoon fits the bill.
- Anne Desbrisay