Kokum: A tribute to the Cuisine and Culture of Kerala

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Kokum is located at 106 Lexington Avenue, 212-684-6842, www.kokumny.com.

Officially opening on October 9, 2013.  Kokum is open for lunch every day from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., with Lunch Box specials available daily. Dinner Sun.-Thurs. 5 to 10 p.m., Fri & Sat. 5-10:30 p.m.


A South Indian Thrill Spices Up Curry Hill

Ask any well-seasoned New Yorker where to go for the best bite of any regional cuisine and she is likely to steer you away from any of the city’s popular “food districts.” For it would be a foodie offense of the highest order to venture to Chinatown, Indian Row or Little Italy for their respective fare (or, God forbid, a slice of NYC pizza!)  Despite having once been considered “safe bets” for visitors, locals have often regarded these areas as unsavory, offering diners sub-standard cuisine lacking in authenticity.

The one exception to the rule is the ever-evolving Curry Hill, due largely in part to the trendsetting palate revelations of restaurateur Shiva Natarajan (of Chote Nawab, Malai Marke, Dhaba, and Chola fame). Natarajan has repeatedly reinvented Indian cuisine with a simple yet effective formula: keep it authentic. And while it may seem to purists that tradition and creativity can be at odds when it comes to food preparation, he has consistently debunked this theory by combining unrelenting authenticity with enough inventive flair to excite the most sophisticated palate. His latest creation, Kokum, is a solid testament to that precision. Unlike the standard fare of dosas and daals found in many of the area’s other restaurants, Kokum is a tribute to the genuine, enchanting offerings of exclusively South Indian cuisine, with a menu unlike any other.

kokum Eggplant Chennai Curry

Credit Protech NYC All photos.  Eggplant Curry Above

Kokum (which is a souring agent native to South India, similar to Tamarind) is a tribute to the cuisine and culture of Kerala, a state in Southern India known for its lush vegetation, crustaceans, coconuts and exotic spices; all of which account for it’s coveted cuisine. The simple, casual yet stylish décor is modeled after the interior of the “Snake Boats” used in the boat races that are also popular in the region. A prominent spice exporter since as early as 3000 BCE, Kerala is also famous for its Ayurvedic practices, and so it would follow that an outstanding feature of the Kokum menu is a distinct attention to spice and flavor-combinations that manages to both soothe and excite, but not overwhelm, the palate.

For instance, the Veg Upma appetizer (steamed cream of wheat implanted with tender veggies) is almost a comfort food—until the exotic flavors kick in to excite. The Kumily Chicken, tender chunks of perfectly (but not overly) spiced chicken with green chilies and curry leaves, is a divine starter for those who may want to venture into the taste sensations gradually, while the Lamb Oolarthiyathu—succulent pieces of meat sautéed with coconut peppercorns and shallots—will satisfy even the most demanding spice aficionados. For a dose of the proprietary spice, try the Shrimp Kokum which is marinated and sautéed with shallots.

Kokum - Meen Pollichathu

The entrees feature a variety of mains from every category, from poultry dishes to seafood to the lamb and goat delicacies more traditional throughout the country.  The Kerala Chicken Stew is a creamy concoction of coconut, veggies, and whole masalas. The Meen Pollichathu (Above), flaky fragrant fish roasted in a plantain leaf and gorgeously presented, is almost a holistic experience—pleasurable to four of the five senses; or the absolutely trance-inducing Crab Ullarthu, cooked in coconut, garlic, and coriander, and whose texture satisfies almost as much as its flavor.  The Soft Shell Crab roast, cooked to medium-spicy perfection black pepper and shallots, is also sure to wow the taste buds.

There’s an extensive selection of vegetarian entrees on the menu, most of which are also vegan. Quite a few are prepared with healthy root vegetables, and some with veggies that are delightfully unexpected, such as the Jackfruit Thoran, which features the exotic and tender Jackfruit, stir-fried in coconut and has a consistency and flavor similar to chicken. The Avial Malabar is an eclectic mixed vegetable dish with yogurt, coconut, and curry leaves, and the Erissery is a delicious combination of red pumpkin and black-eyed beans with southern spices. Pair any of these a side of the several specialty rices (tamarind, coconut, and lemon infusions, among others) and you have a meal that would satisfy even a stout religious carnivore. 

Kokum - Dosa

One notable feature of the Kokum menu is the substantial dosa and Indian “street food” selection that includes a Dosa Stall (Above), Uttapam (Indian pancake) Stall, andMuniyandi Dosa Villas featuring the most addictive, gigantic dosas this side of the Ganges served with six dipping sauces ranging in flavors from sweet and spicy to tangy and thick.  The dosas come with a variety of fillings, like spiced potatoes and onions in the Masala Dosa or spicy Chettinad pepper chicken in the Pepper Chicken Dosa.  Or there’s the Onion Chili Uttapam, studded with onions and green chilies.

Just when you think the meal can’t get any more exciting, there’s an otherworldly cocktail list that truly takes Kokum’s fabulous flavor-combinations to level next. TheTadi Fling mixes light and dark rum with sweet vermouth, lime, and pineapple juices, and the Tropical Kerala is a surprisingly light concoction with gin, Saint Germain, lemon juice, triple sec, and mint. The Kokum, featuring its namesake along with cardamom-infused vodka, lime juice, honey, green tea, and a splash of tamarind water, should probably not be missed.  There is also an extensive beer and wine menu, with offerings by the bottle or by the glass and outstanding cocktails. Service is warm, efficient and helpful.

Copyright 2013 By Punchin International. All Rights Reserved.

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