Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Chola Dynasty

Chola temple at Tanjore

The Cholas, a Tamil dynasty, ruled South India from the 9th through 13th centuries. Perhaps the greatest cultural legacy of the Cholas, stunning temple architecture notwithstanding, is their exquisite bronze statuary. A major exhibit of Chola bronzes opens today at New York's Asia Society.

But there's another Chola dynasty, a current one--a restaurant dynasty. With Chola (232 E. 58th) as its flagship, the group runs a number of multiregional Indian restaurants throughout New York and New England. Chola itself has what is probably New York City's best Indian lunch buffet, and they offer it on weekends too.

The group also includes Tadka (229 E. 53rd), which I wrote about to extol the virtues of its fabulous vindaloo. They've recently opened another Manhattan restaurant, this time with an Indian truck stop theme, called Dhaba (Lexington between 27th and 28th). Dhaba offers a number of gussied-up snack foods, including a wide range of chaats, Indian-Chinese dishes like gobi Manchurian and chili chicken, as well as some familiar Indian restaurant staples. Its menu tends more toward North Indian, while the other restaurants have a range of northern and southern dishes, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. When I dined at Dhaba I was surprised at how large the servings were, so bear that in mind when ordering.

Calamari Cochin

I spent Labor Day weekend in the Berkshires and ate at Bombay Bar & Grill, their outpost in Lee (435 Laurel St.). Like Chola, the menu includes many South Indian non-vegetarian items not normally found on New York menus, let alone in Western Massachusetts. We enjoyed several Keralan dishes, including the calamari Cochin (a masala fried squid appetizer) and Cochin snapper, a whole tandoor-cooked snapper topped with a Kerala shrimp curry. The snapper as well as the Chettinadu rack of lamb (a Tamil preparation with a black pepper and coconut sauce) were served as "pre-plated dinners," along with vegetable biryani, salad and garlic naan. We topped off the meal with Kundapur vegetables, a moderately spiced coconut milk-based dish from the southern state of Karnataka. The dishes were bounteous, and we were especially impressed by the six respectably-sized lamb chops.

Chettinadu Rack of Lamb

Chola, Tadka and Dhaba are three of the best Indian restaurants in New York City, and Bombay Bar and Grill is likely one of the best restaurants, period, in the Berkshires.


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