It's here! The Keralan restaurant of my dreams. I've been waiting close to 20 years for a great Keralan restaurant to open in the New York area, since my first visit to Kerala at the end of 1990. Five Star Indian Cuisine, in New Hyde Park, is authentically Keralan, and it delivers big time.
I've already written an encomium to Kerala and its cuisine
. I've also written about three Keralan restaurants in London
. Now, when I want a Keralan food fix I don't have to travel to India or the U.K. anymore, I just have to go to Long Island (the restaurant is about a 15-minute walk from the LIRR).
Five-Star has been in its current location (247 Jericho Turnpike, New Hyde Park) for just about three months. Previously it was a catering and take-out business in the back of a Floral Park candy store (and before that, in Philadelphia). It's a family business, with Mom doing the cooking. The family are Christians, as are, I believe, most Keralans in the area, and the menu reflects the Syrian-Christian
cuisine of Kerala. The menu, left over from the previous location, lists the name as "5 Star Tattukada." Tattukadas (or thattukadas) are simple roadside eateries, found all over Kerala, that serve up local specialties.
Because much of Kerala is Christian, and because it's a coastal state, both meat and fish figure heavily in the cuisine (both Hindu and Christian styles), unlike the largely vegetarian Tamil cuisine. South Indian non-vegetarian cooking (Chettinad
as well as Keralan) differs significantly from North Indian in many ways. Tandoori cooking is not common, the spices used tend to be fresh herbs rather than milled spice mixtures, and coconut figures prominently in the cooking.
Several of the dishes were outstanding. I think my favorite was the shrimp fry (top), baby shrimp with a spice coating that reminded me of the dish called deviled shrimp on Sri Lankan menus. Or was my favorite the mutton biryani? It was a wonderful, multifaceted, mildly spicy biryani that featured cashews along with tender, flavorful goat meat (the word "mutton" usually means goat, not sheep, on Indian menus, and this goat was just a kid, the waiter told us).
The thoran was quite remarkable too--chopped cabbage and carrots with coconut, mustard seeds, and other spices. But a thoran is a style of dish, and ingredients may vary; Five-Star also makes a version with plantains and a dish called fish thoran.
Mathi fry (sardines), sold by the piece (a buck each), are enjoyable tidbits. Other dark, oily fish feature on the menu, including kingfish and mackerel, as well as butterfish on the lighter side.
The chilly chicken, while also enjoyable, didn't reach the heights of the other dishes. Perhaps our least favorite dish was the duck roast, a cornerstone of Keralan Christian cooking, but one I had never tried before. The duck pieces were coated with a dark brown masala, but the meat tended to be dry and there was a low meat-to-bone ration.
Not to be missed at a Keralan restaurant is the parotha, different from a North Indian paratha, and actually closer to a Malaysian roti--multilayered and flaky.
Prices are quite reasonable, befitting a Jericho Turnpike thattukada, and on weekends they have a $9.95 buffet. We were told that Sundays were the most elaborate, with twenty dishes, but we were warned to get there early (they open at 11)--because after church lets out all hell breaks loose.
Five Star Indian Cuisine
247 Jericho Turnpike
New Hyde Park, NY 11040