Unless you venture to far eastern Queens, food from Kerala is hard to come by in New York. I was eager, then, to sample the menu at Kokum, which features the cuisine of that southern Indian state. A lunchtime vegetarian thali ($10) was pleasant enough to warrant a return visit with friends for dinner.
We weren't surprised to learn from our waitress, on the given evening, that she was raised in Nepal. English-speaking Nepalese servers are increasingly common in New York's Indian restaurants, and their presence in the front of the house doesn't discredit the efforts in the back. (Our waitress added that the kitchen crew converse in Malayalam, the principal language of Kerala, and that she relays orders in Hindi.) I was disconcerted, however, to see that in the two weeks since my lunch the menu (at least, the takeout menu) had already changed somewhat.
It's very possible that the owner is still trying to gauge the appeal of Keralan cuisine in the absence of a critical mass of Keralan locals. (He operates several other Indian restaurants of various stripes and shuttered his previous restaurant on this site, Singapura, to open Kokum.) Considering two items that our table enjoyed — a theeyal ($13) of yam and green banana sauteed with coriander and roasted coconut, and a notably oil-free thoran ($13) of chopped red pumpkin seasoned with jaggery, mustard seeds, and curry leaves — I plan to explore more of the distinctively Keralan dishes on the menu, while I can.
106 Lexington Ave. (27th-28th Sts.), Manhattan