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.
During the first half of the 20th century, "electric appliances" and "smart gifts" were the stock in trade of Connecticut-based manufacturer and designer Manning-Bowman. Waffle irons seem to have been the company's best-known products; today they are collector's items, even when their elegant lines are subverted with a name like Twin-O-Matic.
This sign pointed the way to a seventh-floor showroom in a building then owned by the Doehler Metal Furniture Co. Manning-Bowman, whose Connecticut roots dated to 1832, survived as an independent business until about 1960.
Manning-Bowman Surviving signage on East 32nd St. between Park Ave. South and Lexington Ave., Manhattan
The superdense South Asian ice cream called kulfi ($2) can be flavored with cardamom, saffron, or pistachio, but at this Pakistani grocery it's offered simply in the basic malai, or cream, variety. The sole listed ingredients are milk, sugar, and khua (other transliterations include khoa, khoya, and khawa), made by cooking down milk to about one-fifth its original volume.
Khoa is an easy way to preserve milk in a hot climate. Ultimately it finds its way into many sweets, though this is the only one I know that's served cold, on a stick.
Trulli are traditional stone houses from the southern Italian region of Puglia, distinguished by their conical, mortar-free stone roofs. The design of this expansive restaurant, and the Apulian cuisine you'll find there, are likewise free of flourishes.
A Voce preferred not to have photos taken of the food, so I can't share with you the chef's roasted beet salad, surmounted by greens; his grandma's ravioli, generously filled with (reportedly) a mixture of beef, veal, and pork and dressed with tomato sauce and parmigian cheese; and choux (under a different name) that would send Beard Papa packing. See for yourself; for the Restaurant Week prix fixe ($24.08 at lunch only, weekdays through February 1), a party of two, or a very lucky party of four, has a decent chance of scoring a walk-in table if they arrive by 12:30 or so.
This bustling 24-hour Korean has a reputation for turning tables quickly, so I was pleasantly surprised to share my table with no fewer than eight panchan, the little free dishes that precede and accompany your meal. They included kimchi, of course, but also sweet potato, bean sprouts, two varieties of greens, some sort of small dried fish, and what may have been pickled apple. Add a bowl of purple rice, and my lunch special — kam ja tang ($9.95), meaty pork bones, potatoes, and greens piled in a spicy soup — turned into my big meal of the day.
The display case near the door of this small Indian grocery has an uncommon but very welcome feature: Not only does it post names for the many pastel- and putty-colored sweets (most $6.99 per pound; assortments encouraged), it identifies their prime ingredients as well. Of the five that filled my sampler, yellow cham cham (milk and coconut) was quickly cloying; havshi halva (wheat and cashew), a bit too whole-grained; Bengali peda (clarified butter and condensed milk), pedestrian. The legume-based basan barfi (beans, saffron, and honey) and dal pirni (lentils and saffron) were my favorites, even if the saffron was undetectable by me; both were sweet, but even-tempered rather than over the top.
The buttermilk fried chicken sandwich ($11.50), on a seeded roll with Cajun mayo, lettuce, and tomato, was much better than I expected — the mayo makes it — but the fries were no more than an afterthought. Respectable "red rooster" ale (pint; $5); passable pecan pie a la mode ($5.95).
Heartland Brewery 350 Fifth Ave. (at 34th St.) (one of many locations) 212-563-3433