Good South Indian restaurant are hard to find Madras PalaceReviews

A taste of Kerala Article in Desi News March 2004

A parent can give a kid time out for tracking in slush and snow.

What's a restaurant owner supposed to say to a client who stands there waiting to be seated, while a puddle slowly forms at his feet? We were at Madras Palace and I saw others trooping in from the cold, anticipating steaming idlis and hot, crisp dosas. But even though most conscientiously wiped their feet before entering the dining area, they still tracked in some white stuff. Perhaps that accounted for the slight musty odour about the place that evening.

We ordered samosas ($1.50) and idlis ($4.50) as starters. The idlis are soft and fluffy and come with sambhar, chutney and chutni-pudi mixed with ghee. The samosas were not the standard North Indian version, but more like parcels of phyllo pastry, stuffed with mixed vegetables, served with masala chilli sauce. My little one is discovering he likes spicy stuff and I have been instructed to pick up a bottle on my next visit to the Indian grocery.

My husband wanted a masala dosa ($5.25) and my daughter, a rava masala dosa. The waiter informed us that the rava dosa ($5.75) was the plain version, but very helpfully offered to add the masala for 75 cents extra. That settled, we checked out the recently introduced Kerala menu.

They have shrimp, mutton, chicken and vegetable kurmas ($5.50 to $7.50) and a variety of appam combinations. A few lines in this section describe appams thus: "If a French crepe were to marry an English muffin, they would probably become the proud parents of appams." These lines are attributed to "famous Indian food writer Mr Madhur Jaffrey". The last time I checked, Madhur Jaffrey was a lady. Be that as it may, my two appams and vegetable stew ($6.95) were very nice indeed. The appams, with a slight trace of sweetness, went perfectly with the fragrant stew that was rich with vegetables, lentils and a kick of pepper. Pepper brings me to the peppers in my daughter's rava masala dosa. Rava dosas, traditionally, are crisp and lacy. This one was more thick and spongy and with tons of whole black peppercorns. She quite likes peppers but not in bulk and picked so many out, she had a neat little pile on her plate by the time she was done."I like the filling, mom," she assured me when I looked disapproving.

Madras Palace, which opened its doors in 1991, is one of the oldest South Asian restaurants and the only South Indian restaurant in Scarborough says owner Purushotham. They serve South Indian, Sri Lankan, Kerala and Tandoori cuisine and I asked Purushottam how they assure authenticity of taste.

"We have different chefs for the Indian and Sri Lankan cuisines, and the recipes for the over 100 items we offer are all Shantha's," he said.

Santha Purushottam was the one who opened Madras Palace all those years ago while Purushottam says he held on to his secure, high-paying job for more than a year before the business grew to require his involvement. Shantha continues to be involved on a daily basis and monitors trends in the business.

"For instance, vegetarianism is a growing trend, and we have taken beef off the menu. All the meat we serve is halal."

The Purushothams have no immediate plans of opening branches elsewhere in the city.

"If I can't ensure quality at the other location, I don't want to open one," says Purushotham. "We need standardized recipes - that's the secret of McDonald's! - and I don't want people saying the sambar tastes different in different locations. We are known for what we do."

- Suvarna Shastri

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