Taste of the Town
Exotic spices ad foods from the fertile soil of Kerala, a coastal state at the southwest tip of India, come to life at the Coconut Lagoon, a restaurant that recently opened at 853 St. Laurant Blvd.
Kerala is studded with coconut-palm groves; in fact, coconut is one of the mainstays of the country's economy. Almost every dish prepared in Kerala contains coconut and spices - from cardomom, cloves, ginger and black pepper to cumim, as well as coffee and cashew nuts. These flavour the local cuisine, giving it a sharp pungency that is heightened with the use of the sweet-sour taste of tamarind (pulp from the pod of the tamarind tree), while coconut gives the food richness, absorbing some of the tongue-teasing, hot pepper flavours.
Joe Thottungal, chef and owner of Coconut Lagoon, hails from Kerala, and has brought many of the traditional foods to his menu. It is not surprising that coconut features poominently in the cuisine at the restaurant. One of his signature dishes is the kingfish steak in a coconut ginger sauce, serverd with hoppers-lacey, paper-thin pancakes.
Another spectacular dish is the dosa-a large, round, crispy thin lentil-and-rice pancake that arrived at the table folded in the shape of a tall cone. it is served plain or with potao, prawn (Shrimp) or chicken filling.
Brown sugar used in some dishes, including desserts, comes in 25-centimetre burlap wrapped cubes, and is called palm sugar or jaggery. It comes from the palm tree. Mr.Thottungal graduated from a hotel management school in Kerala before coming to canada, Where he received his chef papers in Calgary.
He worked five years with executive chef George McNeil at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, and executive chef Wilhelm Wetscher at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Ottawa.
The Festival of Onam, an annual Hindu event celebrating the mythical visit of the king of Mahabal, will be featured at the restaurant on Aug. 28 and 29 from noon to 2 p.m. participants will enjoy 20 traditional vegetarian dishes called the Onasadhya feast, using no implements-only fingers. The food is served on banana leaves with the red rice (special parboiled sundried rice). Tickets are $15 and can be obtained at the restaurant.
Breakfast consists of unique Kerala dishes and conventional cuisine. If you visit, try a delicious cup of Madras filtered coffee made by the chef, who follows an elaborate ritual in which a pitcher of hot coffeeis poured from above his head level in to another pitcher below his knees-without spilling!
The restaurant is open Monday to Friday, from 11:30 a.m to 2:30 p.m., then 4:30 to 9 p.m. Breakfast on Saturday and Sunday is from 10 a.m. to noon, lunch until 2:30 p.m dinner 4:30 to 11:00 p.m., and Sunday to 10 p.m.
The recipe for Kerala-Style avail, at left, comes from Mr. Thottungal. While some of the vegetables may be unfamiliar to you, there are two stores in Ottawa that carry ingredients for Kerala cuisine: Geeland Baguio store, 1020 St.Laurant Blvd., and New Thana Market, 386-B Bank St.
- Gay Cook, The Ottawa Citizen