Madras Woodlands: South Indian flavor in New Hyde Pk. - By Suzanne Parker
The majority of the Indian restaurants that have proliferated around the metropolitan area, with some notable exceptions, are either Pünjabi style, or a Pan-South Asian mix. Only a few dedicate themselves exclusively to the spicy vegetarian flavors of the south. Most of those fall into the category of casual dining or snack shops. Madras Woodlands, a notable newcomer in New Hyde Park, is an exception to this rule.
Madras Woodlands ups the ante on South Indian eateries. Its spacious dining room has a distinctly banquet hall feeling with a central crystal chandelier and glass fronted dioramas of Indian dolls and artifacts. It has an attractive, if inactive, bar off to one side, as no alcohol is
served. The most striking difference between South and North Indian food is the preparation style. The spice blends of the south are very complex, often incorporating legumes as seasonings, a practice unheard of in other regions of India. Tandoori ovens are absent. Breads are either grilled or fried, as are most South Asian dishes. Sambhar, a lentil and vegetable curry sauce, is served on the side or used for simmering most of the dishes. Chutneys are ever present.
is typical of South Indian meals, iddly and vadai are the appetizer mainstays at Madras Woodlands. Iddly (tell me, what other food rhymes with Bo Diddley?) is a rather bland steamed rice and lentil patty jazzed up by either eating with sambhar and chutney, or as was the case at mMadras Woodlands, simmered in the sambhar. The iddly soak up the sambhar like a matzoh ball soaks up chicken soup, although the iddly is lighter and the sambhar more substantial. here the iddly is feather light and freshly made, the sambhar complexly piquant.
Vadai, the other most popular South Indian appetizer, is a fried lentil doughnut. Although they can be served plain, simmered in sambhar, or chilled and soaked in yogurt, we opted for rasam vadai. Rasam is a peppery tamarind-based Soup in which the vadai were cooked. The freshly made vadai took on a spicy-sour persona with a hint of sweetness giving our taste buds a real workout.
We were also introduced to two other flavorful appetizers. Bonda, similar to simplified samosas, are deep fried potato and onion dumplings. Tasty, but not as interesting as the bajjis, batter fried vegetable and fruit fritters. The inclusion of fruit caught me by surprise in the most pleasant way.
The main courses are mostly variations on three themes - dosai (filled crepes), uthapam (lentil pancakes) and rice dishes, all served with more sambhar and chutney. All our choices were rewarding. Masala dosai, a thin oversized lentil crepe rolled around a filling of potato, onion and cashew nut combined delicacy with solidity. Rava onion chili dosai was a semolina crepe that packed a wallop with a mixture of onions and green chilies.
Uthapam are lentil pancakes that fall more into the hotcake than crepe mode. They are thickish, and the enhancements are toppings rather than fillings. We relished a mixed vegetable uthapam that was topped with an assortment of fresh vegetables.
Vangi bhath was a pilaf of some of the most fluffy, buttery basmati rice we’ve encountered combined with eggplant and spices that were simultaneously assertive and subtle.
Our only disappointment was the poori channa. Channa batura, a round yeasty puff of bread eaten with chickpeas (channa) is one of our favorites in Indian snack shops. Here the chickpea mix was excellent, but the poori was overwhelmingly greasy.
We couldn’t resist the Madras Woodlands special dessert, badam halwa topped with vanilla ice cream. Badam halwa is a dense almond pudding made with condensed milk and aromatic spices. It’s a sweet ending to a very satisfying meal.
The Bottom Line
Finally, a place you can take your vegan friends, and even the carnivores can have a terrific meal. After tasting this food, you may even consider leaving animals alone. The setting is attractive and the prices are modest. As long as you’re not spice averse, Madras Woodlands is a delicious destination.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens, a Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens New York.” She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.