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Rotterdam Good Food

 

Karavalli

Quality Inn, 2788 Hamburg St., Rotterdam, 355-9495. Serving lunch Tue-Fri 11:30-2:30; dinner Sun, Tue-Thu 5-9:30, Fri-Sat 5-10; brunch Sat-Sun noon-3. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Indian

Entrée price range: $10 (black lentil stew) to $24 (rack of lamb)

Ambiance: pleasant hotel restaurant

 

By B.A. Nilsson

We hailed Karavalli when it open-ed in Latham a couple of years ago for offering a more diversified menu than the standard Indian-Pakistani restaurant provides, rounding it out with an attractive dining room and helpful service. The price for this luxury is literal: It’s a little more expensive than its confrères.

No doubt emboldened by this success, they’ve opened two more local units. The newest is at 24 Caroline St. in Saratoga Springs; the most challenging is in Rotterdam, at what’s now the Quality Inn on Hamburg Street. Other hotels, other restaurants have stopped at this spot, with another Indian eatery the immediate predecessor.

The weekday lunch buffet—a staple of such restaurants—makes unusual demands on the place. I witnessed the ambitious rise and inevitable fall of that predecessor, but Karavalli seems to have figured it out. “Between 11:30 and 12:30, we have the GE lunch business,” says co-owner Santhosh Kochuparambil, “and we fill up quickly and go through everything we put on the buffet at least one or two times. After 12:30, it gets very slow.”

That’s when the kitchen has to make those chafing dishes look full and fresh, so even more diligence is required. During a visit I paid toward the end of buffet time one day, I was pleased to see the lamb ulli peralan (a piquant stew with shallots) refreshed, the vegetable saag inspected for signs of a too-long sit, a new serving of rice replacing (not just supplanting) the old and, of course, the tandoori chicken beckoning from its bed of translucent onions.

The selection changes from day to day, always featuring a couple of meat dishes (tandoori chicken is a mainstay), several different veggie items, salad, starters, and dessert. On Saturday and Sunday, a much more lavish buffet is offered.

Even as we assembled a meal from the dozen available items, a succession of others soon put paid to the notion that this afternoon’s business might be slow.

When I wrote about the Latham Karavalli nearly two years ago, I feared that the complimentary starter of crisp lentil wafers called papadum would be a short-lived phenomenon, but it’s still part of the experience. That and the traditional threesome of sauces (tamarind, spicy mint and onion) got us off to a pleasant start.

The appetizer list offers the first clues that Karavalli is different. Their signature dish is dosai, which arrives looking like a rolled-up windowshade. It’s actually a rice-and-lentil crepe that comes plain for $7 (which still includes dipping sauces) and spiced up for $8. In the latter category, I chose mysore masala dosai, which has a filling of potatoes and peas and side sauces that include a fiery pepper mix and a cooling chutney.

The same sauces accompany idly ($4), a smaller version of dosai in which rice and lentils go into a cold patty. Vegetable sa mosa ($4) is unexpectedly attractive, the deep-fried, potatoes-and-peas-filled pastries decorated with cucumbers, cabbage, carrots and other, less-alliterative garnishes.

Other starters in clude crispy eggplant ($6), kabobs of lamb and chicken ($8), aromatic potato patties called ragara ($6), kalmi kabob (“our answer to Buffalo wings,” $6) and more, including sampler platters.

My recommendation? Good as all this was, get a dosai for your table and stop there. It’s plenty, and the entrées aren’t small.

It’s worth noting that prices haven’t changed in two years. Rack of lamb is still $24, a Tandoor red snapper dish $20. The bulk of the entrées run in the $12 to $15 range, including several biryani dishes, which are labor-intensive rice preparations featuring your choice of meat (goat is one of them), jalfrezi (a pepper-and-onion intensive meat sauté) and a number of vegan and vegetarian dishes.

Most of the items have an easygoing hot-spice intensity, always an issue for the Old Country Buffet set. Anything hotter gets a two- or three-pepper icon beside its menu listing, and those three peppers always draw my eye. (And you always can ask to adjust the spiciness in whatever direction.)

So I’m a big fan of vindaloo, the hot, sweet sauce that goes so well with lamb (and, in some Indian restaurants, sometimes is the only choice that will prompt a sweat). Karavalli offers more alternatives, such as megalu chicken chettinadu ($14). Hot pepper, of course, goes into this dish, but the fieriness is rounded out with fennel, cumin, coriander and more, on a foundation of garlic and ginger.

On the other side of the table, my daughter indulged her love of grilled anything with tandoor seekh kabob ($16), skewered rolls of ground lamb served on a sizzle platter with its traditional garnish of grilled veggies.

We were given attractive, almond-shaped plates on which to spoon our entrées, which also facilitates sharing.

Satisfying the demands of her ongoing mission to sample every chicken dish known to mankind, my wife chose nilgiri korma ($15), the korma part of it promising a Mughalai preparation in creamy sauce of mint, cashew and almonds. It’s one of those dishes that ought to be a mainstream menu item.

Given the fact the Rotterdam Karavalli is closest to my home, I’m wishing them continued success here. It’s a good spot for a restaurant like this, and our experiences reassure me that they’re up to the task.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Table scraps: Bastille Day approaches, and there’s nowhere better to celebrate than at Nicole’s Bistro (Quackenbush House, Clinton Avenue and Broadway, Albany). Chef Daniel E. Smith and owner Nicole Plisson present a menu of French classics on Sat., July 14, with choices including vichyssoise, escargot a l’ancienne, grenouilles Provençale, gigot d’agneau and mousse au chocolat—and much more, along with an evening of jazz and international cabaret songs with Sonny & Perley. Dinner is $50, not including tax and tip, and you can reserve seats by calling the restaurant at 465-1111. . . . Tomorrow (Friday) night is Hell Night at New World Home Cooking Co. (Route 212, Saugerties), with a wine pairing to set off the hottest of spicy fare. Actually, most of the food is only moderately spiced, but you’re given the tools to wreak havoc upon your palate—and the wine to cool it down. Start with a Cambodian chili duck salad and an Australian shiraz, then try the Mexican five-chile streaked fondue with shrimp and mushrooms alongside the St. Chapelle Sparkling Riesling from Idaho. There’s much more, including a triple-chile sundae for dessert. Six courses for $60; the event starts at 7 PM. Call (845) 246-0900 for info and reservations. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food at banilsson.com).


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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