Karavalli just keeps getting better and better. My husband noticed that they raised their prices; I was too busy chowing down to see. Besides, I think they are totally worth it. (NB: Their web site, while informative, makes the dining room look like a musty cave, which it is NOT, so just ignore the lame photos and instead get mesmerized by the psycadelic Hindi goddess cartoon).
You’d never know that a world-class Indian restaurant is hiding in the sleepy little plaza where Comfortex window treatments and an Arthur Murray dance studio do business. It’s off of Route 9, near the Ford dealership: official address is 9B Johnson Road, Latham, telephone 518-785-7600. I can’t say enough good things about this restaurant, but let me start off by asserting that I think Karavalli is as good if not better than Dawat, the only other really authentic Indian restaurant I’ve been to. Dawat is on the East Side in New York City. The fact that we have a restaurant here in little Latham that rivals that is news indeed.
Karavalli specializes in dishes from India’s southern region, Kerala, which is known for its heavenly food. Some of the dishes are your standard Indian restaurant fare (Aloo Gobi, or cauliflower potato dish) but a majority of dishes are unusual, like Okra Masala or Avial Malabar (with green bananas and yams in coconut sauce). Or Chicken Kashmiri in a cashew and almond sauce. This past weekend, I went with my mother and husband, and my mom got the More Kozhambua, listed as a Tamilnadu specialty, and it was AWESOME!!! It was okra and lentil dumplings in a tangy buttermilk sauce that was out of this world, yet somehow also managed to taste healthy at the same time. Karavalli food doesn’t succumb to the bane of many Indian restaurants in America of adding too much grease. Spicy dishes are clearly labeled, and you can find things here that are mild (and you can ask them to turn down the heat). Not that I would do that. I love spices. The other great thing for us vegetarians is that they have two separate vegetarian sections on their menu: one is vegan, with no dairy or animal products.
The appetizers alone are outstanding and diverse: Calamari Cochin (fried masala squid with red onions and pepper), tangy shrimp, Uttapam (a lovely potato pancake), Idly, which is steamed rice/lentil patties served with sauce, and tamarind eggplant. Running at $6-8 dollars per appetizer, this is more than reasonable for the high quality you're getting. The service is also very good and attentive here, and the place is always hopping. Reservations are a good idea for weekends.
I had the Salmon Tikka, which was stupendous, and came served on a platter sizzling with onions and green peppers. We also had at the table a coconut chicken, which I heard was excellent, and Green Beans and Lentils, which sounds plain but is anything but. Other times I've had the Malai Kofta, which was excellent, and the only dish I've ever not adored was the Avial Malabar (but I will probably try it again, just because this was early on in their tenure). It had a strange woody tasting vegetable in it that I ended up spitting out.
One most amazing thing is that they now have two Calcutta Jewish specials. One is a chicken with raisins and cashew sauce, and another is a lamb with okra. I don't eat meat but these sound really awesome. It is obvious that a master chef is at the helm here.
Karavalli uses spices the way that I have learned to use them from one of my favorite cookbooks-- Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi--so that you can taste five or six distinct sensations when you eat. The theory is that in order to be nutritionally satisfied, we need all the flavors represented in one meal, such as sweet, salty, bitter, tangy, savory. It makes a lot of sense to me. Why go around feeling bland all the time when so much color exists for the palate?
My favorite side dish to order here is the Hot Lemon Pickle. It is the kind of food that I imagine, if I really flip out for good (I wonder sometimes), and someone were to put a small dish of the Hot Lemon Pickle in front of me and I tasted a triangle, I would immediately come to my senses. Like smelling salts, only really really tasty. I have waxed ecstatic about it before, but I am a little concerned that it’s not as hot as they used to make it. However, it truly is delicious, and tastes like a lemon that is the Platonic ideal of lemon essence. The lemon from the Garden of Eden. It beats psychotherapy.
Karavalli has an $8.95 daily lunch buffet, which is an excellent way to get started on your addiction. Go ahead. I dare you to go just once.