The wheel of fortune landed locally when Sridhar Rathinam relocated his Southern Indian restaurant from Flushing to New Hyde Park. Rathinam's regional Chettinad cookery, as fiery as it is nuanced, can spark even the most sophisticated palate.
I feel myself glowing after a bowl of Rathinam's white-hot tamarind peppercorn soup; an appetizer of lamb chops detonates a slow, delectable burn. Next, I'm transported to an exotic spice market by the appetizer called chicken 65, spicy marinated white meat cubes sauteed with three kinds of peppers. All the same, I'm wishing the dish had been made with dark meat. But how light and subtly seasoned the Kerala crabcakes are, plated over a creamy coconut sauce.
From the tandoor oven comes a juicy black pepper-crusted tandoori duck breast atop a crimson tikka masala sauce. Several bites into the restaurant's egg biryani, I unearth two whole hard boiled eggs beneath a mountain of herb and spice-flecked rice, every bite revealing another layer of flavor.
The menu guarantees the chicken vindaloo will "make you sweat head to toe," but the heat generates more pleasure than pain. A mild alternative is the vegetable uthappam, a comforting pancake-like variation on the South Indian dosa, with vegetables baked into the batter.
I order a dosa, or huge lentil flour pancake, alongside my Chettinadu curry featuring dark meat in a peppery gravy. A friend's favorite, goat brain masala, wins over even the most goat-shy at my table, thanks to its silky texture and savory sauce. Less adventuresome diners would do well with the tandoori mixed grill, every item ingeniously seasoned, moist and juicy.
Bread pairs well with anything. I'm sold on the pillowy onion kulcha, assertive garlic naan and wholesome wheaten parota.
We finish with gulab jamun, the Indian version of warm fried doughnut balls in a fragrant syrup served with clean-tasting Indian vanilla bean ice cream.
Also sweet: a good-humored crew eager to win converts and keep them coming back for more.