On the awning, Kokum promises South Indian food, but more specifically has a Keralan chef and specializes in the unique tastes of this state. A friend of mine has been trying to track down these special flavors since a trip to the southwest Malabar Coast, and initial impressions here are good. Some complexities are missing, but Kokum is doing most everything right.
We sat down and mentioned this experience in Kerala to our waiter who immediately informed the kitchen. Out came the chef jolly chef to talk about what we might want to try for the meal.
Morum (below) was described simply as "buttermilk" when we asked about it. Taking a leap of faith and hoping there was more to it than the English translation, we ordered three. Yogurt and milk are combined to make this salty drink that is refreshing and also has coriander, ginger, green chillies, and curry leaves in the mix.
While we waited for everything to arrive, a surprise dosa came to the table and was accompanied with many chutneys and a good sambar! This was a completely unexpected and kind gesture and really got our tastebuds ready for the big show.
To complement our meal and provide ways to pick up the other dishes, we asked for idiappam ($11, above), which is a string hopper much like those in Sri Lanka, and appam ($11, below), a fermented rice crepe.
My friend remembered a delicious pineapple curry when visiting Kerala, which we asked the chef about. He unfortunately does not make one, but suggested a mango curry called mambazha ($12, below). This is a vegetarian curry with a dairy and coconut base, nicely sweet.
Kerala chicken stew ($15, below) was a rich and well-spiced stew with very tender pieces of meat. By this time I was wishing for a little rice to mix in with the saucier dishes like this.
The unofficial winner of the evening might have been the red pumpkin thoran ($13, below), which mixed cubes of pumpkin with mustard seeds, green chillies, and jaggery, a concentrated sugar.
Our majority vegetarian meal (when in South India...) continued with avial ($13, below), another dish with yogurt and coconut, as well as mixed vegetables and curry leaves. It was another strong dish in a spread with no real weak links.
Dessert came freshly warmed and unwrapped semolina pudding from a banana leaf, and was plenty for a group of four to satisfy a small sweet tooth craving.
I admire the boldness of Kokum to go ahead and serve Keralan food, which is almost unknown here compared to the giants of pan-Northern or pan-Southern restaurants. We can only hope that it will start a new trend in New York City.