In this city, restaurants come and go faster than you can say "sustainable locavore burger." And even though there are great new additions to the culinary landscape popping up every week, you've gotta give kudos to anyone who can stick it out for over a year. With that in mind, we bring you Still Got It, our tribute to establishments that continue to serve mouthwatering meals and drinks long after the buzz has faded—or if the lingering hype is still justified.
There's no end to the many Indian and South Asian eating options on Curry Hill, the Lexington Avenue strip famed for catering to those particular ethnic cuisines. But Pongal, which opened in the neighborhood in 1996, should not be overlooked; its dedication to creating delectable all vegetarian, kosher South Indian dishes makes it a standout spot among its peers.
Pongal's name derives from a three-day South Indian festival in January, which marks the end of the monsoon season and the reaping of the first harvest. And in keeping with that, the restaurant serves up a healthy selection of earthy, fresh-tasting dishes in its fairly intimate space; though do note that South Indian cuisine differs a little from its geographic neighbors. Instead of fluffy na'an, for instance, Pongal serves bread like the flat phulka ($6), or the flaky, seasoned potato-stuffed alu paratha ($6).
Appetizers of note include the savory medu vada ($5), fried balls of lentil and flour paired with chutney and sumber, hearty cottage-cheese and chickpea Paneer Pakoda ($5.50) and crispy potato and pea-filled samosas ($5). If you're looking for a lighter (and cheaper) bite, you do no wrong with Pongal's dosas, lentil crepes stuffed with spices and cooked vegetables. The rava dosa ($10) is particularly good, made with cream of wheat, rice flour and cilantro; as is the potato-stuffed paper sada/masala ($9.50.
For entrees, stick with the simple stuff. The flavorful alu palak ($10), made with cut potatoes cooked with cream spinach and spices, is exceptional, as is the hearty chickpea-and-spice channa masala ($10). If you like cauliflower, go for the gobi masala ($10), made with the aforementioned vegetable, spices and tomatoes. And the malai kofta ($10), fried vegetables cooked in a creamy sauce, is rich, warm and filling.
Pair your dinner with a creamy mango lassi ($4.50) or one of the restaurant's many wine offerings, and save room for dessert. The shrikhand ($5.50), a rich pudding made out of yogurt, pistachio, cardamom and almond, will end your evening on a particularly decadent note.
Pongal is located at 110 Lexington Ave between 27th and 28th Street in Flatiron (212) 696-9458, pongalnyc.com).