Restaurant Review: Madras Mahal

Madras Mahal
104 Lexington Avenue
(between 27th Street and 28th Street)
Kips Bay, Manhattan

Vegiboys Rating (2/4)

Kips Bay is Manhattan’s Little India, and within a single block of the neighborhood exists an epic-center for vegetarian cuisine. No fewer than 7 vegetarian restaurants (not to mention countless vegi-friendly venues) can be found within yards of one another around the intersection of 27th street and Lexington Avenue. Among them, Madras Mahal.

Madras Mahal is well established, having been opened its doors in 1985. It lacks much curb appeal, found halfway up the block with nothing to set it apart from the surrounding storefronts aside from a name-branded awning.

The interior is hidden from the sidewalk by an opaque front window, whose treatment also darkens the interior, heightening a a stark, den-like feel. Inattentiveness to atmosphere is also suggested by the choice of wall decoration (a smattering of homemade face masks and a small back-wall mural from an amateur artist), and the omnipresent odor of stale herbs.

With these first impressions and a nearly empty dining room, expectations were not set high. Service was polite, but curt; our orders were taken with an accountant’s mindset, our each request met with the question, “How many?”

Hoping to obtain a representative sampling from the restaurant’s kitchen, both Brian and I ordered a thali platter (Brian the House Thali and the Madras Dinner for me). Our drinks arrived first: mine a mango lassi, Brian’s a gingerale… The drinks held no surprises.

Our platters arrived quickly. The mass of food on a thali platter is always exciting, and happily the tastes were good. The use of spicing created bolder flavors than expected; having eaten many a sorry or unmemorable sag paneer, the spinach in this dish had a perfume that immediately set it apart, and lavender came to the forefront of the rice pudding. That said, the aggressive perfumes were not for those new to Indian cuisine or for those who prefer more Americanized flavors.

The portions were also surprisingly satisfying. What appeared to be a substantial amount of food became a feast as we uncovered pancakes hidden under breads and bowls that proved surprisingly deep; we ended up taking home enough for our lunches the next day.

At $22.75 each, Madras Mahal was a relative bargain. Despite the weak atmosphere, the food was well-composed (for those who don’t mind a bit of a heavy hand with aromatic spices). However, the restaurant is surrounded by a plethora of vegetarian choices with equally competent chefs and far better character; anywhere else the restaurant might stand on its own, but in the dense vegi-center of Kips Bay, it simply can’t meet the quality of its competitors.

Food (2/4)
Atmosphere & Service
Value (2.5/4)

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