Restaurant Review: Pongal

110 Lexington Avenue
(between 27th Street and 28th Street)
Kips Bay, Manhattan

Vegiboys Rating (3/4)

Having now visited three of the Lexington Avenue Little India restaurants as part of the Vegiboys project (Bhojan and Madras Mahal being the other two), it’s been fascinating to see the same retail space (always about a 20 foot storefront at about 50 feet deep) transformed into completely different experiences.

Pongal is as etablished as many of the other venues on the block, being in place since 1996. The interior was a bit loud, but this is owing to their open approach to their dining room; overall the feel is comfortable, and the space is well-decorated in the theme of Pongal (the harvest holiday of the Tamils during which a rice porridge dish is offered to the Sun God at dawn).

The staff were friendly, and seemed genuinely excited to have new patrons try their dishes. Throughout the meal, the various personalities of the restaurant inquired as to what we thought of the dishes offered.

Brian chose a mango juice to drink (a safe and solid choice), while I tried a mooru for the first time. Mooru is a spiced buttermilk, which I found to have no sweetness to it at all… Salty with a peppered flavor, the drink required that I hold my breath while sipping it, lest the thin, unquieting taste fire the wrong responses in my brain and stomach (even without breathing the flavor, it was still akin to a mouthful of seawater).

Per our usual approach to Indian affairs, we each chose a thali (at the manager’s recommendation, I had the Royal Thali and Brian had the Mysore Special).

The offerings were solid: we were pleased with all of the different platters (nothing was too beyond our palates to appreciate, which can’t be said for every Indian dish we’ve tried in the past). A palak paneer and the channa masala were the stars of the Royal Thali, while for the Mysore thali, the dosa’s filling and the almond flavor for the badam halwa both stood out.

At $24 each, the dinner was a good value. We’d actually place Pongal on par with Bhojan, but each for different reasons; Bhojan had more unique flavors, but Pongal’s dishes were more consistently good. Bhojan had a slightly more refined and exclusive feel to its dining room, but Pongal was a bit more appropriate for families or larger groups, and it was also easier to people-watch at Pongal. Regardless, depending on the experience you’re seeking, Pongal ranks among our Kips Bay recommendations as a solid choice for those seeking vegetarian Indian dining.

Food (3/4)
Atmosphere & Service
Value (3/4)

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