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A New Indian Restaurant-Nuance And Culinary Skill Are In The Spice Rack At Kolam



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A New Indian Restaurant—

Nuance And Culinary Skill Are In The Spice Rack At Kolam

By Kaaren Valenta

The phone call from Newtown resident Pushpa Kapur came one recent weekday afternoon. “Have you been to the new Indian restaurant on South Main Street?” she asked. “It’s very good. You really must try it.”

Ms Kapur, founder and former owner of the Lamp Crafters in Newtown, is a native of India and a knowledgeable food critic. So with her urging, it obviously was time to visit Kolam, the restaurant that moved into the building formerly occupied by Sunderban at 316 South Main Street in Botsford.

In India, Kolam, the tradition of drawing intricate patterns with rice flour on the ground outside homes, requires great skill and attention to detail. That name aptly describes the new restaurant, which is decorated with examples of the Indian art.

Owners Senthil Rajamani and Jose Pullopilly bought Sunderban from Zannat (Shathy) and Sam Chowhudry last year when the Newtown couple decided to focus their efforts on their other local restaurant, Mona Lisa. Mr Rajamani had been looking for a place in Fairfield County to have his own restaurant after working with Jose Pullopilly at his restaurants, Coromandel in Darien and Dakshin in Stamford.

“We used to work together back in India,” said Mr Rajamani, who earned a degree in hotel management in India, then eight years later came to the United States to earn a master’s at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island.

“I had worked in India and Africa, but my dream to go to school in the United States,” he said. “I did some work for Aramark, the food services supplier at Yale University, but Jose needed help because his restaurant business had picked up so much, so he I worked for him for a year.”

Then, with more than ten years of experience and training, he felt it was time to launch his own business.

“That’s when Sam and Shathy were trying to sell. I came [to Sunderban] to eat, I fell in love with the place, and decided I could do this,” he said.

One of the first steps he took was to redecorate by removing many of the dark wall coverings and adding some bright colors. He set up a training program so his staff could work at Mr Pullopilly’s restaurants before starting at Kolam. But Kolam is unique, not a copy of the other restaurants, he said.

“Indian food is not standardized,” he said. “The cuisine is more freehand cooking and reflects the skill of the chef. Nor is it all hot and spicy like some people think when they don’t know Indian food. For example, curry is not a dish. It is an assortment of spices. All curries are not spicy and don’t taste the same. And all spices can be adjusted because nothing is premade.”

The menu draws from the most popular dishes of each region of India. Dishes from southern India often use the cooking technique of tempering, in which spices like mustard seed and curry seed are cooked in very little hot oil to develop a the flavor before adding to the dish.

“Southern India has amazing food but it has not been promoted until now,” Mr Rajamani said. “Usually Indian food [in the United States] is from northern India. The back of our menu has pictures of the spices. Some are aromatic, such as cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, and saffron, while others are taste enhancing and also add a distinctive flavor, such as cumin, coriander, chili, and paprika.”

Appetizers , $4.95–$8.95, include a very popular Kolam Moti Saag that features fresh restaurant-made cheese wrapped in a spinach and vegetable case and served in a honey-glazed, fennel-flavored mild tomato apricot chutney. Marsala Dosa is a paper-thin rice crepe stuffed with spiced potatoes and peas, and served with bowls of coconut chutney and sambar, a universal dish of south India.

“We make our own cheese and yogurt,” Mr Rajamani said. “So it is fresh, and we know exactly what we are serving.”

There are seafood, lamb, chicken, Tandoori, and vegetarian entrees, $10.95–$16.95, including popular Konkan prawns, black tiger prawns cooked in a tangy coconut stew flavored with ginger and curry leaves from the Konkan coast of India, and Chameli Chaps, New Zealand lamb chops cooked in a tandoor oven with yogurt and scented with nutmeg and ajwain, a Kashmiri delicacy.

With nearly 40 entrees, the choices are seemingly endless, but the friendly staff is ready to help and make suggestions. All entrees are served with aromatic basmati rice. There are also special rice dishes and a choice of eight breads, stuffed and unstuffed, including the traditional Naan, Punjabi bread baked in a tandoor oven.

First-time diners might want to try the luncheon buffet, $8.95, served on weekdays from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, or the expanded buffet on weekends from noon to 3 pm for $11.95. Both provide an opportunity to sample a changing variety of dishes.

“We are trying to target the corporate crowd with the buffet, people who have only 40 minutes for lunch,” Mr Rajamani said. “We’ve been drawing from IBM in Southbury, the GE offices, and Oxford Health Plans in Monroe. We’ve found that on weekends a lot of our customers are coming from places like New Milford, Danbury, and Bridgeport after hearing about us.”

Kolam seats 65 and has a full bar. Catering is available. Major credit cards are accepted.

Mr Rajamani’s wife, Bindu, is often seen in the restaurant on weekends. A native of Kenya, she earned a master’s degree in film and television in Australia. The couple met while he was working in Africa, and had been friends for eight years before their marriage, which took place just before he opened the restaurant in Newtown. They live in Woodbury.

The restaurant’s new schedule is lunch on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and noon to 3 pm on Saturday and Sunday; dinner 5 to 10 pm Monday, Wednesday–Saturday, and Sunday 4:30 to 9:30 pm for dinner. Closed on Tuesdays.

“We were closed on Mondays but decided to open because so many other restaurants in the area are closed that day,” Mr Rajamani said.

“I never want to live in New York City and operate a restaurant there, because all my life I lived in big cities,” he said. “I wanted the country life. I wanted to create an identity in a small town and I think we are doing that.”

For reservations or more information call 426-7143.

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