October 8, 2001 | Ask Gael
It doesn't look like we'll get to India for a long time

         Affluent New Delhi flocked when Keshav Kumar opened Coconut Grove, bringing the tastes of his native Kerala north. Now he's launched an outpost in midtown, with chef Prem Kumar (pictured; also from Kerala but not kin) coaching the kitchen in his elegant spin on that region's mixed colonial heritage (Portuguese, Dutch, French, English, and Middle Eastern). At an early tasting, I loved moist lamb patties from the bar menu, as well as crisp samosas making peaks in a swamp of fragrant chat -- bits of potato, mango, and peppers bound in yogurt. Upstairs, lithe young women in midriff-baring blouses and South Indian sarongs rushed crisp and slightly spongy, crepelike appams, hot from the flipping station behind us, to be filled with all sorts of savory chutneys. The light was not quite right, and the chicken was cooked to stringy fiber. Still, I was impressed by Kochi baked crab and a nut-and-fruit-stuffed quail and a powerfully spicy soup of lentils simmered with vegetables and apples. Malabar lamb biryani, the peppered duck steak, and grouper fillets afloat in a haunting gingered coconut cream were also standouts. Best go soon, because the dashing chef -- an Indian superstar for twenty years -- may not linger long. He's already gotten a bid to join the faculty at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park.

Coconut Grove 44 West 56th Street, 212 765 1800