New South Indian restaurant Semma opens in New York

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The dose of gunpowder hits the table, not like a tube but like a triangle. It is also a perfect equilateral triangle, a work of art with swirls of sienna and shadow on its dark and welcoming surface. Soaked in ghee, this surface is extremely fine, crisp and buttery. Inside, the potato filling is typical of masala dosas you get in Jersey City or Washington Square Park, but has a finer texture, and small cups of creamy coconut and chutney. zingier tomatoes accompany, as well as a sambar big enough that you won’t try to soak the dosa, but instead treat the sambar as a separate soup.

The exterior of Semma.

A room with a white bar on the right and a row of tables on the bottom, enhanced with orange.

Inside Semma, note the intimate walk-in dining room at the back.

With its smooth crunch, affordable size, and tasty potato filling, this might be the best dosa in town, something a talented South Indian cook could do, not the interpretations. giant tubulars that are mainly found here. “Gunpowder” refers to the red spice powder sprinkled inside the package, peppery but not overwhelming.

Indeed, this emphasis on dishes as they are currently found in southern India – mainly in places like Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the state of India. origin of chef Vijay Kumar – recalls Adda, an earlier project by Roni Mazumdar and chef Chintan Pandya who focused on North Indian cuisine, rendered in a folkloric way. Kumar spent 12 years cooking in California before coming to New York four months ago, he tells me, and that perhaps adds a certain elegance to the veneers, which are often arranged in playful geometric shapes.

Is Semma – which means “fantastic” in Tamil – destined to be the flagship of the revolutionary Indian food fleet of Mazumdar and Pandya? While Dhamaka is hemmed in inside what amounts to a supermarket, Semma has a spacious and fully realized interior design. Basket lamps reminiscent of Kerala rice barges float above a white marble bar, facing a row of tables with a banquette patterned in wavy orange stripes. Up a few steps at the back of the restaurant, there are more intimate seating, interspersed with painted prints of lush tropical foliage.

While the gunpowder dosa provides a point of intersection with the menus at our vegetarian Indian dosa houses like Temple Canteen and Sri Ganesh’s, it is not the only dosa on Semma’s menu. The rarely seen kal dosa ($ 7) is a lighter, smoother, unfilled rendition offered in place of rice, the perfect thing to use when eating plenty of Semma’s offerings with your fingers. It also comes across as an accompaniment to what has to be the toughest dish on the menu, varuval kudal ($ 16).

A mass of brown rolled up on a white plate with a flatbread cut into quarters on the side.

Goat intestines served on a banana leaf with kal dosa.

A delicate tumbler with a frothy drink with a dark green leaf on top.

A curry leaf accentuates the podu whistle.

“When my mother went to the town where we lived to buy goat, the butcher would throw the intestines to her for free and my mother would cook them that way,” says Kumar. Lying on a banana leaf and littered with lightly fried curry leaves, the dish sparkles with a paste of ginger spices, a preparation often featured on South Indian menus at places like Kuttanadan, located in the Queens, like “dry”, but that’s really far from it. . A kal dosa is vented on the edge of the plate, encouraging you to eat the slippery organ – which is wonderfully chewy and tastes clean, unrelated to its anatomical use – with your little fingers out.

I’ve been eating South Indian dishes that have flaunted their curry leaves for years, but I have never been able to put my finger on their taste – an elusive quality that is shared with few other herbs and spices (fenugreek , among them). But when I tasted the podu whistle ($ 17), a cocktail that a bartender shakes at the bar, it was as if an LED had lit above my head. The gin is infused with curry leaf, and I realized that the fresh herb is more about the smell than the taste. He adds an extra measure of fragrant greenery, for lack of a better English word, to every dish the grass touches.

Playing hopscotch around the menu, which has three sections of about six dishes each arranged according to size, here are a few of the ones I liked the most: In the smaller section, the name Mangalore huukkosu ($ 15) checks out a Karnataka port town, a vegetarian arc of cauliflower fritters served with a tapered scoop of thick coconut chutney.

Mulaikattiya thaniyam – an even smaller dish for a snack to drink – is made with sprouted mung beans, coconut, and smoked chili peppers. “It takes three days to germinate the mung beans,” says Mazumdar. “Even though there are no salads in Indian cuisine, it is the kind of thing you eat on a farm in South India.”

Erral thoku ($ 19), among the average dishes, is a quartet of tiger prawns in a chorus line coated in a spice paste showcasing the curry leaves and fenugreek, rich enough that two each is enough for everybody.

A curve of orange cauliflower fritters in a continuous arc, with a wad of chutney in the middle.

Cauliflower fritters with Mangalore coconut chutney.

A shallow ceramic bowl with mung bean leaves sticking out.

Mulaikattiya thaniyam, a vegetarian snack made with sprouted mung beans, coconut and smoked chili.

A lobster tail rests in a thick sauce on top of its own removed shell.

Lobster tail in coconut sauce.

Goan oxtail is a wider choice whose grilled masala and black sauce make it more like a northern dish, and indeed, if you transplanted it to a Jamaican restaurant it wouldn’t be out of place; while valiya chemmeen moilee features a big lobster tail swimming in one of those far south dishes drenched in coconut milk and tinged with turmeric. It might remind you of a dramatically improved version of the classic New York lobster thermidor.

I liked the Dindigul goat biryani ($ 36) paired with a town in the interior of Tamil Nadu, but its main feature was the short grain sreeraga chamba rice and no flavor peculiarities for the whole dish – we recalling that biryani in its countless geographical manifestations in Southeast Asia is a dish already very well represented here, and better versions could be found elsewhere.

That said, perhaps even more than places like Sona and Gupshup, and even Adda and Dhamaka, Semma is a unique Indian restaurant in the city, translating the mundane local South Indian dishes into a gourmet idiom without losing its sound. soul, and aggressively questioning New York’s long-held ideas about the scope and depth of Indian cuisine.

A brown bowl with grainy brown pudding on the bottom and a scoop of off-white ice cream on top.

Jackfruit pudding with jackfruit ice cream – you can never have enough jackfruit.

60 Greenwich Ave, New York, NY 10011


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