Today's review roundup includes: Chennai Garden, Django, Bao Noodles, Sunburnt Cow
NYTimes $25 and Under Eric Asimov reviews Chennai Garden (129 East 27th Street (Lexington Avenue)):
I could have ordered off the regular menu, but the room was crowded and everybody else was lining up at the all-you-can-eat buffet, so I joined them. Not too long after, I got in line again, and again after that. The selection was small, but the food was fresh and lively, and at $5.95, it was definitely cheap.
. . . With fond memories of the lunch buffet at Chennai Garden, I went back for dinner. By night, the menu emphasizes South Indian specialties, like dosas, huge crepes rolled into cylinders around fillings like potatoes mashed with onions, and utthappam, smaller pancakes studded with onions and topped with vegetable mixtures. It also offers vegetarian specialties from Gujarat, on the western end of India's midsection, and the Punjab, to the north.
BEST DISHES Steamed rice-and-lentil cakes; rice-and-lentil bhel poori; boiled chickpea snack; boiled potato snack; masala dosas; paper masala dosas; mysore sada dosas; rava dosas; black chickpea and onion curry.
NYTimes Restaurants William Grimes gives Django two stars (480 Lexington Avenue (46th Street)):
Mr. Tovar deals with his main ingredients simply, then dresses them ornately. Diver scallops, flavor packed and firm textured, are quickly seared, their naturally sweet flavor nicely enhanced by caramelized bacon and onions. Ginger-tomato marmalade gets in a swift, sneaky punch on the side, balanced out by a pool of sweet-corn foam. Monkfish is sliced into thick fillets, roasted and laid out on the plate like prime steaks, with a relish-like topping of stewed tomatoes flavored with anise and lemon, and roasted garlic potatoes on the side.
. . . One dish that remains unchanged is Mr. Tovar's excellent, strangely described tagine. The spiced "toro" beef turns out to be chunks of rib-eye slowly stewed until they achieve the melt-in-the-mouth consistency of belly tuna, or toro. Served in a traditional peaked clay vessel, the toro tagine is a spice pot of exotic flavors and aromas, with lemon grass-scented basmati rice and pungent mango chutney. This is Django's signature dish, and deservedly so. Equally imaginative is Mr. Tovar's solution to the lamb requirement faced by every chef. He roasts the rack, but then uses meat from the shank to make a gutsy moussaka with citrus-accented zucchini and rosemary jus.
RECOMMENDED DISHES Foie gras with lavender-poached white peach; beef "toro" tagine; monkfish with piperade and tapenade; scallops with bacon and onions; sweetbreads with bacon; rack of lamb with lamb shank moussaka; cranberry bread pudding; chocolate coconut tart.
NYPost reviews Bao Noodles (391 Second Ave., between 22nd and 23rd St):
At Bao Noodles, noodles aren't the half of it. The new, cash-only eatery from the folks behind Alphabet City's Bao 111 also dishes out an intriguing array of traditional plates, not to mention corralling regional selections into $20 family meals.
The place buzzes at dinner with a thumping soundtrack and a no-reservation policy that leaves patrons lined up waiting for one of the monastic wooden benches.
Village Voice Robert Sietsema reviews Sunburnt Cow (137 Avenue C):
What is Australian food? It harkens back to England, of course, and the restaurant's short menu features the Anglo bar staple bangers and mash ($12)—only the sausages are made of kangaroo. While eating 'roo is hardly an Ozzie tradition, any upscale bistro in Melbourne or Sydney is likely to have worked the marsupial into its menu. These sausages come planted in buttery mashed potatoes ringed with a river of caramelized onions, a combination that borders on the divine. More bratwurst than kielbasa, the sausage has an intriguing flavor reminiscent of juniper berries. Another Australian invention is the oyster shooter ($12), four shot glasses of sake, each with a raw shellfish flailing in the bottom, pinned down by diced mango, kiwi, and jalapeño. The sake is the only Asian flourish on the menu, though fusion cooking is all the rage back home.
. . . But best of all is the Aussie fish of the day ($18), which is usually barramundi. In her natural state, this squint-eyed and hump-shouldered critter swims in both fresh and salt water. Odder yet, he begins life as a slender male, and switches to an obese egg-laying female in old age. I'm not kidding! Barramundi remains a passion among Ozzies, even though natural stocks are depleted, making the farm-raised type nearly universal. In fact, the barramundi-farming industry has had an overproduction problem lately. Making you think, as you fork tender morsels of firm and perfectly cooked white flesh mouthward: Am I being duped by an Aussie excess-fish-exporting conspiracy?