Today’s review comes with a huge caveat: I couldn’t tell Southern and Northern Indian cuisines apart if my life depended on it. I’ve eaten plenty of Indian food, but to tell different regions apart requires a palate more discerning than mine.
If that doesn’t disqualify me, the next disclosure surely will: before last Saturday, I had never been to Flushing, unless you count the airport or a Mets game. The city’s widely-acknowledged center of ethnic food was completely unknown to me.
Sometimes a restaurant makes such an impression that it changes your way of thinking about an entire cuisine. Southern Spice is just such a place. While we’ve been conditioned to think of South Indian cooking as one giant collection of dosas, iddlies, and utthampams, Southern Spice flings open the doors on a half-dozen regional micro-cuisines.
That’s high praise indeed from Sietsema. Serious Eats loved it too.
We were less enthralled. We enjoyed the sights and sounds of Flushing, and we also enjoyed our food, especially as a full meal was just $35 before tip. But it wasn’t markedly better than our neighborhood Indian restaurant, which is ten minutes’ walk from our apartment.
We liked our first dish best: Chicken 65 ($6; above left), a house specialty. The chicken was tender, but with plenty of fire.
The Hyderbadi-style Dhum Biriyani comes in four varieties: chicken, mutton, shrimp, and vegetable. We had the Mutton Biriyani ($11; above right). We loved the rice, which had none of the clumpyness that often mars this dish, but we didn’t like having to pick inedible lamb bones out of the mix.
In Chicken Vindaloo ($9; above left), the seasoning seemed to be off. It was so mild that I wondered if Southern India had a different vidaloo recipe than I’m used to, but the menu describes it as “extremely hot.” It was less spicy than even the secondary curry dish served at most Indian restaurants (i.e. the level below vindaloo, often called “Madras”).
A comped dessert, sweet carrots with almonds (above right) was a nice treat. It would have set us back all of $3.
The restaurant has been open since last November, but as yet it has no liquor license. The décor is spare, but service was surprisingly good. I figured that a place with $6 appetizers and $11 entrées would leave us with one set of silverware for the whole meal, but they delivered a fresh place setting for every course.
We had a decent enough meal and would love to sample more. We’re just not prepared to travel two hours to get there.
This isn’t related to the restaurant, but I have to share the experience of walking into a Chinese market near the Flushing–Main Street LIRR station. The place was filthy, with rotting clams sitting around in unrefrigerated crates, and fish packed so tightly into their tanks that they couldn’t move. All kinds of unmentionables were for sale: pig snouts, feet and intestines, chicken feet, duck hearts, and black chickens, to name a few. Probably the nastiest offering was “miscellaneous meat,” sold for about $1 a pound and wrapped in large frozen bags.
I know there are some terrific restaurants in Flushing, but it’s one neighborhood where I wouldn’t just wander in without a prior recommendation.
Southern Spice (143–06 45th Avenue nr. Bowne Street, Flushing, Queens)