By Anne DesBrisay
There is nothing like the smell of roasting spices. Walk into Coconut Lagoon and you get a nose-full. I am here for the weekday lunch buffet. The place is packed.
Coconut Lagoon reminds me of why I love Indian food. I have written for many years that this is the best Indian restaurant in town. It’s also one of the few to focus on South Indian dishes, particularly on the fish-and-coconut rich cuisine of Kerala, the home province of chef Joe Thottungal. Here you find the heat, the complexity, the layers of flavour that build in the mouth.
Typically, noon buffets in Indian restaurants are toned down affairs in the heat department. And whereas there’s nothing a serious chilli head would consider incendiary on this steam table, there’s still pow in some curries and the tools to add more oomph in the house chutneys and pickles — some sweet, some soothing and herby, some breath-robbingly hot.
The buffet last week began with two soups — one lentil, the other a tomato-ginger — both truly superb. I could have made lunch entirely out of those soups, along with a few of the potato-spinach fritters, with their crunchy coats and pillowy soft insides.
But I was here to taste the whole line, the highlights from which included a carrot and chickpea salad, the legumes perfectly al dente; a dark pink chicken tikka, clearly benefitting from its long yogurt marinade; a spicy red fish curry heady with tamarind; a gentle mushroom masala; a rich and sweet vegetable korma with toasted almonds; lamb curry of a more menacing nature; a Kerala dish called cabbage thoran (shredded cabbage perked up with chillies, mustard seed, cumin, and curry leaves), plus refreshing salads and chewy-warm parathas.
The old super sweet favourite for dessert — Gulab Jamun — along with a refreshingly unsweet tapioca in mango custard.
The weekday buffet costs $14.50
Coconut Lagoon, 853 St. Laurent Boulevard, 613-742-4444