The city’s best masala dosa might be found, not in the dosa parlors of Jersey City’s Newark Avenue; not in the basement of a Hindu temple in Flushing; or even from a cart in Washington Square, but in a sleeper of an eclectic bistro on the southern edge of Park Slope.
With a cadre of neighborhood support, Lore has been open more than a year at 441 Seventh Avenue at the corner of 15th Street. Inside the L-shaped room, an old-looking bar anchors one leg and a modern, brick-clad dining room decorated with blue bottles traverses the other. Jay Kumar is the chef and owner, a burly, bearded, and tattooed figure who wandered around the room one recent evening chatting up the customers.
That dosa is slightly shorter than most, but with more spicy potato filling; the wrapper is well-browned and imperially crisp. Instead of ghee or vegetable oil, it is fried in coconut oil, which gives an unexpected creaminess and faintly sweet smell. It’s served with chutney and dal that complement bites of spud. This rolled pancake ($17), is really a complete meal, though on the menu it appears among starters. Make sure to share it with a friend or two.
Kumar was born in Mangaluru (also known as Mangalore) in southern India. He spent 20 years cooking in Switzerland before moving to Brooklyn, and indeed, the exceedingly quirky menu at Lore might be described as Indo-Swiss-British, with some Middle Eastern influences thrown in.
While restaurateurs like Dhamaka’s Roni Mazumdar and Chintan Pandya strive to faithfully reproduce the authentic fare of India, Kumar throws faithfulness to the four winds and mutates the hell out of the dishes of his childhood. Thus a samosa is not a tetrahedral pastry with a thick crust and potato filling, but a Swiss-leaning puff pastry plunked in a tamarind pool with mango-flavored cashew cream on top. The uttapam ($26) arrives fried and covered with a Swiss mushroom gravy, while retaining its Indian flavors. It is delicious.
The chapli kebab favored by cab drivers at Punjabi delis around town is here transformed into a lamb burger, seared on both sides in the modern fashion to bring out the flavor, smeared with an herbal yogurt raita and an olive tapenade, in a collision of mellow and sour. In the city’s pantheon of unusual burgers, this one bears mention beside Via Carota’s svizzerina.
Among the main courses, you can’t go wrong with the fish and chips ($28). Made with flaky pollock, the fillet comes with the usual beer-batter coating and excellent floppy “chips.” This dish tastes like it has just been flown in from the British Isles with no concessions to an American venue, and I would put it up against the celebrated version at Dame any day of the week. Are we seeing a pattern here? The food at Lore is fit to be compared to many of the city’s most celebrated restaurants.
The butter chicken presented on a bed of pureed fennel wasn’t as good; the flavors didn’t mesh and the proportions were off (or maybe I just don’t like butter chicken). The beef ribs in a rojan ghosh (a Kashmiri red curry) fared better, but the best entree among my visits was a skin-on filet of masala-rubbed sea bream ($36) presented with lettuces and fresh herbs to use for wrapping. Every bite was a burst of flavor, especially when dipped in the accompanying chutneys.
Literary themed cocktails made meals more enjoyable, each accompanied by a quote from a famous author. The Lorca ($17), commemorating the martyred Spanish poet, was a twisted gin martini with seaweed and cardamom bitters. The quote that goes along with the drink was “the night herself repeats in me, all her constellations,” from “Song of the Barren Orange Tree.”
Though I feared the cocktail follow-up would entail an English lit quiz, the follow up was a much more pleasant dessert of rhubarb granita topped with strawberries.