Men on Fire
After missing our last two meetings, Rick was called upon to locate our next destination and after much deliberation, steered us to the East Village for a cuisine we had yet to experience — Sri Lankan.
Sigiri was around the corner from the stretch of Indian restaurants on East Sixth Street between First and Second Avenues known as “Curry Row” where I often brought dates because the prices were the best in the city — even cheaper than in Chinatown and always BYOB. I got a little nostalgic walking past the few remaining dives on the block. My longings for the past, however, quickly dissipated after I was accosted by a row of servers standing outside the restaurants imploring passersby to sample their Indian fare.
The narrow restaurant would be a challenge for our party of six, but accommodations were made and tables were joined so we were able to sit together. From my pre-dinner research, Sigiri, I believed, was the only Sri Lankan restaurant in Manhattan, and this was quickly confirmed by our hostess/server who spoke with a melodious British accent.
I perked up when our server warned us that serving Sri Lankan without any spice modification was extreme even for her. We emphatically told her to prepare our dinner as it would be prepared in Sri Lanka, as opposed to what might satisfy the gentrified East Village folk. We didn’t need to be pampered with cloth napkins or with flickering table candles, both of which Sigiri provided much to Gerry’s disdain. We didn’t want dulled down food, even at the expense of our intestinal tracks, both upper and lower. And since we were Sri Lankan food novices, we had her ask the chefs to prepare what might be a good representation of that country’s cuisine, with a request by Zio for a dish he insisted should to be included, called “string hopper kotthu.”
The arrival of an assorted appetizer platter, that included a selection of breaded and fried “nibblers” — fish spring roll, fish cutlet, lentil patty, and a vegetable spring roll — stifled our chatter. Anticipating heat, we were disappointed that what was on the platter was not only mildly spicy, but dry as well. Things quickly changed when the “devilled grill” arrived on our table — grilled chicken that was the Sri Lankan equivalent to genuine Jamaican jerk chicken —only hotter. After a few bites, Zio’s world-weary eyes were beginning to tear up and his nose was running, as was everyone else’s.
The heat onslaught continued unabated with a pork “black” curry, a fish curry in coconut-milk sauce, and kotthu roti, a pancake chopped into shreds and fried with assorted vegetables. The only respite from the intense spice was Zio’s choice of string hopper kotthu, a version of Sri Lankan spaghetti accompanied with a chicken curry.
A platter of white rice and coconut roti (an Indian-style flat bread) also helped ease the pain and when Eugene was able to speak again, he proclaimed Sigiri as serving the hottest food we had yet to encounter, even spicier than the Sichuan cuisine at Little Pepper in Flushing.
And if Eugene proclaims it, then it must be true.