South Indian food in Montreal? Why not? While associated with cooking in the French idiom, Montreal is home to a large number of restaurants featuring the cuisines of the large number of immigrant communities that can be found in the city. Jewish concerns like Schwartz’s and St. Viateur may be the most famous, having become iconically Montrealer. The Portuguese presence is also long established as are immigrants from Francophone countries such as Haiti and Vietnam. But there are other communities as well—Montreal is home to a dizzying array of languages. On our final full day in the city we spent the morning in conversation with two non-profit groups in the Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood that work with immigrant communities, especially people from lower income brackets. Right next to the building that houses the second group is Thanjai, a restaurant recommended to us for dosas. All 13 of us accordingly descended on them for lunch. Herewith an account of our experience.
The restaurant has an unassuming storefront on Ave. Van Horne but the interior is large and attractive. You walk in past a display of Indian ingredients and a large scale model of the Brihadeshwara Temple for some reason and find yourself in a long dining room. Dosas are the restaurant’s calling card and there is a large tv screen that has videos on a constant loop of dosas being made, including their signature 6 foot dosa. I suggested to the group that we get the 6 foot dosa to share and add on a bunch of things alongside. The two vegetarians decided to get thalis instead and two others splintered off to order individual dosas. The rest of us got down to more serious bidness.
We started with an order of their “dollar iddly”. You get 15 mini iddlies to the order along with pretty good sambhar and coconut chutney. For the main meal we got a couple of orders each of their kothu parotha, their chicken biryani, the Chettinad-style chicken curry, a sweet and sour eggplant curry, palak paneer (to forestall insurrection among some members of the group) and dal. The kothu parotha and biryani were quite good as was the eggplant. The gravy of the Chettinad chicken was tasty but I’m not sure why they had chicken tikkas in there. The palak paneer and dal were serviceable.
And then the 6 foot dosa arrived. It’s quite a production and presentation and while I’m not sure it was quite 6 feet long, it was massive. It seems and is gimmicky but it was also surprisingly good. The dosa was cooked uniformly and properly—crisp on the outside and spongy on the inside—and rolled expertly. As you might expect the masala/filling came on the side as did more of the coconut chutney and sambhar. When it showed up we thought we’d barely make a dent but by the time we got up it was mostly gone.
Launch the slideshow to take a look at the space and the food. Scroll down for thoughts on service and value and to see what’s coming next.
Service was very present, friendly and adept. We were a large group, ordering a lot of food and on the clock. They worked well with us to make sure we got everything without being rushed at the end. While I ordered the food for all but the splinter faction, I did not pay (a perfect arrangement, in my opinion) but I’d be surprised if our bill came to very much more than $20 USD per head. Of course, we did not have any drinks.
Would I go back or recommend you go? In Montreal itself, unsurprisingly, it is North Indian food that is by far the norm in Indian restaurants. So, if I lived in Montreal I would certainly go every once in a while, particularly for the dosas. I’m not as sure that it’s worth a visit if you’re only in Montreal for a few days unless, like us, you happen to be in the neighbourhood for other reasons. The availability of good South Indian food where you live is another variable. Thanjai I’d guess is better than all the options we have in the Twin Cities. By the way, there’s another location of the restaurant in Ottawa—I think that may have been the second to open.
Okay, only two more reports left to come from Montreal and maybe one more from Toronto. I should have those and the remaining North Shore reports knocked out by the middle of the month. After that we’ll have a steady stream of DC and New York reports. Plus the usual booze reviews three times a week.