Cafe Niagara Brings Sri Lankan Food to Midtown
I was walking down 38th St. last week when I noticed (the just out of bounds) Café Niagara, proudly displaying a Grand Opening sign. “What’s this?” I thought to myself, peering through the window at their menu. I noticed that among croissants, sandwiches, paninis and other things you can get hundreds of places in midtown, their dinner menu included something called hoppers. Having no idea what that is, I went inside to investigate. It turns out Café Niagara serves Sri Lankan food and while I didn’t have any hoppers (you can read about them on Wikipedia), I did have a filling plate of adventure for $5. See what I got after the jump.
Before I set foot in Café Niagara, I knew exactly zero about Sri Lankan cuisine. I don’t know much more now, but I do know that some Sri Lankan food is quite delicious. When I walked in I cruised past the pastries under the register and the fried things next to it (I’ll get back to these) and went straight to the steam table. As we all know, some of the best Midtown Lunches are served from steam tables.
When the woman behind the counter told me this was Sri Lankan food, I excitedly began asking more questions, understanding only portions of most of the answers. So, excuse me if I’m a little foggy on some details. I believe the lunch deal is rice, potatoes, a meat and a vegetable. I can tell you with it’s definitely $5 and unlike any lunch you’ll get anywhere else in Midtown (that I know about).
You start off with your choice of rice. They have white, yellow and then this yellow rice with a bunch of vegetables. Obviously I went with that.
Next she gave me some of these potatoes in a sweet but pretty mellow curry kind of sauce. The potatoes were soft without being mushy and the sauce was very tasty. I’d have loved some more (and some more sauce to mix with the somewhat bland rice).
Next, I chose this beef dish with peppers and tomatoes. Along with the peppers, the beef is flecked by seeds from peppers. It’s very spicy and I actually had to slow down a little while eating it, which is unusual for me, but I loved every bite. The meat is on par with what you should expect from place like this. It’s nothing great but it works just fine in the dish.
I guess my vegetable choice was jackfruit (I was a little confused by this point and there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of options). This was my first experience with jackfruit, so I had no idea what it was going to taste like before biting into it. It’s a meaty fruit but the flesh isn’t very tough, and their preparation had a sour taste to it. I wasn’t crazy about it, but I’ve heard it referred to as an acquired taste before. Only time (and more trips to Café Niagara) will tell whether I acquire it.
I also noticed this green leafy stuff. It looked pretty good so I asked if I could try it. They were happy to oblige (I think this is a case of a place that just wants to make customers happy, especially when they are new, so feel free to abuse their kindness). I’m not sure what this stuff was. Some sort of finely chopped, green, leafy vegetable. It was bitter, which is fine by me, but the small serving I had was more than enough. There just isn’t much flavor beyond the bitterness.
There you have it. My $5 Sri Lankan lunch adventure. The plate is finished off by standard salad that I hardly remember eating. The beef and potatoes were great and definitely worth going back for. The jackfruit and leafy vegetable were memorable in their own way, though for my taste they are recommendable more for being an experience than for being tasty. The rice and salad were nothing special, and there seemed to be a lot of rice, so much that when I had finished picking at everything else, I didn’t even bother to finish it, and I usually finish everything.
As I was cashing out, I inquired about these little fried things. They told me some had tuna and some had chicken. They gave me one of the small round ones, which they only described as “chick pea,” for being so inquisitive.
I guess it could be considered a Sri Lankan falafel? It had a nice crunchy exterior but was a little dry inside and not incredibly flavorful. I’m very curious about what the tuna and chicken ones are like.
Café Niagara certainly isn’t serving up the best food in Midtown, but it’s the only Sri Lankan place I know of in the area, and I’m looking forward to returning to enjoy some dishes again and to hopefully discover some more new ones.
The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- Lunch should be an adventure, and Sri Lankan cuisine definitely fits the bill
- $5 for a big plate of all those different items? Sounds great!
- I need a new really spicy go-to lunch
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- I’m boring and am going to have salad for lunch… again
- There’s too much rice and not enough other stuff
Cafe Niagara, 302 W 38th St. (btw. 8th + 9th), 212-967-1314