Ducking out for a meal at Mysore Woodlands, a vegetarian and kosher restaurant in Russo Plaza on Route 46 West, a friend commented on the unusual name and wondered what such a place could have to do with food.
We checked out the eatery’s website and learned that Mysore is a coastal town in Southern India renowned for its old Hindu temples and authentic vegetarian cuisine. The food consists primarily of potatoes, onions, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and the yellow lentils known as dal. There would be no Lamb Rogen Josh, Tandoori Chicken or Chicken Tikka Masala. Given the lack of meat on the menu, we wondered whether we would be starving again in an hour or two.
The answer was an immediate no as we experienced the variety that Mysore offers. Potatoes and lentils are rendered in many forms including kadi, a plump vegetable fritter served with fresh yogurt and spices. Eggplant, so plentiful in summer, was the centerpiece; it was roasted in a delicious dish that featured spicy cumin and coriander, with some coconut to mellow the flavor. Rice selections include both white and perhaps lemon or tamarind flavored varieties, depending upon the day. There is much to note including the house-cultured yogurt, the sweet and spicy mint sauce and the fresh tamarind sauce.
By the time we finished touring the buffet, we had loaded our plates. We were unsure, however, about two metal containers that held what looked like sauces and certainly were not chutneys; we ignored them and concentrated on the food we could identify.
Potatoes and lentils are put to good use in Rasa Vada, lentil doughnuts that can be dipped in rasam, a spicy soup. Golden brown lentil dumplings called Mysore Bonda offer another way to enjoy fresh vegetables. Chapathi, warm pieces of thin whole wheat bread, made a good accompaniment.
There were only about four tables occupied during our visit. A gentleman busily moved about the dining room making sure the patrons' needs were met. Eventually he stopped at our table, introduced himself as Raghu, one of a pair of brothers named Sundarraj who took over this space about two years ago. He told us that he typically works in the kitchen and we learned later that Lokesh, the other brother, works the front of the house. They previously owned the well-regarded Udupi Village in Montclair.
Raghu was hospitable and encouraged us to try more things, but again we weren’t familiar with the routine and thought that we were only entitled to the lunch buffet for $9.95 each. Good thing we took his lead and tried some other dishes which included a freshly made and very large dosai, a thin rice and lentil crepe and a wonderful masala uthappam, a kind of Indian frittata comprised of potato, onion, tomato and seasonings. It could have been a meal all by itself.
Eventually Raghu encouraged us to try the broth-like substances in the two metal dishes and we were certainly glad for the advice. The first was the aforementioned sour and spicy soup, rasam. The next was sambar, a tomato-based vegetable soup made with lentils and spices. It was fresh and very good.
Lunch and dinner specials are plentiful throughout the week, so it would appear that no matter what time you drop in at Mysore Woodlands, something special will be in store.
By the time we made our way to dessert, Raghu wisely urged us to try the Mysore coffee, a filtered drink complemented by the addition of chicory. It was rich, creamy and sweet and perfectly partnered with kheer, a rice pudding. We didn’t see any of the other typical desserts such as gulab jamoon, the dumplings made of evaporated milk in sugar syrup, but we’ll surely be able to try them on another visit. There’s a limit to our appetites, after all.
Mysore Woodlands 296 Route 46 West, (973) 227-8191 www.njwoodlands.com Open seven days: Lunch, Monday to Friday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner, Monday to Friday 5:30-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Major credit cards (no American Express).