Some Like It Hot 

Mayuri cooks Indian, Southern-style.

Imagine: long, crispy crepes stuffed with a fragrant combination of vegetables; spongy white rice cakes made from lentil flour; chutneys and flavorful dipping sauces. This is the essence of Southern Indian cooking. This is Mayuri.

Mayuri Indian Cuisine opened in the Villager Lodge on Union a few years back. The restaurant moved to its current location at the corner of Kirby and Quince when the motel was demolished. Typical of many strip-mall eateries, décor and ambience are sacrificed for affordability and friendliness. Hand-painted mayuri (peacock) feathers make for subtle decoration and traditional Indian music plays in the background.

Most Indian restaurants in Memphis offer Northern Indian cuisine. Mayuri's menu emphasizes food from the owner's home state in Southern India, though it also offers traditional dishes from the North, such as curried, skewered, and spicy entrées. "North" means breads and the generous use of spices, while "South" uses rice as its starch, is largely vegetarian, and tends to be hotter.

We started with a crispy flat rice bread called paratha and a fiery, green-mango chutney. The paratha had a slightly bitter, nutty flavor. The mango was diced and still firm. It added texture but did little to balance the heat of the chili in the chutney. Spinach pakoras, a fried dumpling made with chickpeas, arrived with a variety of cilantro, coconut, and tomato chutneys, which ranged from sweet to herbal. The pakoras were a little on the dry side, however. The rice cake is called vada. We were encouraged to break this cake up and soak it in sambar, a lentil soup best ordered in its spicier version so that the full flavors of fennel and chili can be appreciated. (Sambar was also delicious as a separate appetizer.) Idli, a lentil patty with the consistency of baked polenta, also went well with the sambar and chutneys. We also tried a boneless chicken appetizer in a spicy chili and yogurt sauce. The chicken was rather plain, but the sauce was a favorite.

Most of the Southern Indian entrées were based on the dosa, an enormous Indian crepe made from rice, wheat, or moong-bean flour. The fillings were exclusively vegetarian and can be curried or spicy. The large shell can be cracked and used as a scoop to eat the filling. The masala dosa had a potato and onion filling which tasted like an Indian hash brown. Other fillings included a potato curry, onions and chilies, and a vegetable curry.

We also sampled the more familiar Northern Indian dishes. Mayuri has an authentic tandoori oven to prepare kabobs and tandoori courses. The mixed tandoori sampler came sizzling on an iron plate and was served on a bed of onions and peppers. The chicken and shrimp were lobster-red on the outside and tasted wonderful. Biryani is a rice dish, fragrant with cardamon, nuts, and raisins, and the lamb biryani made a great side dish. Raita, a thin yogurt and cucumber sauce, cooled the tongue when the spices overwhelmed. We also had naan, a light and chewy bread that was served hot from the oven. Flavored and stuffed naans are also available.

Mayuri is next to Kirby Liquors, and we brought a Gewürztraminer, thinking the wine's sweetness might balance the inherent spiciness of Indian cuisine. We found that the Taj Mahal beer on the menu went better with dinner as did a mango lassi, a thick smoothie-like drink.

Many of the dishes served at Mayuri would appeal to vegetarians as well as those looking for an exotic dining experience. Those familiar with the variety of Northern Indian restaurants in Memphis will find all your favorites on the menu as well as new delicacies. n

Mayuri, 6524 Quince Road (753-8755), is open seven days a week and has a lunch buffet from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

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