The colorful masks and woven, traditional Sri Lankan chairs in Lakruwana’s dining room have an intentionally exotic look that is designed to appeal to Western tastes. The recipes used in its kitchen, however, are simply authentic and homey—largely unadapted to American palates.
Lakruwana opened in Stapleton, Staten Island, just six months ago. But Sri Lankan food enthusiasts will recall that Lakruwana was one of Manhattan’s first Sri Lankan restaurants. It closed abruptly in 2004 after a fire ended its nine-year tenure.
Now, after spending several years in their native Sri Lanka, owners Lakruwana and Jayantha Wijesinghe have revived Lakruwana near Staten Island’s burgeoning Sri Lankan community in Tompkinsville.
We started with the lamprais, which combined small mounds of basmati rice and cashews, onion sambol (a chutney-like mixture of onions cooked with spices), eggplant, a deep-fried tuna fish-and-potato cutlet and beef—all steamed together in a banana leaf. When mixed, the many distinctly flavored ingredients were surprisingly mild and well-balanced.
The dish, which was invented by the Dutch during their colonial occupation of Sri Lanka in the 17th and 18th centuries (they called it “lomprijst”), is Lakruwana’s house special. (Full disclosure: Your humble reviewer, a vegetarian, owes the “meaty” portions of this review to the careful descriptions provided by her carnivorous dining companions.)
The spice lovers in the group couldn’t resist trying the deviled shrimp (stir-fried with green bell pepper, onion, tomato and hot chilies). The shrimp were well-cooked, but the dish clearly had been adjusted for American palates—it tasted like a spiced-up version of General Tso’s chicken.
At Wijesinghe’s recommendation, we also tried the basket-shaped hoppers, a rice-flour “crepe” that is a typical Sri Lankan breakfast dish. The special pans in which they are sautéed give hoppers their signature shape.
Our hoppers were thin and light. They came with a mixed vegetable curry that was both coconut-y sweet and back-of-the-throat spicy. Even our meat eaters enthusiastically dug in.
Next we attacked the weekend buffet, guided to the best dishes by Wijesinghe himself, and came back with plates loaded with egg curry (hard-boiled eggs in a coconut-y broth), beet root curry, potato curry, chana daal (stewed lentils made from chickpeas), pineapple curry, deviled chicken, pork curry and biryani, as well as several sambols—chutney-like side dishes that add a piquant kick to Sri Lankan meals.
Sri Lankan cooking uses coconut and spices to generate flavor. This was evident in all the buffet dishes, which were surprisingly light—more like home cooking than the usual grease-slicked fare served in other buffets.
The beet root curry was tender but not mushy while simultaneously hot and sweetly coconut-flavored. The plump chana daal, seasoned with cumin and curry leaves, had a mild, thick gravy. The pork curry—spicy and smoky-flavored—was fall-apart tender.
The katta sambol, which packed aggressive heat, was particularly popular with our spice fiends, while the onion and coconut sambols were milder and appealingly tangy and sweet.
We ended the meal on a sweet note with mango mousse from the buffet, which Wijesinghe doctored with a spoonful of tangy homemade yogurt and a drizzle of fresh honey—one of many thoughtful touches in a very satisfying meal.
Lakruwana Restaurant, 668 Bay St., Stapleton, Staten Island, 347-857-6619, http://www.lakruwana.com/