There are dozens of Indian restaurants in Montreal offering a mainly North Indian menu, but few with a South Indian cuisine featuring a huge choice of dosas—savory crepes—and other regional delights.
We’re talking about Thanjai, which we visited last month at its bright and airy location on Van Horne, just east of Victoria, in the bustling multiethnic Côte des Neiges neighbourhood.
The food is great—a veritable voyage of happy discovery for those not familiar with the culinary arts that predominate in the southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerela, Andra Pradesh and Karnateka, and its more vegetarian penchant.
A 9-foot, white scale model of the 1,000-year-old Temple of Thanjavur—a shrine to Shiva—sits prominently under glass, a testament to owners Kumaresan and Gheeta Muthukhrishsnan’s Hindu faith.
The restaurant’s first anniversary since opening on Victoria is in August, and judging by our own satisfaction, and the large and enthusiastic families of eager eaters that filled the room, this restaurant will have a long and successful stay.
The high-ceilinged dining room is wide and deep, with red booths lining the left wall, tables in the middle and a bar on the deep right. Its apricot walls, overhead fans and soft South Indian music give it a relaxed and expansive air.
The menu is huge—the hosts will be happy to guide you through it—and what stands out are no less than 45 varieties of dosa – a huge, ultra-thin and crispy crêpe made of fermented crushed rice and lentils and stuffed with masala or spiced potatoes. The menu offers them stuffed with cheese, tomato, onions, peas and carrots, or in a thicker version called Uttapam.
We started with the Rasam Soup ($3), a tomato consommé spiked with red chillies, curry leaves and tamarind. I loved the tangy flavour, though Barbara found it too spicy. Next time she’ll order the milder Dal, an Indian mainstay.
Sampling the appetizers—nine veggie and three with meat—Barbara chowed down on the Chilly Bhaji ($3), green chillies fried in chick-pea batter, with chutney on the side. I savoured the curried mutton rolls ($3.50), small chunks of meat in a crumbled and fried roll. Both come with three sauces—chutney, coconut and lentil.
For our mains, we went with dosa. Palak paneer ($9) was Barbara’s choice, a huge spinach crêpe stuffed with cottage cheese and spiced with turmeric. I took the carnivorous route again with the chicken masala dosa ($9.50), a huge crêpe with curried chicken and spiced potato filling.
By this stage we were stuffed. Nevertheless, for the benefit of our readers, we had to sample the desserts.
Barbara could not resist the chocolate mousse with chopped cashew ($4), and I had to order the house special, called Ashoka ($2). It is made of cooked cream of wheat flour, split moog dal and clarified butter. The mousse was oh so rich, the Ashoka a buttery antidote to the hot tastes of my main, but neither of us could finish.
We also discovered South Indian coffee, with milk, that is served in a metal cup swimming in a coffee-filled metal saucer. Unique.
There is a range of other foods on the menu, including five biryanis, some Indo-Chinese dishes, and a selection of breads (poori, chappati, parotha, and naan) not found in most Montreal Indian eateries.
There are full-plate or Thali dishes, ranging from $8-$12, which makes this an affordable restaurant for most diners. There is a children’s menu with such dishes as mini pizza and cheese ketchup dosa. There is delivery in the evening.
This is also a bring-your-own-wine place, and it has WiFi. It is wheelchair accessible, but the bathrooms are downstairs.
4759 Van Horne. thanjairestaurant.com, 514-419-9696.