The Spice Channel

There are only a few meat dishes offered, but I enjoyed them all very much. The lamb roti ($13) had an utterly cravable, rich, complicated sauce. The beef mallum ($12) was the most unusual dish on the menu. Bite-sized chunks of chewy, spice-saturated meat are seared and cooked till tender but still dry, and combined with long beans, cancun, and fresh spinach to create a toss of items that are acrid, bitter, and gamy in an appealing way. (Think of the attractive bitterness of coffee, not the off-putting bitterness of grapefruit peel.)

The restaurant features a small wine list, but how any wine is expected to stand up to these strong--often fiery--dramatically contrasting flavors is beyond me. Conventional wisdom suggests you pair riesling or gewürztraminer with spicy Asian foods, but I don't like the only gewürztraminer Sri Lanka offers (from Columbia Crest, $18 a bottle, $5 a glass, and too sweet for me). One night I tried the Folonari pinot grigio-chardonnay blend ($17 a bottle, $4.75 a glass), which our server recommended, but found it collapsing to sweet water in the face of the food. Your best bet here is beer, like the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale ($4.50) or one of the sweet yogurt-based shakes--similar to Indian lassi--such as mango, wood apple, or passion-fruit cream ($5 for a large order, $3 for a small).

Of course, if you're someone who remembers the old Sri Lanka, there's only one real question in your mind: How many hours does it take to get fed? And, to a lesser extent, is there any consistency whatsoever in the spice levels? In this new incarnation, I got fed in normal, conventional amounts of time. Though I'll not soon forget the panic of the server who, finding us dallying over our drinks before ordering, gripped the table white-knuckled and insisted, "Look, you don't understand, this food takes a really, really, really long time." It didn't, but I couldn't help following the tantrum of the people at the next table, who said they had been waiting for their food for more than an hour. If there are any real troubles with timing here, I can truthfully report they never happened to me. As far as chile levels, your servers will offer you four options, mild, medium, hot, and very hot. I got most things medium, and found they were kept to a manageable, consistent fire level.

Other tips? Most dishes are sized to share. I wouldn't recommend ordering more than three entrées for four people. House-made chutney ($3) is an invaluable addition to the table; when I ordered it I received not only a sweet raisin chutney, but also a fantastically fiery chile-tomato seasoning paste, and a hot vinegared coconut-chile seasoning paste. These condiments allow you to vary your food through the course of the meal, which is fun. I thought the fresh coconut roti ($2) was the best of the roti--it's a thick, chewy pancake--but I always got the combination roti plate ($6), offering one each of plain, egg-filled, and coconut roti. If you're aesthetically sensitive, try to secure a table away from the front window or you'll be afflicted with an evening staring at the Applebee's neon.

Contrary to all the rules of nostalgia, I have to say I like this new incarnation of Sri Lanka better than the old one. The new may be more expensive than the old, but it's more reliable. It may be less wide-ranging in its attempts, but it's more sophisticated in its accomplishments. And, of course, there comes a time when you're ready for the wiener-dog can opener and some really good scallops.

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