Seafood, always fresh, should be at least one course. Seerfish, a large, meaty white-fleshed fish, is by far the most reliable, as are prawns. And Perhaps the most acclaimed of the seafood joints is Fort Cochin, one place that's definitely worth making a special trip for (in this case, to Willingdon Island). If you'd prefer a more fine-dining atmosphere, the Rice Boat (tel. 0484/266-6811; 12:30-2:45pm and 7:30-10:45pm) is the small-but-gorgeous seafood restaurant at the Taj Malabar -- floor-to-ceiling glass walls and a curved cane ceiling make the best of its position right on the water's edge. It's an excellent place to indulge in some fusion dishes, like rice hoppers (traditional rice "pasta cakes") served with smoked salmon, tropical fruit, and coconut chutney, or cubes of seerfish cooked with ground coconut and raw mango, and served with idlyappams. It's not cheap by Kerala standards, and seafood is not really in league with the more simple fare served at Fort Cochin, but it's still darn good!
Wine is a relatively new phenomenon among India's elite, and Kochi now has its own wine lounge and tapas bar, Divine, above the restaurant at The Malabar House (tel. 0484/221-6666; 11am-11pm). Here where you can sample 12 top Indian vintages and perhaps settle in for a long night with a few bottles of the highly quaffable cabernet sauvignon or the oak-aged Chantilli chardonnay, accompanied by delicious, decadent-sounding bites; try the tiger prawn samosas, or jalapeños stuffed with creamy mushroom. It's small, but with a très trendy look if you prefer designer glamour to harbor views (of which, of course, there are none). As with Malabar House's own Malabar Junction, Kochi's best eating establishments are for the most part still located in hotels, but there are notable exceptions, including the very unpretentious Dal Roti (1/263 Lilly St.; tel. 0484/221-7655 or 97-4645-9244; email@example.com), which is perfect if you're bored with seafood and South Indian spicing. Owners Ramesh and Kalpana serve delicious North Indian fare in a lovely, casual atmosphere: whitewashed walls and simple pine benches and tables arranged around a terra-cotta Nandi (a sacred Hindu bull). Its simple "village"-style cooking is very good, and wonderful value: sample the delicious murg mussalam (whole stuffed chicken) or a meal-size thali (platter) and mop up the juices with alu paratas (unleavened whole-wheat bread stuffed with potato). If, on the other hand, you do want to try traditional Keralite cooking, and combine the experience with a dazzling location on the edge of the water (literally, when the weather's good, the tables are set up on the jetty), the restaurant at Hotel Fort House (tel. 0484/221-7103) has a rock-solid reputation. That's largely thanks to owner Nova Thomas's Portuguese-influenced dishes (her great-grandmother being of Portuguese descent) like pork vindaloo -- though we'd definitely opt for the Kerala-style grilled tuna, or the highly recommended seerfish pollichathu, wrapped in banana leaf and grilled.
If you're wanting an exceptionally romantic night out, you should reserve a space at Le Coloniale's in-house restaurant, Mountbatten (noon-3pm and 7-10:30pm), where there isn't really a menu, but you can order just about whatever you want -- chef Raju is good with Indian (north or south), Italian, French, and Keralite dishes, but it's best to chat with him first to decide what you'd like. The seafood is excellent, and you can rely on Raju to come up with a sumptuous set menu, too. If you want to sample something out of the ordinary, ask about his pineapple and grape curry, made in a coconut gravy. Everything, including the breads and ice cream, is prepared in-house. You can bring your own wine, or ask in advance for something to be purchased on your behalf; you really must book, though, and definitely ask to sit under the staff at a table near the pool.
For pit stops during the day while wandering around Fort Kochi, there are now a handful of good options: Kashi Art Café (Burgher St.; tel. 0484/221-5769; http://kashiartcafe.com), located in a restored Dutch heritage house, is a novel cafe-cum-art-gallery with tables and benches made out of coconut trunks. It serves hot and cold beverages with cakes or sandwiches (with real, hearty bread). Kashi's owners have also started a tiny eatery in their own home -- the clever concept has neighborhood housewives preparing their personal specialties, so there are just a handful of items offered. The place is called Shala and it's only open for dinner (5:30-9:30pm); because it's so small we suggest you call ahead to book a table and to hear what's on today's menu (tel. 0484/221-6036).
Another pretty little cafe-style venue is Tea Pot (Peter Celli St.; tel. 0484/221-8035; firstname.lastname@example.org), run by Sanjai, a laid-back hippie type. Order the appam with vegetable stew (chopped vegetables in a very mild coconut base; Rs 100) and a ginger lime soda (or one of more than 30 teas), then settle down with a good book or a garrulous partner -- the food takes awhile to get there, but it's almost always worth the wait. Also joining the lineup of cafes, is the quiet, compact little back veranda and tree-shaded garden at CGH Earth's new contemporary art gallery, David Hall, where you can order light Indian meals, sandwiches, salads, and morish cakes and cookies; you'll find it opposite the Parade Ground, near St. Francis Church (Church Rd., Fort Kochi; tel. 98-470-6325; www.davidhall.in; daily 11am-7pm).
Traditional Keralite Feasts -- If you're invited, don't pass up the opportunity to enjoy a traditional sadhya feast while in Kerala. In truth, even the simplest breakfast meal is a feast in Kerala, so forgo the eggs and toast and order whatever's going. The most well-known feast food is of course the dosa, a crispy thin pancake, or the idly (also spelled iddly or idli), a small compressed rice and lentil wedge -- both are served with sambar (a vegetable and lentil gravy) and various chutneys (coconut, mint, peanut, tomato, and chili). The famous "masala dosa" is when the pancake is stuffed with a spicy potato dish. Also delicious is puttu, a fine rice powder and grated coconut "cylinder," which is often served with baked banana and mildly spicy chickpea stew. Or there's the steamed rice pancake known as appam, served with vegetable "stew" (chopped vegetables and cashews in coconut milk). At traditional feasts, expect rice and ghee (clarified butter), served with various stews and curries like sambar, rasam, kootu, pacchadi, appalam, and payasam, all of which will be heaped endlessly upon your ela (leaf). Seafood in Kerala is exquisite and plentiful. A popular dish is meen moilee, a delicate fish curry tempered with fresh coconut milk (chemeen, incidentally, means "prawns"). Coconut is a staple used in many dishes: Avial is a mixed-vegetable "dry" curry prepared with coconut, cumin, and turmeric; and aadu olathiyathu is a coconut-based curry made with cubes of fried mutton.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.