new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Dosa: Southern Indian Deliciousness

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dosa: Southern Indian Deliciousness

995 Valencia (@ 21st Street)
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 642 3672

Dosa is a sophisticated Southern Indian restuarant in an unlikely location: the Mission, usually known more for tacos and copious numbers of weird people then dosas and chutney. But here we are.

Southern Indian food is a little different from the rich Mughali specialities most Americans associate with Indian food. Don't expect tikka masala, naan, and tandoori - Southern Indian food revolves primarily around vegetables, chutneys, and breads, most notably the large crepe-like dosa (hence the name.) Furthemore, Dosa's weekend brunches offer chaat, essentially the Indian word for crunchy little fried snackies. Obviously I was tempted.

After a brief wait, we were seated at a tiny but sunny table near the door. Delicious fresh papadum's appeared immediately, still slick with grease from the frier. These were salty and addictive - if only they sold them at gas stations. (It will come.)

I had to try a chaat dish, so I sprung for the bhel puri, composed of puffed rice, diced green mango, potato, tomato, onion and coriander, accompanied by chutneys ($7.00.) This was a crispy and technicolor delight, served in a small casserole - almost like a savory and super flavorful version of one's morning Rice Krispies. The lurid green cilantro chutney was crack-like, as was the tangy tamarind variant. (I kept em' throughout the meal to dribble on pretty much everything. And wanted more.)

I love fruit and I especially love fruit when combined with spices, so the Fiery Fruit salad with lemon juice, cayenne pepper, mint, ginger and god knows what else ($9) was a must-order. This was a wonderful idea and absolutely delicious, a fresh and warming counterpoint to all the crispy starchy fried things that comprised the rest of the meal. I'm tempted to try to figure out how to make this at home.

Of course, we had to order a dosa, and since my mother is a potato fiend, we went with the classic Masala Dosa, filled with creamy spiced potatoes, onions, and cashew nuts ($10.) The dosa was huge and papery thin and considerably larger then the plate, and the creamy soft filling was scrumptious, an advanced Indian take on mashed potatoes. Served with lentil dipping soup and a tangy and creamy coconut chutney, it was great fun to rip apart and dip into whatever looked most appetizing.

We also tried the South Indian Moons, a chef's sampler of five different uttapams (a kind of flat dosa), served with lentil curry and sambar. I couldn't tell you what was exactly in these savory little suckers, but they were definitely awesome versions of the savory pancake - moist, rich, and filled with flavorful bits of onion and mint and spices. They're made for dipping just like the dosa, and that's exactly what we did. (Though I could have gone for a little more spice on the lentils.)

Dosa does serve one selected meat dish every day, and on our visit, it was chicken saag ($14.00) Dedicated carnivores that we are, we ordered it and didn't regret it - the chicken was tender and falling apart underneath a cover of creamy saag, studded with chunks of paneer cheese. Again, I could have stood for it to be a little spicier, but that's a minor complaint.

Dessert? Dosa offers a few interesting Indian specialties, but I went for the mango kulfi, a kind of hard Indian ice cream served in chunks and garnished with saffron. It was hard as a rock when it appeared at the table, and I had a few unpleasant moments staring and willing it to melt, but the flavor was delicious: creamy and intense, offset nicely by the pungent little threads of saffron.

Dosa is a small restaurant and it was packed full when we arrived for Saturday brunch - although our 10 minute wait was by no means painful. (Just don't expect lots of room to stretch out in.) It's a bright, clean, and sunny space, and the bar is a nice place to linger and sip hot chai tea or one of their interesting cocktails.

Sure, we grossly over-ordered, but I don't regret it - we did manage to polish everything off. Dosa is a step above the usual hole in the wall Indian place, and prices reflect it - but the originality and interest of the menu justify paying a little extra. It's definitely worth a visit next time you're in the city and craving a different take on Indian food (and incredible amounts of delicious carbohydrates.)

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