Had some minor disappointments at two favourites, Vik's in west Berkeley and China Village in Albany. The dosa at Vik's was uneven on Saturday's visit -- slightly too thick in some places, slightly too thin in others. Texture is important in a dosa: too thick and it is pancake-like or rubbery, too thin and it shatters. It needs to be crisp on the outside, with a slightly softer layer just inside to hold it together. This was crisp through in the thin spots -- it didn't shatter, but it couldn't be folded over the filling. However, the potato bhaji filling, accompanying coconut chutney, and sambar were all still excellent, highly flavourful and satisfying (the filling is where many places fall down). I didn't recognize the guy making the dosas, but then I rarely recognize the chefs there (the ones I recognize seem to be supervising). Hopefully he's just new and on the learning curve. (I contemplated trying the rasmalai to compare it to India Chaat and Sweets, but there's no reason to tempt fate.)
Dinner tonight at China Village started well, with spicy diced rabbit, though it was in large chunks (I got a whole haunch, it seemed). I ordered some dishes I hadn't had before, and they were too similar: Chongqing-style spicy chicken (boneless) and Chengdu shrimp. Both were lightly battered, deep-fried, and served with heaps of charred chilies. The frying temperature wasn't quite right, and it was difficult to eat the shells of the shrimp. I had ordered dry-fried shredded beef, a favourite of the kids, and it turned out to be deep-fried also, with clumps of batter on it. Furthermore, it had stuck together in clumps, so that what looked like a tarantula landed on my plate. Dry-frying isn't deep-frying, and the dish wasn't like this before. We had three nearly identical dishes on the table, and we aren't big on deep-fried foods to begin with. Our sesame flatbread was the last thing to arrive, and we were mostly full by then. The meal was partly redeemed by sauteed loofah, which came in soft, large strips in a gentle broth enhanced with dried shrimp, and by complimentary sweet soup with glutinous rice dumplings at the end.
An off night at China Village still puts most places in the shade -- having one of those dishes in my home town would send me into raptures. I thought Mondays and Tuesdays were the good chef's days off, so that's why we went Sunday night, but perhaps he's taking an extended vacation between Chowhound events last week and next. Next time I'll set up a banquet in advance -- or get Melanie to arrange it for me (hint, hint...) --PR
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