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Dosa -- it ain't Dasaprakash

david kaplan | Dec 14, 2005 01:07 AM

Tonight a friend and I went to Dosa, the new South Indian place on Valencia near 21st, between Herbivore and Valencia Whole Foods. I am somewhat familiar with South Indian food, having been a regular at Dasaprakash (on the Peninsula) in recent years and at several South Indian places around Boston in the past, but am by no means an expert. In all, Dosa was OK but falls far short of the high standard Dasaprakash sets.

We arrived at 7:45 and waited 20 minutes for a table. When we left at 10:00, every seat was still occupied. Dosa opened only a week ago and already it’s packed on a Tuesday night. The décor is minimalist and modern, tables are close together, and it’s loud – if you didn’t notice the food you might think you were in Limon, or Range, or Maverick. The crowd was largely white, uniformly young, and almost entirely mixed-sex couples and groups. Service was erratic – not surprising given the restaurant’s recent opening and immediate popularity – but very gracious. Examples of erratic: our main dishes came before the starter, and after all of our plates (starter and mains) had been cleared our original server asked if we had gotten our main courses yet.

On to the food:

We started with Dahi Vada, “lentil dumplings”, which were dense savory donuts made from lentil flour. They came immersed in yogurt with a drizzle of tamarind sauce and cilantro. I liked these very much, especially the grainy, rustic texture of the dumplings, but I would have preferred them served next to, rather than in, the sauce so they could have maintained their texture better. Iddly (patties of rice and lentil flour) are also served in sambar (a spicy lentil soup) rather than alongside, which I would guess would interfere with the firm texture as well. The drizzled yogurt was under-spiced.

We had two mains: Mysore dosa and a chile/coriander uttapam.

The dosa is a large, thin crepe folded into a flat triangle, with a potato/onion/cashew filling in one corner of the inside. The crepe itself was cool, and the filling slightly warm, when it arrived. I prefer Dosa to be thin and crispy, and this one was less crispy than I like though still pretty thin. The filling had a smoother texture than at Dasaprakash and elsewhere – rather than having distinct chunks of potato (like un-browned homefries) it was creamier (more like mashed potatoes). Typically Mysore-style dosas are the most strongly spiced, but here it was as mild as regular Masala dosas I’ve had elsewhere.

The uttapam (open-faced pancake) was a bigger disappointment. It was too soft and thick, reminding me more of Ethiopian injera than of other uttapams I’ve tried. Again it was under-spiced – I think the chile and coriander lost flavor by being cooked into the pancake. There should have been more raw spice as a topping.

Both the dosa and the uttapam came with lentil sambar and two coconut-based chutneys, one with red chiles and the other with mint and coriander (I think). The chutneys were thick, intense pastes, and the best part of the meal was eating the crispy edges of the dosa with those chutneys instead of the potato filling.

For dessert we had gulab jamoon (translated, as always, as “fried milk balls” in syrup). The syrup was unusually spiced with cinnamon and a touch of brown sugar or molasses – I really liked the caramelized taste. But the temperatures were all wrong. I think they poured warm syrup over refrigerated “fried milk balls”, so the syrup was lukewarm and the balls were cool on the outside and cold in the center.

The menu consists mostly of dosa and uttapam, all of which are vegetarian. There are a few meat and seafood curries made “with South Indian spices” plus some uninteresting-sounding salads and soups.

In all, the food was much less good than what I’ve enjoyed at Dasapraskash. I think in time they’ll resolve the temperature issues (I assume those were due to the new kitchen still getting the hang of things) but suspect that the under-spicing will continue given that the clientele (and the neighborhood) is much less Indian than Dasaprakash’s.

For the two of us, the vada, dosa, uttapam, gulab jamoon, and one glass of wine came to $36 total.

995 Valencia (just north of the northeast corner of Valencia and 21st in the Mission)
San Francisco
Open dinner only Tuesday-Sunday (sign says lunch service starts in a few weeks)

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