Restaurants & Bars

South Indian Lunching: Buffet @ Udupi Palace, Newark

Melanie Wong | Oct 12, 200502:55 AM     10

Lately I've been focused on South Indian food for lunch along the south 880 corridor (Fremont, Newark & Milpitas) a couple days a week. And, I'm the better for it. I had some passing familiarity with dosa, uttapam, idli, and vada. Now I've had the opportunity to increase my vocabulary and taste horizons to include poriyal, kootu (kootoo), gongura, idiappam, kozhambu, majjiga, and more.

The town of Udupi is in the state of Karnataku, which is also home to the cities of Bangalore and Mysore. Udupi Palace offers a fairly extensive lunch buffet for $7.95 per person, which includes a made to order masala dosa that's brought to your table. It's pretty popular so the food is refreshed frequently and is kept at the correct temperature. A salad and chutney bar with achar, raita, cold curd rice, yogurt, chopped onions, cucumbers, diced tomato, lettuce, fresh fruit, and coconut, tomato, tamarind, and mint chutneys is included, as well as hot chai.

As you can see from the photo below, the dosa at this first lunch was unusually thick and floppy. Not a single bit of crispness on this one, just undesireable softness. The masala potato filling was nicely spiced but on the mushy side. I tried this with both the mint and coconut chutneys. Both condiments were correct and pleasant enough but not particularly characterful.

The deep-fried items were particularly good. The highly seasoned medu vada (donut-like in the center of the plate) had a crunchy crust and tender inside. The vegetable cutlet, the crumb-covered fritter in the foreground) was also greaseless and crispy. However, the poori (center) was soft and deflated. The spring vegetable uttapam looked good, but it was wet and toughened from too long on the steam table.

The vegetable biryani was so-so. But I loved the rava kachadi, which had a golden roasted flavor from lots of soft browned onions, and a comfort food texture.

The rasam (to the left of the dosa) was cloudy and muddier tasting than I care for. I didn't try the sambar.

In the small cups, at the 9 o'clock position was the mild coconut chutney. The green and yellow mix in the next one was gongura daal. The tangy and tender gongura leaves, aka Jamaican sorrel (rworange knows what this is), lighten the texture and flavor of the earthy yellow lentil puree. At the 12 o'clock position was avial, a Keralan specialty, and one of my favorites in the South Indian repetoire. This was a coconut-heavy rather than yogurt-based verion. The carrots, turnips and green beans in the coconut sauce were rather heavily salted and flattened out the sweetness of the coconut, but I still went back for seconds of this. Next was a tasty potato kozhambu and the spiciest of the selection. This was the only taste that I needed to follow with some cooling yogurt. The last cup was palak paneer, which was overcooked and tired.

Dal payasam was the dessert of the day. It was a bit gritty but had a nicely balanced sugar level and sweet spicing.

All in all, a good showing for a lunch buffet. If the dosa were better, this would be an exceptional deal.

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