The wife and I paid our first visit to Udupi Cafe on East Chatham Street in Cary last week. Having been taught a certain pessimism by cruelties of the North Carolina dining scene, we were hoping for something comparable to Suchi and Royal Sitar, pungent if heavy. To our immense surprise, Udupi was far better than this: light, delicate, subtle, precise -- nothing less than the Indian equivalent of Waraji -- and to boot pleasantly appointed in an upscale but casual style. As if this were not enough, prices are cheap, with most of the entrees either $5.95 or $6.95.
Following the advice of the waiter we ordered the chana batura (an enormous balloon of deep-fried bread served with a chickpea curry); the jaipuri paneer dosai (a rice crepe with peas and cheese); and a vegetable curry. The chana batura and the dosai were marvelous, the vegetable curry a bit mundane in comparison, but still good. For dessert we had galub jamon and ras malai, both respectable, and Indian tea, which was not your Starbuck-variety Chai, but thick and bitter and yeasty, offputting at first but certainly interesting. I recommed giving it a try.
The only thing to said against the meal was the white rice, which was clumpy, cold, dry, and broken, lacking the toothsome bite and fragrance of the best, or even of the usual basmati. I was hugely annoyed than such a fine meal had foundered on something as simple as rice. I felt as if I'd watched a kick-returner go 99 yards and then trip over his shoelaces on the other team's one yard line.
Despite the rice fiasco, we made a beeline to Udupi's sister restaurant, Spice and Curry, at the intersection of highways 54 and 55 in Durham. This turned out to be another story: entirely lacking the subtle touch of Udupi. At 6:30 on a Friday night we were the only people in the restaurant. Next door is an Indian grocery store where we found the owner of both restaurants. His explanation was simple: "Yeah, sure, the chefs are not very experienced."
We put to him our complaint about the rice. He showed us the brand used at both restaurants: a very cheap Basmati. We gave him a dressing down about it. Hopefully there will be some change of policy.