Southern Spice Bistro, Mountain View (Andhra)
Last month William joined me for a first visit to Southern Spice Bistro in Mountain View. "mdg" has recommended it several times ( http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/42139 ) and with good reason. The Andhran dishes shine with a fiery heat and brightness. It was eye-opening for me to try some non-vegetarian selections. There were so many interesting regional dishes on the menu, we had to skip the standard dosai, idli, vada, etc.
Complimentary rasam and papads appeared right away. Refreshingly zippy, the flavor-packed yet light rasam was a great palate cleanser to begin this meal.
For an appetizer, we tried the cut mirchi pakora, $4.95. Whole yellow wax peppers were lightly battered and fried, then slashed across. Intact with seeds and ribs, the full measure of the medium hotness of the chile peppers came through. These were served with tamarind chutney and tomato chutney. The tamarind was very interesting in that it was barely sweetened and had savory elements as well. The tomato chutney reminded us of canned tomato soup and wasn't nearly as good.
Image of Cut mirchi (yellow chili peppers) -
Special biryanis are offered on the weekends. This friday night, chicken dum biryani, $9.95, was on the specials board. Beautiful loosely packed long grains of fragrant basmati rice stained yellow with aromatic spices, neither too hard nor too soft, the texture of the rice was just right. We were also pleased by the succulence of the chicken. Served in a coppery pot, the portion size is larger than it looks. This dish was accompanied by a cooling raita and a fascinating mirchi salan. The salan had small but deadly hot, whole green chiles barely cooked through in a thick curry gravy. Coconut, onions, nuts, ginger, mustard seeds . . . utterly delicious and much too complex for us to attempt to reverse engineer.
Image of Close-up of Baby eggplant curry and Mirchi salan -
Gutti vankaya (baby eggplant curry), $7.95, had a completely different tasting curry gravy even though the sauce looked somewhat similar to the mirchi salan. It hewed a bit closer to masala spices. The meltingly soft whole eggplants had a slight bitterness that cut through the richness of the gravy.
Chapa vepudu (fish fry), $11.95, made with catfish, turned the spice complexity and heat meter all the way up. The marinated then fried catfish pieces had a wonderful smoothness in texture and penetration of flavor. Surprisingly, we didn't taste any of the dirt/earthiness typical of catfish, or perhaps it was buried under the mountain of spicing.
Our only disappointment in this set was the Malabar paratha, $2.50. Limp and doughy, this lacked the layers and crisp edges of better versions.
Image of Fish fry made with catfish, Baby eggplant curry, Malabar paratha, Chicken dum biryani with mirchi salan and raita -
To quench the Andrhan heat, we ordered coconut water served in the fresh coconut shell, $2.95. When we'd finished, we asked our waiter to have the kitchen split them open for us. He came back with the news that they don't do that here.
During the course of our meal, the staff asked repeatedly if the food was too spicy. On the way out, the owner asked us himself if we found it too hot. We assured him that it was not and that we would be back soon.
A quick update on Southern Spice.
We went here last night, to find that we were the only customers in a 65 cover restaurant. No matter, undaunted, we perused the menu.
We liked the complimentary rasam and poppadums, spicy, tangy and perfect.
For starters, we ordered Chicken 65, liberally doused with red colouring, but quite tasty and spicy, needed some lemon to make it come alive.
Also, an entree called "Natukodi Vepudu", fresh chicken stir fried with 'Andhra' spices. Bursting with flavour and spice and balanced, but an abundance of bones more than anything else !
We also ordered the usual suspects - Dosa, Idli, Utthapam, Vada Sambar, since there were some vegetarians in the group.
The veggie dishes were really disappointing. Idlis were not fluffy. Vadas did not seem fresh !
For the first time in my life, I ate dosa that was difficult to even tear apart - rubbery.
One of the red chutneys had definitely seen the inside of a can for a long time ! :-)
They do have $2 Kingfisher beers though ! Dosa in the Mission charges $5 or $6 for each ..
Overall, pretty disappointing. I definitely won't be back.
This was a very good place when it opened but unfortunately it has been going downhill for months. No more biryanis with bone-in meat, spicing getting ever more subdued, and overall losing the distinctiveness of the cuisine. The meat dishes are still tasty overall, but not as good as before.
I second the recommendation of Madras Cafe for vegetarian dishes. For meat dishes, an inexpensive and tasy alternative close to Madras Cafe is Taste Buds, although most of their business is take out.
re: Peter Cherches
I guess the way I'd answer your question is that I felt compelled to return to Tirupathi Bhimas again and again after trying it the first time. I ate there about 15 times in a 4-month period until I'd covered some 90% of the lunch menu.
I haven't been back since January of this year. Here's a photo of the dinner menu at the time.
I went twice at dinner hour and wasn't as enchanted as at lunch time. Don't know if it's a kitchen staff difference or what I ordered. Stay away from the North Indian dishes, also the pav bhaji. Other than that, everything else I've tried has been excellent and executed at a very high level.
re: Peter Cherches
re: Robert Lauriston
As noted above, we didn't order idli, dosai, vada, etc. at Southern Spice, whereas that's most of what I've had at TB, so there's no basis for comparison. The two non-veg dishes at Southern Spice were great, appreciate the kitchen for what it excels at.
Edited to add: Here's photo of TB's Malabar paratha, the one overlapping dish I've had. The bread is wonderful and the mild yellow korm spiked with star anise is great and the hotter red curry sauce turned it up a notch.