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Dec 7, 2005 05:57 PM

Dosa in the Mission

  • m

Dosa Restaurant opened last night from what I hear. 21st and Valencia in the old Val21 space - they advertise themselves as SF's first South Indian restaurant.

Anyone been??

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  1. n
    Niki Rothman

    What distinguishes south Indian cooking from the standard (which I dislike) all-you-can-eat Indian buffets around SF that all seem to serve the same things cooked exactly the same way?
    I'm hoping to find an inexpensive Indian restaurant that I'll really like. I have a feeling those buffet places are far from the real deal.

    17 Replies
    1. re: Niki Rothman
      Morton the Mousse

      South Indian restaurants have less of an emphasis on curries and more of an emphasis on Chaat (fried snacks like pakoras and samosas), Dosas (kind of like an Indian crepe) and chutneys.

      Indian buffets suck. If you're looking for cheap Indian, you want to go to a South Indian restaurant. Vik's in Berkeley is an excellent choice.

      If you want to try good Indian curries, you need to go to a sit down restaurant. I highly recommend Ajanta in Berkeley and I also like Indian Oven in SF.
      Ajanta's menu features Niman Ranch meats.

      726 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA
      (510) 644-4412

      1. re: Niki Rothman

        South and North Indian food are totally different cuisine. Of course, these are very general terms, as India is a very large and diverse country, with many different kinds of regional cuisine.

        North India is a wheat growing area (the Punjab is the "breadbasket" of India), so Northern cuisine is always eaten with bread made of wheat, like chapati, paratha, or naan. Also, tandoori cooking comes from the north.

        In the south they eat a lot of coconut based curries (because they have lots of coconuts!), as well as rice-based dishes, such as iddli, dosa, etc.

        Snacks, such as pakora and samosa, are eaten all over India, not just in the south, as suggested in another post.

        I personally find Ajanta and Indian Oven nothing like the food I ate in India when I lived there for two years. Zante on Mission @ Cortland in SF is actually more authentic. The most authentic Indian cuisine that I've had around here (mostly southern, but with some northern food) is Vik's Chaat house in Berkeley. Chaat (meaning "snacks") are eaten all over India, and will vary from region to region. Also Udupi Palace on University in Berkeley has great South Indian vegetarian food. I'm sure others have their favorites, too!

        1. re: Ace

          Ace, since you lived in India, I am curious as to what you'd think of my two favorites ...
          Raja at Haight and Fillmore
          Al Hamra on 16th by Mission

          1. re: Sue

            Sorry to say I haven't tried either...I used to live in the Mission in SF, have lived in Oakland for the past 7 years, so I rarely eat out in SF any more.

            I will say...the bottom line to me is not whether it's authentic, but whether you LIKE it. I'd say 90% of the food I ate in India was so hot it'd blow your head off (and I have high chili tolerance), or pretty boring- can't say if it's still like this now, but where I lived (mostly in rural areas), you had only locally grown produce, so for about 6 months a year I ate green beans, lentils, okra, tomatoes, potatoes, rice, yogurt and chapatis. Not complaining, I actually was very healthy on that diet, but it wasn't exciting.

            I always find it silly when people tell me I'm supposed to like something because it's "authentic," which, for instance, is what I've heard numerous times about Sketch's ice-cream ("It's the best! Just like what I ate in Rome!"). But I don't care, because I don't LIKE Sketch's ice-cream. Same thing with A16's pizza...may be just like what you get in Naples, but it doesn't taste good to me.

            Sorry to go on and on- I'll try to go sample the two places you mention and tell you what I think, for what it's worth.

            1. re: Ace

              Ace, love that sentiment! It is what you LIKE that matters! Why bother writing a 1000 word diss G... pizza if you really just like the kind that Ch.... makes? Think about it folks. Thanks for voicing this!

              1. re: scooterdoo
                Melanie Wong

                Absolutely! Deliciousness before authenticity, and your own palate is what matters most. Here's a link to an archived discussion on the topic that you might find interesting.


              2. re: Ace
                Robert Lauriston

                I don't think anybody's said Sketch's ice cream is just like they ate in Rome. As has been discussed here at some length it's their own unique style.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Yes, people HAVE said that it's like you'd get in Rome. I could not care less whether that's actually the case.

                  Either way, I think Sketch's ice cream is fairly awful, although if others like it, that's great.

                  My point was that I think some people on this board get bullied by others who say that food is authentic, and is therefore "good." That argument is ridiculous to me. Food can be authentic and not pleasing to me, or inauthentic and very pleasing.

                  I think you got the point, and are splitting hairs, anyway.

                  1. re: Ace
                    Robert Lauriston

                    Veering back toward the topic, just a short walk from Dosa is La Copa Loca (3150 22nd Street).

                    When I say that their gelato is just like you get at an average (not above-average) gelateria in Italy, my point isn't that everybody has to like it because it's authentic, but that people who know and like that style should check it out.

          2. re: Niki Rothman

            Hello. I once lived next to a lovely couple, he was from Mumbai, she was from Kerala I think, but definitely the south, and made great vegetarian food, it actually was nearly vegan, because the ghee and dairy that overwhelms typical-in-U.S.-restaurants North Indian curries was either absent or not discernible.The only food like it that my wife and I have found in a commercial eatery is what the Udupi Palace does(also vegetarian), and that is our favorite Indian "dive"(minimal interior decor,low prices).The branch closest to us is the one on University in Berkeley, written up by other 'hounds in the past. The cuisine does much more with dried legumes than the meat based Northern cooking; the thali plate I last had there had three variations, chick peas,yellow split peas, and red lentils, each spiced distinctly.The "crepes" come in a variety as well, depending on the flour, which can be rice or made from legumes(something similar is made in France and Italy from chickpea flour), and the fillings. As what one would expect, the ingredients available in the different climates and cultures is reflected in the foods--cocoanut is abundant in the south coastal regions and is featured more.Fish and shrimp would be featured in non-veg. Keralan or Goanese food, and those dishes can be fantastic, but I haven't seen much in U.S. restaurants. Regards.

            1. re: moto
              Melanie Wong

              FYI, Spice Hut in Sunnyvale and Newark has a Keralan owner. I've linked my posts on the Newark branch below.


            2. re: Niki Rothman
              Robert Lauriston

              Dosas are made to order, like giant crepes only crispy, and filled with vegetarian curry.

              South Indian food is very rare in SF, odd since it's common elsewhere around the Bay Area.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Southern Spice is Mountain View is the first restaurant in the area I've seen advertising Andhra food. I haven't had a chance to go since I saw their ad a couple days ago, but it's at the top of my list of places to try out. If anyone makes it there first let us know how it is!



                1. re: mdg
                  Melanie Wong

                  Tirupathi Bhimas serves Andhra food. Its dishes are hotter, but I don't know if that's typical of Andhra vs. the other regions in South India.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Yes, Andhra food is indeed considered much more spicy than those of the other South Indian states -- Tamilnadu, Kerala and Karnataka. We had an Andhra neighbor when we were growing up and I remember, as a kid, not being able to eat any of her food because it was so hot! Much of the South Indian food in the Bay Area is food from either Tamilnadu or from Karnataka (Udupi of Udupi restaurant fame is in Karnataka, but their particular cuisine often hews closer to Tamil food).

              2. re: Niki Rothman

                First, don't judge N Indian food by what you've been finding in those buffets. That would be like judging Chinese food by the new MSG Palace on Market near Gough.

                Second, I am copying a "primer on S Indian" food that appeared on several years ago, I wish I could provide the link but I can't figure out how to do that without an equivalently long set of instructions on how to get there. And I'm concerned about attribution, but the post isn't archived, and I don't want to infringe on the author's privacy. Anyway, here it is:

                > First of all, South Indian food that you get in the Bay Area is the mainstream vegetarian subset of that cuisine. The distinct dishes from the individual states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra
                Pradesh don't get represented as well.

                > A typical South Indian meal consists of three courses: rice with `sambar', `rasam' and yoghurt. All three may be accompanied with vegetable `kari's and spicy pickles. There is no tradition of appetizers, but sometimes a raita equivalent known as `pachadi' is served with the first two courses.

                > `Sambar' is the spicy lentil soup. It's actually
                > more like a stew of vegetables with lentils. Sambar is eaten mixed with rice or as an accompaniment to `dosai', `idli' and `vadai's. In the latter mode, you traditionally dip a piece of dosai (or idli or vadai) into the sambar before eating it. There are different types of sambars: you can make them with tamarind, lentils or buttermilk.
                Almost any type of veggie can be used, but certain combinations obviously taste better. Basic recipe is: boil veggies in water, add tamarind (or dal or buttermilk) and spices.

                > `Rasam' is a broth-like liquid which ranges from mild to very spicy. There are several different types of rasams, ranging from `milagu' or pepper rasam (`mulligatawny' soup is really the corruption of `milagu tunni' which literally means `pepper water') which has no lentils to lemon rasam which has enough lentils to be confused with a watery dal.

                > Most rasams will have tamarind and tomatoes used in appropriate proportions. Rasam is usually had with rice, but it can be had as a spicy broth-like soup by itself.

                > Vegetable `kari's (or curries) are vegetables that are stir-fried, steamed or boiled lightly with spices. No sauce. The veggies tend to retain their basic color and flavor and are a good accompaniment to all the courses of the South Indian meal.

                > There's also something between a kari and a sambar---not as dry as the former and not as wet as the latter. This is called a `kootu' and is used as either a side dish or a substitute for sambar.

                > Now for the snacks:
                > `Dosai' is a crepe made of rice and lentils. It can be had plain or you can stuff it with spicy potatoes (`masala dosai'). Typically accompanied with sambar and a spicy, coconut chutney.

                > `Idli' is basically a steamed cake of fermented rice and lentil flour. Typically, it is accompanied with sambar and coconut chutney. Idli is usually eaten at breakfast as well as during the day as a

                > `Vadai' is like a doughnut made out of lentil dough with spices. Also accompanied with sambar and coconut chutney.

                > There are numerous variations of the above three: for example, dosai's can be made out of semolina or even wheat. You can have `uthappams' which resemble pancakes. Normally idli's are plain cakes, but sometimes you can add spices. etc.

                > A good place to try out South Indian snacks is Udupi Palace on ECR in Sunnyvale. Another restaurant I like is Panchvati on Fair Oaks Way. Don't go expecting any decor at either place, though.

                1. re: Niki Rothman
                  Melanie Wong

                  Here's a link to a discussion started by Morton the Mousse on the General Topics board that will shed some light on your question.


                2. hmm...maybe I can talk Janet and Jerry into coming down from Reno to weigh in on this one. If any of you are interested in a Chowdown to check it out over the holidays, email me and I will see if I can get my act together to organize it (but email please, let's keep the organizational stuff off line!)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: susancinsf
                    janet of reno

                    we're definitely in! Jerry says if its any good he may think about moving to the neighborhood...of course, then we have to figure out how to afford a house there :-)

                  2. This DOSA restaurant is completely overrated. I waited for an hour, ended up sitting at the bar, got cramped with noise and people all over. The food is ok, but they higher prices than the average dosa and wait are not worth it. You can easily find authentic dosas elsewhere, but the good places tend to be in the south or east bay areas.