Hoppers, lamprais and other Sri Lankan fare at Kadupul
Following a couple of other reports (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/701722, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/36557), my friend Susan and I decided to check out new restaurant Kadupul for Sri Lankan food. I was a little apprehensive about going with Susan, who is a culinary professional with a chowhound's spirit and has visited Sri Lanka. I'm not experienced with Sri Lankan food, but I've been in Kerala and was told that the cuisine was very similar to that of Sri Lanka because of geography and trade routes. Anyway, I wasn't really expecting that this random restaurant, the only truly Sri Lankan eatery in the Bay Area, would knock our socks off.
I was wrong.
Located in (of course) a strip mall, Kadupul looks more like a Mediterranean cafe than a South Asian restaurant. The walls are washed in burnt orange, and there's a mix of tall and regular tables, with glass tops over dark wood. When we stopped in at 3:30 pm on a Sunday, there was one family there and the "Sunday brunch" mentioned on the website was nowhere in sight.
As someone had mentioned, the menu is confusing - dinner-only and lunch-only items are scattered throughout the menu, which has a few detached pages. We ordered hoppers (what they call appam in Kerala) with prawn curry; lamprais, described as a Dutch-influenced dish; okra; and roti with fish curry - or so we thought. The menu wording was a bit confusing and we ended up with "slum curry" instead, which turned out to be potatoes masala.
I had been really looking forward to the appam, and they were superb. These are like bowl-shaped crepes of fermented rice batter. The bottoms, where the batter concentrates, were fluffy and tender; the sides grew progressively crisper as you neared the top. We used pieces of it to sop up the prawn curry. The "prawns" themselves were more like medium-small shrimp, negligible in themselves, but the curry sauce was exquisite. We also were served an incredible compote of caramelized onions with star anise.
The okra, covered in a light sauce, was very good. The only low point of our meal was the roti, a pancake-like bread that was way too hard and dry - like coconut-flavored cardboard. The potatoes were good.
Melanie Wong has been asking about the lamprais, so I know I have to describe it! :-) Actually, I was too full from all the rest to even eat a bite of it in the restaurant, so I took my portion to go. It's like a spiced pilaf in a banana-wrapped packet; the vegetarian version contains a couple of breaded croquettes and a blend of meaty and spongy mushrooms. It was definitely yummy, but it's the appam and curry that will motivate me to go back. I'm also intrigued by the "string hopper biryani," which I had never heard of.
Others have criticized the service (the restaurant grew out of a catering operation). I found it to be... odd. One of our servers was incredibly meticulous (it took him five minutes to clean the table), but seemed inexperienced; the other verged on brusque.
Both Susan and I were really happy after lunch that we'd made the trek -- and let me point out that Susan had taken the BART from Oakland, then ridden her bike 4.5 miles to get to the restaurant! But she insisted that it was well worth it.
8939 San Ramon Rd, Dublin, CA 94583
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Went here today. I had read that they started out doing a lunch buffet, then stopped it, but apparently they're doing it again. I wish they wouldn't; while the food is good, it doesn't seem like they do enough business to keep the food fresh enough, I felt like it had been sitting out all afternoon.
Regardless, nearly everything was delicious. The flavors reminded me of Indian food, but the dishes were all completely unique. There was an eggplant dish that was especially delicious, as well as good chicken, lamb, and other veggie offerings. The only dish that missed the mark was some sort of cooked greens that hadnt' really been cooked long enough.
Definitely a good deal at $10/person (including drink). However, I unfortunately can't see this restaurant staying around for a while; as this area tends to be fairly conservative when it comes to food, as well as the fact that there are countless nearby Indian buffets offering much more familiar foods as lower prices.
Regardless, given the lack of quality lunch options in this area, I'm certainly thrilled to have it here.
Kadupul has been a pleasant discovery for me. While I do not consider myself an expert on Indian cuisine in its various regional expressions, I was surprised by how different the Sri Lankan cuisine, as done here, was from Tamil and Kerala dishes I’ve known. I just assumed there would be a greater similarity. Someone made the argument to me that Sri Lanka has been exposed to Portuguese, Dutch, Arabic, etc., contacts over time and thus the difference. Perhaps. In any case, I have eaten here at least six times since April when it opened. I’ve really enjoyed the food, and I always discover something new.
A recent lunch included an item at the steam table which really delighted me. It was a yam curry with a black fruit in it which had a citrus-tamarind flavor to it (that’s as close as I can describe it). I asked the owner about it and with a large smile he brought back a bag from the kitchen with what looked like black wrinkled nuggets. He explained that these were a dried fruit called kudampuli, which is commonly used in South Indian and Sri Lankan fish curries. Other dishes included various curries featuring crab, eggplant with tamarind, and one with yuca (manioc) which was outstanding. The steam table usually has a chicken curry, some form of dal and, of course white and yellow rice, all of which are tasty but are rarely the dishes that capture my attention. Today’s choices included a turnip curry, sautéed long beans, stuffed peppers with banana blossoms, and a jackfruit curry with dried fish, and they were all superb.
I started exploring their menu by ordering their “mutton” lamprais which was a delight. I love lamb, but it was the curried samba rice and the rest (the caramelized onions, the plantain, the eggplant and boiled egg) that really stand out. The intensity and balance of flavors made the lamprais a most satisfying dish, unlike some steamed leaf-wrapped dishes I have had from other cuisines. I also have enjoyed the string hoppers (appam), the frikadels, and the chicken kottu roti.
The place is beginning to attract a steady clientele, which is a relief because for a while there I thought they might fold like so many start-ups, especially during this economic downturn. Evidently word has spread and by noon the place is full during lunch on weekdays. Yes, it may be cash-only, and the service may be enthusiastically clumsy at times, but I don’t care because the food is the central attraction here. I haven’t been disappointed yet.
8939 San Ramon Rd, Dublin, CA 94583
We went for lunch on Saturday, arriving at 2pm. There was a curry lunch special for 14.99, including saffron (or plain) rice, a choice of many meat or veggie curries, three side vegetables, dhal and papadum. My choice was the fish curry made with mahi-mahi, sides of jackfruit, polos (a more mature jackfruit - still savory not sweet) and spinach. My husband got a dish of chicken and red curry with milk rice (made with cocunut milk). We also had the passion fruit juice. I wanted to try the hoppers but the chef who makes them wasn't in. Apparently they are offered at dinnertime predominately. The menu was laminated and bound and specific to lunch. The waitress was excellent - knowledgable and attentive without hovering. She also answered questions about the food and gave us some advice where to find ingredients.
Food review: polos was excellent with a smokiness (perhaps from the black citrusy fruit that they described above), spinach was also excellent with a cardomom under-note, jackfruit was okay, fish curry and chicken curry were good, milk rice was excellent, passionfruit juice was refreshing (suited my sweet tooth). All in all, highly recommended.
In the photo, the chicken curry is upper right, spinach middle right, fish curry bottom right, polos on bottom left, and jackfruit upper left.