One night I was watching Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie, one of my absolutely favorite shows right now, and their episode on South India had me grinning from ear to ear. The colors, the food, the families, the stories--just mind-blowing. As I watched one family pop messy bites of pani puri in each other's mouths, I had an acute craving. I wanted the inimitable sensation of eating pani puri now. RIGHT NOW. I needed a fix, stat. No matter it was 1am--if Vik's Chaat Corner in the East Bay was open, I would have schlepped across the bridge, right then.
Good thing pani puri princess (i.e. moi) had plans to visit a friend for brunch at ~DOSA~ the next morning. After having a stranger at the counter at Farina chide me for not experiencing DOSA's brunch yet, and it's a mere bike ride away, I was way past due to get on it. So in case you are in the same boat, actually, missing the boat, hopefully this will get you fired up.
Now, this isn't a brunch for those of you who only can deal with pancakes on a Saturday morning. But if your palate can veer more to the savory scale, man, this place is a goldmine. There is a special chaat menu only available on the weekend--if you want more on what chaat is, check it out here.
You can start with a spicy Bloody Mary Curry ($8), with green chile-infused soju and curry leaves, one of the few soju mixed drinks I've ever liked--clever execution, and quite far from the typical "cranberry soju faux cosmopolitan" types of drinks you see around town.
Okay, you can't hold me back, release the pani puri ($7)! Hollow little puffs come to the table, and you break a hole in the top, tap tap. Take your pick of stuffing them with chickpeas, mung beans, or potato, then top it off with spicy mint water, a drizzle of tamarind, and you pop the whole thing in your mouth. It initially looks daunting, like, dude, that's a rather big bite to put in your mouth, but it's really not--the whole thing compresses into the most spectacular bite, a whoosh of spice and tang and crunch and flavor. Ridiculously wonderful. Even just the puff with the mint water and tamarind is sublime. Don't try to bite them in half, because the whole thing will crumble and run down your chin and you'll look like a disaster. Like Stephen King's Carrie, but at the table, and covered in green.
There are also the dahi batata puri ($7), which are puffs conveniently pre-filled for you with Straus organic yogurt, potato, and mint and tamarind chutneys. You can't leave them sitting for long because they get soggy, so eat up! All the puri are great to share, and woo hoo, they have a kick! Like, authentically spicy. Vroom. But refreshing with the yogurt. It's brilliant.
Also on the chaat menu is the bhel puri ($7), an unusual dish with puffed rice, green mango, potato, tomato, onion, and coriander, all layered in a bowl. Fab texture. And spicy with the addition of the spicy and sweet chutneys on the side. Hearts.
I am so obsessed with eggs, like, I need to start attending a Grade A Extra Large Brown Egg self-help group ("My name is Marcia and I am addicted to soft-boiled eggs with olio nuovo and Maldon salt.") And discovering new executions really turns my crank. There are a variety of (organic) egg dishes, like a South Indian omelet ($9), two kinds of dosas filled with eggs ($10), and my personal favorite, the tomato, onion, and chile uttapam (an open-faced dosa) with two sunny side up or over easy eggs on top ($10). The texture of the uttapam blending with the egg yolk was pure decadence, and it came with a side of the fantastic fresh coconut chutney, tomato chutney, and a larger bowl of sambar, the lentil dipping soup. I could eat this dish every weekend. Forever.
You can also order off their regular menu of dosa and uttapam, and each weekend there is a special non-vegetarian curry, too. If you're a vegan, the kitchen can do all kinds of options, so this place will be heaven for you.
We finished with the delightful seasonal fruit napoleon ($10), with little pancakes of coconut batter layered with caramelized seasonal fruit, and drizzled with a tamarind-strawberry chutney (uh, yum).
In case it isn't clear, I was completely thrilled with this meal. Kicking myself for not coming sooner. And the easygoing scene was fun: lots of couples, a cool ethnic Mission mix, and some families too, with a few strollers and kidlings here and there. The vibe was friendly, cheerful, and upon your first sip of chai tea and pop of puri in your mouth, you'll be grinning like a fool.
995 Valencia St.
Cross: 21st St.
San Francisco, CA 94110