I think by now all of the local papers have written up ~DOSA~. A pile of hipsters has already eaten there, three times over. Not like DOSA needs any more buzz, but since I keep getting questions about what I think about it, here's my take on this restaurant that is the current Jessica Alba of our local restaurant scene.
First off, I'm happy to see SF finally landing a South Indian restaurant. Anjan and Emily Mitra, the owners, noticed the big black void. We have a bazaar's worth of Northern Indian places here, a veritable tandoori-a-rama, but if you want Southern Indian, you either need to cross that pesky bridge to Udupi Palace or Vik's, or get your authentic groove on and trek south to Fremont or Sunnyvale. Yeah, right. That wouldn't be me—visiting the 408 is a once-every-two-years-or-so event. So I'm happy to now have a local place I can even ride my bike to.
Some have wailed "DOSA isn't authentic!" or "how can they charge $10 for a dosa?! It's street food!" That's like shrieking over Charles Phan's spring rolls for $7.50. It's street food that moved into a nice three-bedroom house and now has a 401k plan. Moving on up, baby. DOSA isn't your local Indian hole-in-the-wall serving samosas for $1.50—it's a completely different scene, with a nicely appointed post modern-meets-ethnic interior, beach house/mystic electronica playing, a hip crowd, soju cocktails with ingredients like mango in them, and a wine list assembled by Mark Bright, a sommelier at Michael Mina. Nope, there's no all-you-can-eat lunch buffet here, and you won't be ordering your dishes by number.
The place will be bumping, be forewarned. There will be people waiting outside like they're in line for concert tickets for the Black Eyed Peas, people waiting inside, and a definite din. Diners lament the long wait times, sometimes lasting an hour. But the owners are quite nice and sympathetic to your plight, so at least you're not being ignored. The no reservations policy for parties under five is tough, but I think it's worth getting five pals together and making reservations on Open Table. Otherwise, try to get there between 5pm-6:30pm and the wait is slim to nonexistent. Or get toasted at the Latin American Club and then cruise over around 9:15 for a late dinner (they're open 'till 10pm on weekdays and 10:30pm on weekends)—you'll get full service as long as you walk in before closing time. More advice: two-tops tend to get seated more quickly than larger parties, and I recommend holding out for a table instead of eating at the bar if it looks slammed, otherwise you'll have a lot of drinks and jostling around you (bad combo). But here's the big news: they are going to open for lunch Tue-Fri. Soon. Genius.
Okay, wiggle your nose and snap your fingers, you're now seated on a wooden bench with some ethnic pillows strewn about. You're checking out the persimmon walls and soft glowing pendant lamps overhead, and sneaking peeks at your neighbor's food, which isn't hard to do because the tables are definitely quite close. "Uh, hi, mind if I try a bite of your chennai chicken?"
After waiting around in the chilly/foggy/rainy outside, warm up with a bowl of the rasam ($4), a thin broth of tomato, tamarind, and lentil, with bright and spicy and sour flavors all hitting at once, a total palate smacker. Whooosh. Another starter we tried is the onion pakora ($7), meaty ribbons of onion fried in chickpea batter with cilantro, curry leaves, and a kick. Tasty with a squeeze of lemon on top. Who needs calamari? (But there are some on the menu if you are craving tentacles).
We tasted the channa salad ($8), good ole chickpeas with a light lemony dressing—it was refreshing, but not really why I'm at DOSA. Release the crepes! For those of you who are popping your dosa cherry and having your very first one, then you should consider the benchmark of all dosas, the masala dosa ($9.50). What arrives is a thin savory crepe, stuffed with mashed potato, onion, and cashews—you tear off sections of it and do a one-two dunk; first into the accompanying sambar, a spiced lentil soup of sorts, then into one of the two sauce-like chutneys, a coconut or tomato version. We opted for the chatni masala ($10), a masala dosa with a ridge gourd chutney that had an earthy, deep heat. Hubba. Your dosa will soon be torn apart like a hapless victim in "When Animals Attack."
We deemed our paneer and peas uttapam ($9.50) a version of an Indian quesadilla. This open-faced dosa is made with farmer's cheese—loved the crispy sides. Dunk dunk. While the menu is predominantly vegetarian, the inner carnivore in me wanted to try the lamb curry ($16); it had a hearty and savory sauce of fennel, spices, caramelized onion, and tomato, amongst other ingredients. Made a nice couple with the basmati rice. Mind you, with all this food we had enough leftovers for an army.
Okay, dessert. So, it may be authentic, but the gulab jamoon ($5), a pair of fried milk balls soaking in a cardamom sugar syrup totally made my teeth hurt. My molars cried. I definitely preferred the rasmalai ($6), a fragrant dessert of sweet cheese patties in a cool cream. Rosy. Vegans will be happy with the coconut sorbet ($5). Happy vegan, is that an oxymoron? Kidding! I know some very happy vegans. Well, a couple. Anyway.
Here's the breakdown on the wine list: I enjoyed dinner over a couple of the Rieslings available by the glass ($8-$9 a glass); and there's also a Chenin Blanc from an Indian vintner, Sula, I'd like to check out. But sometimes there's nothing quite like a beer with a savory or spicy dish, so you have that option too. Servers are nice, and knowledgeable about the menu, which does take a little handholding since this style of cuisine is unfamiliar to many. The food at DOSA is fun to eat and share, it's made with good ingredients (organic/sustainable when possible), and the flavors are for the most part pleasing and uncommon. You can also ask them to crank up the spice, but I recommend trying the food at their level if it's your first time. Enjoy exploring the menu, and good luck getting a table. If you want something cheap and "authentic," then I guess it's time for someone to get down to the 408.
995 Valencia St.
Cross: 21st St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Tue-Thu & Sun 5pm-10pm
And soon, lunch! (tentatively Tue-Fri 11am-3pm)