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South Indian Cuisine Comes to the City

A love of South Indian cuisine (and a frustration with crossing the bay every time a craving hit) led owners Anjan and Emily Mitra to open Dosa, the latest hot spot on the Valencia corridor. With Anjan's upbringing in Bombay and Emily's retail background in health food, they set out to open a restaurant that would satisfy their friends' palates while meeting their commitment to local, sustainable and organic products.

Finally breaking the curse that haunted Spiazzino, Le Krewe, and other restaurants that briefly inhabited the space at Valencia and 21st, Dosa offers a cuisine almost impossible to find within the city limits until now. Sure, there are plenty of Indian restaurants in the Mission, but they all feature the more widely known Northern style of cooking, which features more gravies, curries and tandoori. Foods from South India tend to be a bit lighter and spicier.

Dosa only takes reservations for larger parties, so be prepared to wait a bit, but the bar is ample and serves a full menu. It was a Wednesday night when we walked in to the bustling restaurant and were quoted a 35-minute wait, but we didn't even have time to finish our glasses of sparkling wine before we were escorted to a table in the tightly packed but inviting dining room. There was a definite vibrant energy to the place.

Once seated, we took a quick glance at the menu and knew we were in for a treat. Everything sounded fabulous and refreshingly unfamiliar. After a longish wait snacking on crispy pappadam chips, our server appeared, offering solid advice for all of our questions. However, we still couldn't make up our minds, so we ordered enough food to feed us for the next three days. We started with the chickpea salad ($7), light and refreshing with lemon and fresh tomatoes; coriander and chili added just the right accents. But the dahi vada ($5) was the hit of the first round: lentil dumplings in a lake of scrumptious yogurt sauce with tamarind and mint.

The real dilemma arose when trying to decide between the open-faced uttapam and the stuffed, folded, signature dosa. So we ordered both. Once they arrived, we were quickly taken with the masala dosa ($9), a large, crispy, savory crepe filled with spiced potatoes, onions and cashews. The accompanying coconut and tamarind chutneys completed the dish perfectly.

The choices for fillings are numerous, and I doubt that any would be disappointing. Our classic choice was the perfect introduction. For our foray into uttapams we chose the South Indian Moons sample plate ($11). We weren't nearly as impressed; they reminded us of small, doughy pizzas with barely distinguishable toppings. They paled in comparison to the dosa both in texture and flavor.

To round out our feast we chose the prawn coconut masala ($15), a rich tomato-based curry with perfectly caramelized prawns and basmati rice. The pepper chicken ($13) also came highly recommended, but we could only eat so much, really.

When it comes to what to drink, the choice is again a difficult one. Mark Bright, one of San Francisco's hottest young sommeliers, has put together a beverage list complete with chai tea- and coriander-spiked soju cocktails, imported beers, and a value-oriented wine list that compliments the light, spicy, South Indian cuisine perfectly. Riesling lovers rejoice.

So when that ethnic food vibe hits you but you're tired of the standards, take a short trip to the Mission and treat yourself to Dosa.


Reservations Essential? No