Dosa on Valencia
995 Valencia (@ 21 St)
San Francisco, CA
It took a long time for me to come around on South Indian food. It was one of those things that I didn’t have a lot of exposure to growing up – most cuisine where I grew up, of the South Asian variety, was usually Northern Indian, or Pakistani. Then, even when given the opportunity to be exposed to food from Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu, Goa, and other South Indian cultures, I eschewed them for more meat-based cuisines. I was, after all, an unapologetic carnivore. Vegetarian food was to be avoided at all costs!
Times change, as thankfully have my opinions. Once I managed to try South Indian food, i was hooked. Fantastic flavours with lots of balance, heat, and texture. Even though they do have meat dishes, for the most part, I usually stick with the vegetarian. And of all the South Indian vegetarian dishes, my favorite is the Dosa.
The namesake restaurant, Dosa on Valencia (used to distinguish from their new outpost on Filmore), is one of several South Indian restaurants that have cropped up in The Mission over the past few years. Serving a wide variety of South Indian dishes, they don’t represent one specific cuisine, but a broad representation of many cuisines from South India.
The restaurant itself is actually fairly intriguing. They have been awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand three of four years they’ve been in business – Michelin’s award for good value. The decor is upscale casual, and they have an interesting and diverse beverage menu – not your average South Indian eatery.
Upon entering, we were greeted and given an option on where to sit. It feels a lot different from other South Indian restaurants I have experience with. The decor is tasteful, with some simple paintings, hangings, and features scattered around the restaurant. Colors are warm, chairs comfortable. It’s a nice space that puts one at ease.
Settling in with the menus, there are a few things that immediately stand out. Prices are definitely on the higher end from your average South Indian food. They have a nice diversity of dishes for veg and non veg eaters. And they have a lot of organic, local, and sustainable ingredients. Of course it’s San Francisco!
Our server comes over and first questions whether we’ve had South Indian food before. It definitely feels a little condescending, but when he repeats the question at every table in our section, and several people say no, it seems justified. Maybe i was just feeling a bit sensitive.
While there are a lot of interesting choices, my dining companion and I were both craving Dosa. It had been too long. Given the chance, I’d like to try their Uttapam – which i find to be a much more difficult dish than Dosa to get “just right”. But for this visit, Dosa it is.
Minutes after we order, a plate of fresh papadums show up, fresh from the fryer. I’ve had problems with many South Asian restaurants where they are often fried and then kept under heat lamps – and it just isnt the same. They end up soggy and unpleasant. Crispy, fragrant, and not too oily, these are excellent.
The papadums are polished off in 30 seconds flat – and the plate is taken away. As a small general quibble, I wish restaurants would provide small refills on things like papadums, and tortilla chips (at Mexican restaurants) like most restaurants do on bread. It’s a very small fraction of the overall food cost, and it goes a long way towards mollifying hungry customers. And as Charlie Trotter says, good service is the accumulation of little things done right. Just saying… :)
We order two different dosa with the intention to share. A non traditional masala dosa (potatoes, onion, and cashews), and a paneer and peas.
The masala dosa arrives with the requisite sambar and coconut-based chutney. It’s enormous, and very well cooked. The batter for the dosa has a really nice balance of sweet and earthiness, and is perfectly crisp without being brittle.
The filling has a really nice creamy texture, with a flavourful body. The spice is very muted, but is definitely present. While i usually prefer a little more textural contrast in my masala dosa, my dining companion was very pleased with this.
More along my speed, the paneer and peas arrives, already rolled tightly and precut for me, with sambar and two chutneys – coconut, and a tomato-based.
This dosa is near perfection – lightly grilled, with a rich, creamy cheese filling punctuated with peas and spices, and the freshness of cilantro to brighten things up. The light grilling is fantastic – making it function more like a panini than a traditional dosa. The flavour is excellent – the only complaint would be the richness of the filling made it difficult to finish.
I’ve seen a lot of complaints about Dosa on Valencia, but any place so reviewed is bound to be the target of some criticism. The biggest complaint always seems to be the prices, but for the quality, the cleanliness of the establishment, the environment, i feel the prices are more than reasonable. This is definitely a great dosa, and i would concur with the Michelin inspector that it is great value as well. Maybe it isn’t as cheap or “dhaba” authentic as other South Indian restuarants, but the flavours are true, the ingredients are fresh, and the food is all well executed. There is some truth to the fact you get what you pay for – at least it’s true at Dosa on Valencia.