Recipe for Success

Prepare fine, humble foods in a chic upscale setting, add wine list and music, and stir

We finished with a cooling bowl of chocolate ice cream for Frances, three little gulab jamoon (caky dumplings served in fragrant sweet syrup) for me, and a bottle of Lindemans Framboise Lambic, a raspberry Belgian beer, for Garrett, which seemed pricey at $8. It had been a beguiling and interesting meal, but I hadn't quite fallen in love with the place.

That happened on my second visit, on a chilly, rainy night, when a hostess took pity on us and seated Peter, Anita, and me 10 minutes into a projected 45-minute wait, even though the fourth member of our party hadn't yet shown up. (A table on the comfy, pillow-strewn banquette, separated from the busy kitchen by just a hanging sheet of plastic, had unexpectedly opened up.) We promised to order right away, and John arrived even before we'd had a chance to request what seemed to be a slightly lopsided meal: one starter (potato croquets), one dosa (onion rava), and each of the four curries. The plump, battered mashed-potato croquets were steaming under their dark brown crust, and the lacy rava dosa (which the menu deemed "wispy"), made with semolina and wheat, was crunchy with scattered red and white onion bits. Tasty. Fun to eat. Not a surprise, after my first visit.

Spicy Scene: Dosa elevates Indian street food to stylish heights.
James Sanders
Spicy Scene: Dosa elevates Indian street food to stylish heights.

Location Info



995 Valencia
San Francisco, CA 94110

Category: Restaurant > Indian

Region: Mission/ Bernal Heights


Chennai chicken $8

Cochin calamari $8

Spring dosa with fresh vegetables $9.50

Onion dosa $9.50

Paneer and peas uttapam $9.50

Tamil lamb curry $15

Prawn coconut masala $15


Open for dinner Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10:30 p.m. Closed Monday.

Reservations accepted for parties of five or more

Wheelchair accessible

Parking: difficult

Muni: 26

Noise level: high

995 Valencia (at 21st Street)

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But the surprise was the curries, all of which were delicious, prime examples of their kind. (I guess if you offer only four, you can perfect each one.) The moist pepper chicken had a nice hit of ginger; the garbanzo curry came with a bhatura, a huge puffed bread, nicely oily, that melted in the mouth (we ate every morsel, and could have done justice to another); and I couldn't decide whether I preferred the savory Tamil lamb curry, whose lightly tomatoed sauce featured fennel and poppy seeds, or the delicate prawn coconut masala, the large shrimp lightly poached in a sweet, creamy sauce. The sauces were happily sopped up with steamed basmati rice topped with fresh peas. These were the best curries I'd had in the Bay Area. I loved washing this subtle, exciting fare down with a fruity 2004 Leitz Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz Riesling Spätlese, which is a lot easier to drink than to spell. On a later visit, when I was prompted by hunger disguised as research, it proved superb with the Chennai chicken (boneless morsels marinated in yogurt flavored with cumin, curry leaves, cilantro, and coriander, and then fried), a Mysore dosa (spread with spiced mashed potatoes), and my new favorite dish, the supple paneer and peas uttapam, which proved even better as leftovers consumed as a midnight snack. Garrett had told me a bit of gossip: Dosa's chef had been offered a lucrative, cushy position as a private chef. We all breathed a sigh of relief when Garrett said he'd turned the job down.

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