‘French Toast on Steroids,’ for Brunch at Indian Paradox

Kavitha Raghavan's beautifully decorated Divisadero wine bar has several eggy, bready treats with plenty of heat.

Chilli cheese toast. Photo by Peter Lawrence Kane

“Chaat Happens,” reads one wall at Indian Paradox, Kavitha Raghavan’s punchy wine bar on Divisadero Street with a compact menu full of dishes from across that nation. SF Weekly had stopped in last year for dahi sev puri and the mango-and-coconut “Chennai beach food” salad known as sundal, and while those items are still there, the interior looks completely different now. Above the bar, neon wine crates function as shelves, and opposite them are a power-clashing assortment of patterned fabrics juxtaposed with flirty-serious eyes, a design scheme that evokes Valencia Street’s tapas bar Loló or maybe a Pedro Almodóvar film. Above the corner booth that takes in views of the parklet occupants and the sidewalk commotion are bowls with colored napkins, like a Damien Hirst piece that’s suitable for polite company.

Raghavan’s operation isn’t quite a one-woman show, but Indian Paradox’s brunch menu reflects her cosmopolitan sensibilities to a tee. Eager to speculate about possible Persian influences on dishes that date from the Mughal Empire, she also refuses to censor herself. Yes, she dislikes the British expression “to have a curry” as a reference to eating Indian food, but also figures that since they invented it, they can say that. And she’s into early-mid-’90s dance jams from artists like Technotronic, Cathy Dennis, and La Bouche.

For nashta, or breakfast, Indian Paradox has a number of eggy, bready treats that should be on everyone’s radar once they’ve reached their lifetime quota of benedicts and hashes. The egg akuri ($11.50) is a wonderful soft-scramble preparation that involves no dairy whatsoever, but a masala that Raghavan calls a 20-ingredient laundry list of seasonings like star anise and cardamom, and which is then sauteed with onions until the texture resembles a lighter version of eggs cooked in rendered bacon fat. There’s a little bit of dairy in the skillet, in that there’s ghee on the four lightly toasted pieces of bread.

Upma, a polenta dish similar to cream of wheat, comes with a coconut curry and a suggested pairing of a 2015 Xinomavro Naoussa, a dry red grape from Greece. Spicy and warming on the whole, the coconut is a cooling component that provides a sense of balance you’ll never find in farina. For a mightier dish, the chilli cheese toast on hand-braided brioche has a velvety crunch that melts into its serrano chilies, but the standout dish is the “disco fry eggs,” which Raghavan dubs “French toast on steroids.”

They won’t make you aggro, but this dish from the streets of Mumbai comes from a tradition of vendors frying eggs with one hand and tossing buttered bread with another, then mashing it all together and placing it into a brioche bun. (“I almost want to keep my distance,” Raghavan recalls.) Disco or not, what it really is is the world’s best Egg McMuffin. Ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates hunger, might not be a steroid, but it’s going to give you a workout.

Indian Paradox, 258 Divisadero St., 415-593-5386 or indianparadoxsf.com

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