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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dosa v. Udupi Palace: The Epic Battle for South Indian Dominance on Valencia

Posted By on Wed, Dec 2, 2009 at 10:10 AM

click to enlarge Dosa's chennai chicken: Smuggle-worthy. - YAN M./FLICKR
  • Yan M./Flickr
  • Dosa's chennai chicken: Smuggle-worthy.
On the painful days following Thanksgiving, we like to recover by enjoying foods bearing little resemblance to those we spooned up on Thursday. Sometimes, with health or digestive relief in mind, we gravitate to raw salads or restorative soups. Other times we crave spicy fare -- dishes blooming with garlic, ginger, chiles, and toasted spices -- perfect searing jolts to taste buds tranquilized by mashed russets generously irrigated with butter and half-and-half.

Last Saturday night, our stomach shaken by seconds and thirds of wine-braised goose with pork, veal, and chestnut stuffing, we revisited the original Dosa (995 Valencia at 21st St.) for a South Indian curative. The setting is still evocative of what we imagine a Burning Man chill-out tent to be, what with the fuzzy electronic burbles on the stereo, well-inked servers, and awkwardly dimmed lights, but the food hit the spot, even more than we'd remembered.

click to enlarge Size king: Udupi's uthappam is bigger than Dosa's. - KAREN Y./FLICKR
  • Karen Y./Flickr
  • Size king: Udupi's uthappam is bigger than Dosa's.
We particularly dug the sweet, mild persimmons with house-made rice noodles, pearl sago, coconut milk reduction, and mint chutney -- not to mention the excellent chennai chicken (boneless pieces marinated in yogurt and fried) and tamil lamb curry -- which, despite our inclination toward lightness, we could not resist.

On Sunday morning, we felt better, but still quite goosed. That evening, we ventured to Valencia's other South Indian restaurant, the all-vegetarian Udupi Palace in the old Firecracker space (1007 Valencia at 21st St.), just a few feet from Dosa. Udupi is the anti-Dosa. Sitars and harmoniums hang weirdly from the walls. Bollywood musicals flash on a high, swaying television. It's a minichain with few frills: The frowning waiters wear matching maroon shirts and unceremoniously ferry bottles of Kingfisher and puffy balls of poori to your table. Here, an immensely fresh samosa with fragrant steam swirling out from a cracked, bulging outer shell was the big winner, a much better rendition than at Dosa. While no tastier than their counterparts down the street, the dosas and masala-and-chutney-laced thicker lentil pancakes known as uthappams are significantly bigger here, and a few dollars cheaper.

So which place is better? We can't come down with a verdict -- the restaurants are too different, our sampling too small. But most days, we'll lean in the direction of thrift and leftovers. If only we could smuggle a little of Dosa's chennai chicken into Udupi Palace.

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