Considering that Adam took over 130 pictures of London restaurants we ate at, it was only natural that we start chronicling our thoughts and opinions about the food we eat. We've totally become accidental foodies. It all started out when Sheila started calling Adam "the human trash compactor"; since he eats almost anything. But somewhere along the way we started having discussions about food and seeking out culinary adventures when on travel. We bring a unique perspective to this arena as we're both vegetarians (no meat, poultry, or fish). I suspect we will both have varying opinions on the food, and hope to not only have a record for posterity, but provide some fun, useful if not amateur insight.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thalis and Kathi Rolls at Kasa…

Indian restaurants are plentiful throughout the Bay Area; they run the gamete from traditional North India curry houses, to South Indian restaurant, and further to chaat spots. Then there’s Kasa in the Castro. Serving kathi rolls (an Indian version of a burrito) and thalis (an Indian version of a sampling plate), Kasa is creating authentic home-style fare in an appealing to the masses fashion; and we’re hooked. The appeal of Kasa is that (1) the food is made fresh to emulate what’s cooked in Indian homes; (2) the services line is a la Chipotle with plates assembled in front of you; (3) capitalizing on progressive pallets of Bay Area foodies; and (4) word of mouth praise via social media networks.

We’ve ordered take out on several occasions, typically for dinner after I’ve taken a day trip to So Cal for work. Recently, we meet some friends for dinner on a chilly summer night in SF. Although it’s close to Castro St, you won’t find any tourist here, only locals. The menu is simple - either select thali or kathi roll. The thali comes with your choice two curries (from a selection of 6 to 8), rice, paratha (flat bread), lentil daal, mint chutney, and a side slaw. For the roll, you choose one of the curries as the stuffing. They come small so order two if you want to make it a meal. There are ample choices for vegetarians and the daily curry specials are almost always vegetarian.

Sheila ordered the thali with karahi paneer and saag paneer. I ordered two kathi rolls – one with karahi paneer, and one with gobi aloo. The fluffy paneer is made fresh at Kasa, not packaged, and you can taste to difference. It breaks apart very easily and is not overly salty like the frozen variety. There hasn’t been a trip to Kasa where we haven’t ordered the karahi paneer. Balance is the first word that comes to mind, the spices are there but there in rhythm with the tomato based sauce rather than overpowering it. Since the paneer is light and airy, all those great spice flavors get infused. This is the karahi paneer by which others should be judged.

The black lentil and kidney bean daal reminds me of what Sheila or my mom would make at home. I won’t even attempt to decipher the Indian spices that have been added, but it just works well. The gobi aloo kathi roll was a pleasant surprise. More parts cauliflower than potato kept this dish from being a carb-fest. There was a distinct taste of cumin and fenugreek within the curry that adds the right amount of kick. The paratha roll itself is made with all-purpose flour and is a bit thicker than a tortilla – sufficient for the amount of curry stuffing added.

However what’s missing in all the dishes is an overabundance of ghee or oil. Because of this, the food tastes healthy and you’d have that heavy feeling in your stomach. We’ll keep going back to Kasa when there’s an urge for Indian take out. So if you don’t get a chance to come by our house for dinner, check out Kasa for the next best thing to home-cooked fare. Note that Kasa is also on Groupons ; we purchased a $40 gift card for $20 and it was totally worth it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

suvir saran's devi in the flatiron district...

A work trip to the NYC meant the opportunity for (1) Sheila to join me on the weekend and (2) another tasting tour through this food Mecca. We'd been watching Top Chef Masters this season and decided on a pre-theater dinner at Suvir Saran's Devi near Union Square Park. The decor is mix of beautifully detailed Indian doors adorning the walls, vibrant red painted walls, and Moroccan inspired light fixtures. We were seated on the Mezzanine level above the main dining hall; being the only couple upstairs meant that the service staff was very attentive.

The menu was North Indian inspired, with a hint to both modern and Chinese influences. Considering the chef's creations during Top Chef Masters, the menu kept to his roots. We opted for the $40 pre-fix menu with appetizer, entree, and dessert. Given the a la carte prices, this was the right choice.

Sheila opted to start with the Spouted Mung and Peanut Chaat (sprouted beans, tomatoes, onions, mint, cilantro, potatoes, tamarind chutney, and mini pappad discs). The presentation was exquisite; like a zenga tower with the papad sandwiched between the other fresh ingredients. As expected the veggies were extremely fresh. However the papad quickly lost its crispiness given the inherent water within the veggies and chutney. Sheila and I agreed that the mung salad we had at Dosa (in SF) was better.

I started with the Manchurian cauliflower (an Indo-Chinese style dish with tomato, garlic, and cayenne pepper). The cauliflower was perfectly cooked as my knife cut right through the florets with ease. There were no other veggies on the plate, just cauliflower. Despite that, we thought this was the best dish of the evening.

The two entrees we ordered were the laukee ke kofte (zucchini and squash dumplings prepared in a tomato onion sauce) and the karahi paneer (Indian cottage cheese cubes with sweet peppers, onions, tomatoes, and fenugreek). Sheila's kofte was rich and creamy, but packed some serious heat. Each dumpling was very moist and despite the heavy handed spices, the zucchini and squash flavors came through well. In hindsight I should have ordered a side of raita because my nose was definitely running! Unlike typical karahi paneers, this preparation included a mix masala infused veggies. Sheila preferred this entree because of the overall taste balance. I for one could not appreciate this for what it was - an elevated paneer dish worthy of praise. Reason is, I've been on paneer overload the past six months and it all tastes the same. Time go on a paneer diet for the next few months.

I would be remise if I didn't mention the naan. Sheila proclaimed it to be the best naan she has ever eaten. Very high praise indeed and I have to agree. Some naans come to the table dense on the edges and brunt crispy in the middle. Devi's naan was fluffy, light, and chewy throughout. So good was the naan that we ordered another piece in lieu of any rice! For dessert, we both ordered the mango cheesecake. The presentation was like a piece of artwork - a cylinder of mango and ricotta atop a cookie base, served with a crescent shaped almond crisp. The cheesecake was fluffy and rich, but not overly sweet; the almond crisp provided the sugar needed. A great finishing touch to our meal.

Service was exceptionally quick; perhaps because we were the first patrons of the evening. It was only a matter of a few minutes between all of our dishes. Having become accustom to sharing our dinners - both of us felt really stuffed at the end of this meal. Needless to say we probably won't be ordering a pre-fix menu any time soon. As for Devi, it was better than the higher end North Indian fare we've had in the Bay Area. However, we wouldn't come back; there are too many restaurants in the NYC still to try.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day at Dosa on Fillmore!

This Mother’s Day was special. With my sister and dad in India, my mom came up to SF for the weekend. Sheila’s folks also drove up from San Jose for a family lunch. Instead of going to your typical North Indian curry house. We decided on Dosa on Fillmore.

The concept of elevated South Indian cuisine – dosas, uttapams, and idli/sambar – foods that are typically served at corner stalls. It’s sister location on Valencia is a much smaller venue both this one has an amazing open floor plan with 20+ ft ceiling, beautiful chandeliers, and vivid ethnic prints.
We arrived for an early lunch at 11:45am and were seated in the loft space upstairs. After perusing the menu for a few minutes we decided on several appetizers, entrees, and lassis. Time passed quickly as we all talked about recent trips to India, family happenings, and of course food!

Okay on the food, certainly secondary to spending time with our Moms -

Sweet Lassi – cool and refreshed, but only had one note. I was looking for some cinnamon or saffron to finish off the flavor profile. Mind you I had not trouble drinking to entire glass in a matter of minutes.

Bhel Puri – the best plate on the table. A very good balance on two levels - sweet and savory; then chewy and crunchy. The ingredient list is simple – puffed rice, garbanzo beans, onions, fried chickpea flour (sev), cilantro, mango, tamarind chutney, and mint chutney. The cooked garbanzo beans and mango were a pleasant surprise, not standard for bhel puri. The beans were slightly al dente and the mango slightly under ripe; allowing for neither to get soggy. The amount was perfect to share amongst the five of us. We’d order this again for sure.

Mung Daal Salad – a refreshing cold salad bursting with fresh flavors. It was created with sprouted mung beans, jicama cubes, finely diced tomatoes, chopped red onions, and cilantro-lime vinaigrette. On the surface you wouldn’t think much, but all it took was one bite for the mom’s to give their approval. The rest of the meal was spent trying to decipher all the spices and ingredients in this dish – perhaps a home version will be attempted the next time we visit Cerritos!

Masala Dosa – a crispy Indian crepe filled with a stuffing of potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and peas. It was served with coconut chutney, chilly chutney, and sambar. The dosa was certainly crispy and the sambar piping hot, but they were heavy handed with the salt. It’s likely because Sheila and I have cut down on our sodium intake over the past few years. I have to say that when eaten in tandem with the stuffing, the dosa balanced out well. Garam masala was prevalent; it’s the heat you feel going down to your stomach. I’d go for Udipi Palace’s version instead.

Paneer & Peas Dosa – an Indian crepe stuffed with shredded paneer and peas. It was also served with the same sambars and chutneys. After one bit, it was apparent that the filling was too heavy; an overwhelming heap of paneer. Admittedly the filling was good, but I couldn’t taste the very thin dosa at all. I only got through two-thirds of the dish, so we’ll see of the tastes marry overnight when had as leftovers.

Fresh Fruit Napoleon Uttapam – three mini uttapams sandwiched with cooked apples, pears, shaved coconut, and strawberry/tamarind chutney. It was part of Dosa’s brunch menu and certainly their attempt at Indian pancakes. I felt that the uttapam was too thick, perhaps because my few bites didn’t incorporate the all the toppings. Sheila loved this dish – it was a nice finish to the predominately savory meal. Kinda wish we had ordered this for dessert though.

All in all, it was the company more than the venue or food that made today memorable. We joked, laughed, and spent precious time together. We’d go back to Dosa, but it won’t be the same if not accompanied by our moms.