Nopa in San Francisco


560 Divisadero Street (at Hayes)

415 864 8643

Who doesn't like dosas? Well, we had never tried them, but now that we have, we really like them. Dosa is a southern Indian restaurant named for a pancake like dish that is served with a variety of dipping condiments including a flavorful lentil soup, sambar, fresh grated coconut, and tomato chutney. They are rich, spicy and starchy, and we love them.

Our visit to Dosa was on New Year's Eve, so we had a relatively limited menu, but we had a long festive meal and a good sampling of the menu. Of course, it was all about the dosas.

The restaurant is decorated in an exotic retro style with warm colors and a welcoming feel. The decorator would have been right at home in 1965 Greenwich Village. We settled down with a bowl of freshly made papadam chips, sipped our champagne and placed our order. We started with the savory pumpkin lentil soup, richly spiced and aromatic, but the real winner was the lentil sprout salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh ginger, coconut and chilis.

Then came the samosas. It is easy to be disappointed by a soggy or leaden samosa. The samosas here were crisp and fresh and great in their mint dipping sauce.

As you have probably guessed by now, the dosas did not disappoint. How could they? They were hearty and aromatic and stuffed with potatoes. They were even better with the spicy sambar, a lentil dipping sauce, and the coconut and tomato chutneys. For variety, we also tried an uttapan, a thinner pancake, made with scallions. This too was surprisingly hearty and quite delicious.

For dessert, we went for the kulfis, Indian ice cream. The chocolate was good, but the pistachio was better, with that special pistachio twang leaping out of the bowl. The malai, "milk flavored", kulfi was the best, with its special sweetness balancing it milkiness.

The restaurant was lively, but we were able to converse even though it was New Year's Eve. Given the number of diners, the service was good, if a bit harried. One could sense that the kitchen was under stress, but this was a big night, and even our early seating was nearly full. We had one minor quibble. The special menu included a glass of Italian sparkling wine, but we had hoped to get a credit towards a bottle of champagne. As we discovered on our trip, San Francisco restaurants are not all that flexible. We wound up enjoying our sparkler, and ordering a bottle of champagne from their small, but well chosen wine list.

All told, our last meal of 2006 was a good one. Will we get back to Dosa in 2007? Probably not, though we will if we get back to San Francisco. Will we be eating dosas in 2007? Definitely!

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