Dosa – San Francisco

Upscale, Organic Indian Cuisine
by Jesse Stirling

It’s half-past seven on a Wednesday, and the restaurant is packed. Our table, seemingly center stage, is the only empty spot is the place. The hum of happy conversation mixes with exotic beats, creating a spicy lounge vibe. A sea of Bay Area foodies ebb and flow around us. The clientele is privileged, hip and wonderfully diverse, dressed in that meticulously casual “Northern California” way.

Dosa is located in the resurgent Fillmore district of San Francisco. The building was originally a bank, redesigned from the ground up to be super eco-friendly, replete with solar panels on the roof. The money vault is now the wine vault. High ceilings give the space an urban grandeur. The walls are adorned with patterns reminiscent of henna tattoos. Spectacular lighting casts an amber glow throughout the establishment, while soft earth tones add to the warm and inviting atmosphere.

Dosa’s owner, Anjan Mitra, greets our party, grinning from ear to ear. Anjan describes himself as “a Bombay transplant” with “a delicate palette for Southern Indian cuisine shaped by my mom’s amazing cooking.” Anjan’s culinary philosophy is “clean Indian” – using organic, natural and more healthful ingredients whenever possible. For example, the rice, lentils and peppers all come from local farmers. Most sauces employ coconut milk instead of heavier cream. Yet the food is so rich and flavorful, one would never guess that many of these dishes are lighter and healthier than traditional Indian fare. Before eating, we sample Dosa’s spice-driven cocktail program. The list includes 10 original beverages that incorporate house-made bitters and nectars such as mango gastrique, coriander nectar and chicory bitters. Ingredients focus on spices (cumin, black cardamom, saffron, peppercorn), fresh tropical fruits (jackfruit, coconut) and exotic garnishes (fresh lime-flavored curry leaves and flowers). The drinks are light and effervescent yet big, robust and refreshing. “Bollywood Hills,” mixed with coconut milk and a hint of allspice, is the most popular. “Ginger Antle,” made with Darjeeling tea-flavored gin, finishes with crisp overtones. Dosa’s master mixologist, Jonny Raglin, must be commended on such daring and winning combinations. Even the glasses are beautiful, completing the tactile experience.

We begin our meal by exploring some soups and salads. Red beet and anise purée soup, decorated with beautiful crème fresh patterns, wins points for taste as well as presentation. The potato and leek soup slides down your throat with the texture of creamy velvet. A salad comprised of persimmon, avocado and homemade rice noodles is set off beautifully by the reduction of mint chutney dressing – unique and light. The restaurant’s namesake dish arrives, our main course: a lentil Mung Dosa. Like a spicy hot Indian burrito, served with a cooling yogurt dipping sauce, we all exchange orgasmic looks across the table. Conversation stops. This dish is too special to ruin with idle chit-chat. We move from mixed drinks to a wonderful French red wine, pairing perfectly with succulent lamb kota. Next is a light, firm, fresh Pacific halibut stewed in a flavorful (yet not overly-fishy) curry. “Organic fish,” chimes in Anjan. “More expensive, but worth it. I fished every day on the Ganges growing up. I know my fish.” Sides of lemon rice and coconut rice are staggeringly delicious. “I brought those two dishes back from India last year,” smiles Anjan, who is departing on another culinary mission in a few days. What amazing recipe will he bring back next?

Dessert consists of a sorbet trio: pistachio, coconut and chocolate. We somehow find room for a taste of mind-blowing chai rice pudding. Anjan finishes explaining what Dosa is all about: “We straddle the old and new. We cook everything fresh, pushing the envelope with spice combinations. This is home cooked regional Indian cuisine, prepared in a healthful, mindful way.” One adjacent diner leans in close, whispering in my ear, as if she’s sharing a government secret: “You know, Dosa is not my favorite Indian restaurant. It’s my favorite restaurant, period. The only food I literally dream about.” Experience a dose
of Dosa, and one day you too will dream of Mung Dosa and Bollywood Hills.
1700 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA