Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Dosa of San Francisco

At Sunnyvale Saravanaa Bhavan, we had to wait for 30 minutes for a table of four, that too, after a 40 minute drive on a freeway at 60 mph. Which goes to show the lengths to which NRIs can go for ‘desi’ food.

My visit to Sunnyvale Saravanaa was two years ago. There has since been a proliferation of Indian eateries in the San Francisco Bay Area. What’s more, desi food has come to figure in ‘Food & Wine’ section of the mainstream US media. A hefty Sunday paper gave big play recently to a restaurant called The Dosa in San Francisco. The newspaper write-up apparently worked up a prominent Indian resident, B S Prakash – ‘I read it, first with amusement, then with irritation and ending with burning indignation’.

Mr Prakash, reviewing the newspaper review on the web, says he was amused at the description of dosa as ‘a large thin crispy crepe - sour and not sweet’ filled with buttery potato, onions and cilantro, to be eaten with a dip of chutney’. He made a mental note that he ought to repay this with a review for Rediff of a snooty French restaurant serving crepe – ‘a crisp, smallish dosa-sweet and not sour, and with a topping, not of masala but of maple syrup’.

Mr Prakash, who does a monthly column for Rediff, holds a day job. He is India’s Consul General in San Francisco. What irritated our columnist was the firangi’s description of dosa, embellishing her narration with references to mutton and egg-fillings, the things not palatable to a traditionalist. His ‘burning indignation’ was, however, reserved for the foreign restaurant reviewer’s perception of desi service.

First, the food writer didn’t relish that The Dosa doesn’t take reservations. This can’t be an issue with most NRI restaurant-goers. If anything, they factor in the waiting time while planning to eat out. My experience at Saravana Bhavan wasn’t uncommon. It was the same story at Milpitas Bhima’s, where they have a pager system to facilitate the throng waiting for a table.

While registering your name at the reception counter they allot a number and and give you a pager. The idea is that you don’t need to crowd around the restaurant door, waiting for the reception desk to call out your name and number. With a pager you can stroll out or wait in the parking lot; and pager-buzz alerts whenever a table is made available.

In fact, there are quite a few classy restaurants in the California Bay Area that don’t take reservations as a matter of policy. I know of an Italian joint in Pleasanton (or is it Dublin?) that doesn’t accept reservations. The wait-time is 20 to 40 minutes. The restaurant has, helpfully, a liquor-dispensing counter that enables you to linger over a glass of wine or beer while waiting for a table or delivery of your take-out order.

Apart from no reservations facility, Marianne, the media food columnist, finds other aspects of the service in the Indian restaurant unacceptable. Having found a seat at The Dosa, she was made to order straightaway. Presumably, she is used to the fuss made by the bloke in a bow-tie with a writing-pad who hands out an oversize menu card and a wine list, and waits on you to order. Instead, she got a tattered menu card, only after she asked for it (normally, desi customers have their minds made up on what to order even before settling in). She started with idli ($4.95 a plate), moved to masala dosa ($8.95), and, presumably, wound up with carrot halwa. Marianne’s complaint was that they brought her a bill (instead of a ‘check’ placed in between a leather padded folder) even before she sent for it. And then there was this ‘water boy’ who kept filling her glass with water even when it was not fully empty; and refilling her sambar bowl, unasked for.

Marianne found the service appalling. I wonder how she would rate Mysore’s GTR Tiffin Room or Indira Bhavan; and the Bangalore Udupi, close to the central bus stand, on a narrow one-way street, with no parking;it is always crowded. The place has an age-old reputation for vannai dosa

As for The Dosa of San Francisco, Marriane has better credentials to comment on its service. Because neither I nor Mr Prakash have been there. He admits he cannot as yet vouch for The Dosa’s authenticity - “it is not easy for me to shell out $8.95 plus taxes for a dosa”. In my case, it would work out to another $1,200 or more, by way of airfare from Bangalore.


narendra shenoy said...

Loved this post. Prakash is so right. A crepe is a dosa that has underachieved in life.

Maddy said...

GVK...Some months ago I had done a small jotting on our dosa..perhaps a fitting reply to those who dare compare it to a limp french crepe..