Saturday night, Pere and I had dinner with our friends Tim and Camille at Udupi Cafe, a vegetarian South Indian place in Tempe. Tim and Camille had been there before and raved about it, so I figured that it was about time we give the place a try.
I eat Indian quite a bit, but I have to admit, most of my experience has been around dishes prepared in the North. When we arrived, the place was busy, but not completely full. We were seated right away at a table in the center of the restaurant that looked like it used to be part of a booth. Udupi doesn't have a liquor license, so that made the beverage choice easy for me. When our waiter stopped by, I ordered a mango lassi, a sweetened mango drink made with yogurt. Tim ordered one as well.
The menu at Udupi is pretty extensive, covering a wide range of dishes. We started our meal with an assorted appetizer plate consisting of medhu vasa (fried lentil donuts), masala vada (dahl with onions and spices), vegetable samosas (crispy dough stuffed with potato, onion and peas), vegetable cutlets (breaded and fried), and pakora (deep fried chickpeas). The appetizers were served with sambar and chutney. They were all very good, but I'm glad we split the plate between the four of us because it would have been too much fried food for two people.
While we ate our appetizer, we placed our main order. Indian food lends itself to sharing, so we decided to each pick a dish and serve them family style. We opted for a cheese dosai (rice crepe stuffed with chickpea paste, cheese, and vegetables), gobi manchurian (cauliflower that's been dredged in flour and sauteed with soy, garlic, ginger, and chilis), palak paneer (indian cheese cooked with spinach, onion, and tomato), makhni kofta (cheese balls in tomato cream sauce), an order of garlic paratha (whole wheat bread stuffed with garlic), and an order of basmati rice.
When the food arrived, I knew it was going to be good. Everything looked really good, and I was starving by that point. We quickly started passing plates and dishing out the food. The first dish I sampled was the gobi manchurian. I swore that the first bite I had tasted like it was chicken. It had a strong resemblance to the chinese-american dish General Tso's Chicken, only the sauce was not nearly as thick and was actually much better. It had excellent flavor that made this one of the best cauliflower dishes I've had.
Next up, I tried the makhni kofta. The balls of cheese reminded me of meatballs, but with a much smoother texture. The taste was very mild, which still seemed to be ok when combined with the richness of the tomato cream sauce. Everyone at the table agreed that they loved the sauce, with more than one person cleaning their plates by using the garlic paratha as a spatula. The paratha was also good, and tasted heavily of roasted garlic. I still prefer nan to paratha, but with the makhni, it was hard to really complain.
The palak paneer had quite a few big chunks of cheese in it, which I appreciate. Too many indian restaurants skimp on the paneer. Udupi is not one of them. The spinach stems were still crispy, which tells me they used fresh spinach, not frozen or canned as is sometimes the case. Although I prefer saag paneer as a spinach dish, the tomatoes in the palak version proved to be tasty as well.
I had never had a dosi before, which are basically Indian crepes. The cheese dosi we ordered was huge and easily split among four people. It looked almost like a quesadilla. The first bite happened to taste like a quesadilla too, which I found an odd experience. I'm not sure what spices were used in the cheese dosi, but they weren't strong enough to give the dish a distinct Indian flavor. That's ok, though, as I enjoyed the dosi just the same.
By the time we all finished, we were way too full for a heavy dessert, so we opted to skip. I'm not very fond of most of the Indian desserts that are typical at most places, but Udupi had quite a few that I've never seen before. If I have more room on a later visit, I'll definitely give them a try.
Overall, I found Udupi to be an excellent Indian restaurant, and refreshing in two ways. The fact that it's purely vegetarian is a nice change of pace as is the fact that it serves Southern Indian. They are also open for lunch, where they serve a buffet. I can't wait to come back and sample more of what the South has to offer.