Northside SF  

Newly Notable: Dosa on Fillmore
By Susan Dyer Reynolds

Photo by Anthony KurtzI can’t get as excited about Dosa as many reviewers in San Francisco – while it might be unique here, I grew up in Sunnyvale, home to thousands of southern Indians and thus dozens of wonderful southern Indian restaurants, some of the best located in strip malls sandwiched between 7-Eleven and Carl’s Jr. For me, the most impressive thing about Dosa on Fillmore is the collaboration among owners Emily and Anjan Mitra, Jim Maxwell (a principal in Architects II and Full Plate Consulting) and R3 Builders, which could give the new Academy of Sciences a run for its money in the green department. It is environmentally sensitive right down to the bathroom hand dryers – the fastest, most energy efficient dryers available – which are loud, but save thousands of trees per year.
The corner building, once a run-down Goodwill, has soaring, light-filled windows rising from the floor to the loft-like mezzanine. It seamlessly marries South Indian art and culture with urban glam – the walls are adorned with vibrant photo-journalistic shots by local photographer Anthony Kurtz and Parisian photographer Olivier Föllmi that portray south Indian life, while Sharon Marston’s mod, handcrafted, sculptural chandeliers drip gossamer and crystal through angular steel beams. A gold leaf mural at the entrance by local artist Tricia George mimics the Gopurums, the large ornate structures that adorn a temple’s gateway.

The bar top was built using recycled glass, mother-of-pearl, and mirrors, and stunning crystal pendants splash it with red and gold sparkle. The wood columns that divide the main floor dining room evoke the textural fretwork found throughout India, creating intimate spaces among leather banquettes and bamboo furniture. There has been a significant commitment to construct the entire restaurant using sustainable and eco-friendly initiatives, from solar-powered water heaters to Forest Stewardship Council woods.

Like the original location, the ingredients in the kitchen mirror this commitment via the sourcing of sustainable, local product. I would like to return to the restaurant after they’ve settled in a bit as my recent meals there were hit and miss. Southern Indian cuisine is so delicately complex that I fear the cooks are having trouble trying to keep up the consistency with the swelling crowds (what recession?). There were some standouts: the sambar – (a lentil and vegetable stew made with over 30 spices) was as good as any I’ve had, as was the coconut-dotted rice served alongside a mild curry of cauliflower, green beans, potatoes, plantains, and cherry tomatoes. On another visit, lush, flaky fish bathed in creamy coconut milk inflected with coriander, cumin, shallots, and chilies came with as perfect a raita (yogurt with chopped cucumbers and spices) as you’ll find. Interestingly, the most disappointing dish was the namesake dosa, a savory rice and lentil crepe – we ordered the onion version, which was lacy and light in places, but had soft spots where the caramelized onions in the batter had congregated and sweated too much. The chef’s selection of South Indian Moons, or uttapams (a thicker, pancake-style dosas), should have been fluffy but fell flat, and it was hard to distinguish the flavor profiles of what were supposed to be five different types. Every time I saw the bhatura – a dramatically oversized puffy wheat bread – go by, I wished we had ordered it. Nearly every table had one, and I was surprised that our server, who was otherwise well versed in the menu, didn’t recommend it. I will order them next time – between the phenomenal design
and my childhood memories of dosa and sambar, I know I will be drawn there again.
Dosa on Fillmore: 1700 Fillmore Street (at Post), 415-441-3672,
– S. D. Reynolds

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